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Cowabunga! 10 Vintage Pictures of People Surfing

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Surfing is an ancient sport with an uncertain history. Some believe it was originated by Polynesian fishermen who rode wooden boards to get to the shore. Ancient Hawaiians referred to the act as "wave-sliding" and relied on Kahunas, or priests, to appease the ocean and yield choice waves. The boards were status symbols, and the bigger the board, the higher your birth: Commoners used boards that were 7 feet long, while chiefs would surf on boards as long as 25 feet.

Westerners on board the HMS Endeavour got their first look at surfing in 1769 as they traveled through the South Pacific. Joseph Banks, working on board as a naturalist, described it:

In our return to the boat we saw the Indians amuse or excersise themselves in a manner truly surprizing. ... In the midst of these breakers 10 or 12 Indians were swimming who whenever a surf broke near them divd under it with infinite ease, rising up on the other side; but their cheif amusement was carried on by the stern of an old canoe, with this before them they swam out as far as the outermost breach, then one or two would get into it and opposing the blunt end to the breaking wave were hurried in with incredible swiftness. Sometimes they were carried almost ashore but generaly the wave broke over them before they were half way, in which case the[y] divd and quickly rose on the other side with the canoe in their hands, which was towd out again and the same method repeated. We stood admiring this very wonderfull scene for full half an hour, in which time no one of the actors atempted to come ashore but all seemd most highly entertaind with their strange diversion.

Surfing wouldn't make its mainland debut until 1907; Hawaiian George Freeth demonstrated his gnarly skills at an event for a California railroad. Thanks to Freeth and Duke Kahanamoku, a swimmer-turned-surfer who popularized the sport in the 1910s and '20s, surfing spread and eventually became the sport we know today.

1. Waikiki, 1925

Olympic swimmers Charlotte Boyle and Ethelda Bleibtrey pose with the surfing savior, Kahanamoku, before the 100 yards National Championships.

Bleibtrey was the first woman in the world to win three Olympic golds. She was also arrested for "nude swimming"—or not wearing stockings while swimming. Kahanamoku was also an Olympic swimmer and won five Olympic medals. 

2. Sydney, 1930

A group of surfers hold up their boards. Before the '50s, all surfboards were made out of wood, and not exactly waterproof. The wood boards would get waterlogged and heavy after being in the water too long. Tom Blake invented the hollow surfboard in 1926 and by 1930, it had become the first massed-produced board. 

3. Bondi Beach, 1931

Pictured above is 5-year-old James Easterbrook, the youngest competitor at the surfing carnival at Sydney, 1931. 

4. Sydney, 1931

A large group of surfers run to catch a party wave.

5. Santa Monica, 1935

Surf bunnies (female surfers) lay on their 'mondo boards to create a star at the beach. 

6. Hawaii, 1935

A collection of surfers ride the waves in Hawaii.

7. Hermosa Beach, 1955

Members of the Hermosa Beach club get ready for a big competition. By the '50s, wood had been replaced with fiberglass and polyurethane foam. The new material was easier and cheaper to make. New increased availability of surfboards helped surfing become a popular sport. 

8. New Quay Beach, 1955

Two girls wax their board, while a third oversees. 

9. Hawaii, 1960

Surfers hot-dogging and performing tricks in Hawaii. 

10. Gidget, 1965

Sally Field poses for a promotional picture for the TV show, Gidget. The show was based off the 1956 movie of the same name and lasted for one season. 

All images courtesy of Getty Images. 

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The Truth Is In Here: Unlocking Mysteries of the Unknown
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In the pre-internet Stone Age of the 20th century, knowledge-seekers had only a few options when they had a burning question that needed to be answered. They could head to their local library, ask a smarter relative, or embrace the sales pitch of Time-Life Books, the book publishing arm of Time Inc. that marketed massive, multi-volume subscription series on a variety of topics. There were books on home repair, World War II, the Old West, and others—an analog Wikipedia that charged a monthly fee to keep the information flowing.

Most of these were successful, though none seemed to capture the public’s attention quite like the 1987 debut of Mysteries of the Unknown, a series of slim volumes that promised to explore and expose sensational topics like alien encounters, crop circles, psychics, and near-death experiences.

While the books themselves were well-researched and often stopped short of confirming the existence of probing extraterrestrials, what really cemented their moment in popular culture was a series of television commercials that looked and felt like Mulder and Scully could drop in at any moment.

Airing in the late 1980s, the spots drew on cryptic teases and moody visuals to sell consumers on the idea that they, too, could come to understand some of life's great mysteries, thanks to rigorous investigation into paranormal phenomena by Time-Life’s crack team of researchers. Often, one actor would express skepticism (“Aliens? Come on!”) while another would implore them to “Read the book!” Inside the volumes were scrupulously-detailed entries about everything from the Bermuda Triangle to Egyptian gods.

Inside a volume of 'Mysteries of the Unknown'
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Mysteries of the Unknown grew out of an earlier Time-Life series titled The Enchanted World that detailed some of the fanciful creatures of folklore: elves, fairies, and witches. Memorably pitched on TV by Vincent Price, The Enchanted World was a departure from the publisher’s more conventional volumes on faucet repair, and successful enough that the product team decided to pursue a follow-up.

At first, Mysteries of the Unknown seemed to be a non-starter. Then, according to a 2015 Atlas Obscura interview with former Time-Life product manager Tom Corry, a global meditation event dubbed the "Harmonic Convergence" took place in August 1987 in conjunction with an alleged Mayan prophecy of planetary alignment. The Convergence ignited huge interest in New Age concepts that couldn’t be easily explained by science. Calls flooded Time-Life’s phone operators, and Mysteries of the Unknown became one of the company’s biggest hits.

"The orders are at least double and the profits are twice that of the next most successful series,'' Corry told The New York Times in 1988.

Time-Life shipped 700,000 copies of the first volume in a planned 20-book series that eventually grew to 33 volumes. The ads segued from onscreen skeptics to directly challenging the viewer ("How would you explain this?") to confront alien abductions and premonitions.

Mysteries of the Unknown held on through 1991, at which point both sales and topics had been exhausted. Time-Life remained in the book business through 2003, when it was sold to Ripplewood Holdings and ZelnickMedia and began to focus exclusively on DVD and CD sales.

Thanks to cable and streaming programming, anyone interested in cryptic phenomena can now fire up Ancient Aliens. But for a generation of people who were intrigued by the late-night ads and methodically added the volumes to their bookshelves, Mysteries of the Unknown was the best way to try and explain the unexplainable.

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Wise Quacks: A History of the Rubber Duck
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In the middle of a raging storm in 1992, a cargo ship carrying a huge assortment of vinyl toys tipped over. Descending into the Pacific were nearly 29,000 tub playthings, including untold thousands of rubber ducks. Bobbing and drifting, the tiny yellow birds took weeks, months, and years to wash ashore in Hawaii, Maine, Seattle, and other far-flung locations. Their journeys were able to tell oceanographers crucial information about waves, currents, and seasonal changes—what one journalist dubbed “the conveyor belt” of the sea.

The humble little rubber duck had, once again, exceeded expectations.


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Aside from soap, shampoo, and towels, there may be no more pervasive an item in a kid-occupied bathtub than the rubber duck, a generic aquatic toy that usually squeaks, sometimes spits water, and can be teethed upon without incident.

The ducks had their origins in the mid-1800s, when rubber manufacturing began to gain ground. Out of the many animals crafted, they were the most native to water and broke away from the pack. Families who used to make bathing a weekly event prior to Sunday church sessions would entice children to submerge themselves in the murky tubs with a duck, some of which didn’t float. They were intended as chew toys.

In 1933, a latex supplier licensed a series of Disney characters and made inexpensive bath floaters: The most popular were Donald and Donna Duck. While Disney’s brand recognition helped, companies looking to mass-market cheap ducks didn’t want to depend on a license. Sculptor Peter Ganine is believed to have been the now-familiar generic duck’s primary designer, patenting a toy in 1949 for a period of 14 years. Ganine reportedly sold over 50 million of them.

By the early 1960s, the vinyl ducks were free from patent restriction and became a bathroom fixture. They were cheaply made, cheaply acquired, and a soothing presence for children with apprehensions about being dipped into water. Any hydrophobia was eased by the bright yellow duck, who didn’t appear to have a care in the world.

On February 25, 1970, rubber ducks got their biggest break yet. On the first season of Sesame Street, Ernie splashed in a tub while singing an ode to his maritime companion:

Rubber Duckie, you’re the one

You make bath time lots of fun

Rubber Duckie, I’m awfully fond of you

Rubber Duckie, joy of joys

When I squeeze you, you make noise

Rubber Duckie, you’re my very best friend, it’s true

The song went on to sell over 1 million copies as a single and has been included in well over 21 different Sesame Street compilation albums. The image of Ernie playing with the duck was licensed for T-shirts, storybooks, and other merchandise that further endeared the ducks to child-occupied households.

The duck has since undergone some minor advancements. Some, molded to resemble celebrities or athletes, are a popular gift or marketing tool; others are sculpted to giant-sized proportions to bob in lakes during summer festivals. And while the toys now come in $99, Bluetooth-enabled versions, it was the classic yellow duck that made it in 2013 into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

Additional Sources:
“Rubber Ducks and Their Significance in Contemporary American Culture,” The Journal of American Culture, Volume 29, Number 1 [PDF].

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