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The Father of California Surfing


George Freeth took on three proteges, 'Pink' Furlong, 'Sid' Williams, and 'Lou' Martin. Williams and Martin went on to bcome skillful surfers and assisted Freeth in many of the aquatic performances which he originated for the entertainment of visitors to the Southland. As a result of all this, George Freeth became the first professional surfer, albeit for a very short span of time.

Freeth, the "bronzed mercury" immortalized in the writings of Jack London, was an extraordinarily talented swimmer and surfer. Like Ford at Waikiki, he went on to teach California kids how to surf. Doc Ball wrote that Freeth, "with a zest," spurred interest in Southern California for such water sports as water basketball, water polo, surfing, "and all manner of swimming and diving events of his own devising." He not only surfed Redondo, but opened up Balboa Beach to the south and Palos Verdes to the north.

Freeth became the first lifeguard on the Pacific Coast and trained more world champion swimmers and divers than any other man of his time. One time, he captured a sea lion pup, "simply by swimming underneath and of a sudden boosting it up and into a dory manned by 'Lou' Martin," wrote Doc Ball. Freeth, "later turned the youngster loose in the cold water tank of the Redondo Plunge and then to the glee of the spectators, swam until he recaptured it."

DECEMBER 16, 1908

George Freeth also performed some dramatic rescues that went on to become legendary in their own right. Perhaps the most well-known of Freeth's rescues occurred on December 16, 1908, during the great Santa Monica Bay storm of that year. Freeth single-handedly made three separate cold water rescues in storm surf to rescue seven Japanese fishermen who were being swept out to sea in their small fishing boats. "For this feat he received the Carnegie Medal for Bravery and the Congressional Medal of Honor," documented Doc Ball, "and in addition the populace of the fishing village near Port Angeles named their town 'Freeth' in his honor."

Freeth became a national hero and, before his life was cut short at the early age of 35, he managed to save at least 78 people while employed as a lifeguard. In 1912, he would almost certainly have joined Duke Kahanamoku in being selected to represent the United States at the Olympic Games, had it not been ruled that he was a "professional" and thus excluded because he was a paid lifeguard.

After having exhausted himself rescuing several swimmers at Oceanside during a national influenza epidemic, George Freeth died in San Diego, on April 7, 1919. Well before his death, however, "George Freeth had sowed the seeds of stoke in southern California," wrote John Grissum, adding that as a result of Freeth's surfing ambassadorship from Hawai`i to the Mainland, "in the decade that followed, a hard core of converts established surfing beachheads from San Diego to San Francisco."