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The Father of California Surfing
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
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
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."