by Francesco De Luca
LEGENDARY SURFER TOM BLAKE: A PIONEER, AN INVENTOR, A SPIRITUAL WATERMAN
Some people are born to change the life, don’t accept what the enstablishment says, don’t want to believe to what other people think or fight for.
This is what Tom Blake was. A man who, more that many others, changed for ever the direction of the surfing and of generations of surfers.
“Blake altered everything,” surf journalist Drew Kampion wrote in 2001. “He almost single-handedly transformed surfing from a primitive Polynesian curiosity into a 20th century lifestyle. He was a modern surfer.”
Thomas Edward Blake was born in the born March 8th 1902 in Milwaukee, Winsconsin. A place without ocean and beaches. He hadn’t a easy childhood, he also described his childhood as, “hunger, loneliness, and searching for truth.” . When 18 years old happened something who changed his destiny.
It happened in Detroit, 1920. Tom Blake was sitting at one exhibition when met for the first time the the Olympic gold medal swimmer Duke Kahanamoku and got deeply inspired by his charisma. In that moment, the young Tom decided to change direction of his life and follow the swimming, surfing and hawaiian life style.
He arrived to California in 1921 and immediately start to train swimming at the prestigious Los Angeles Athletic Club. His abilities came out after few months of training and they let him join the swimming team and won after less than 1 year the 10 mile race in Philadelphia. This win threw Blake in a brilliant carrier of swimming and it helped him to become a lifeguard and work in film industry. Surprises will never finish to enrich Tom’s life.
In 1922 he went to Florida when worked in a film called “Where the pavements Ends”, in one scene of this movie he had to “wrestle with a dead shark” , he said in a post interview. In the next 20 years he worked in many movies.
Blake was always looking for new things and had many interests. He bought a camera in the same year and start to make photography. He was smart, brilliant and his contribute to the Surfing Sport and Industry influenced all the following generations, included ours, wherever we are reading this article.
Back to California in 1924 Tom started to work as lifeguard in the Santa Monica Swim Club, and there met again Duke Kahanamoku who was working there like lifeguard too. They had the chance to become close friends. It’s there that Tom, with Duke talks and encouragement, acquire the skill of surfing and here that, listening to Duke’s tales, he plan his next step: go to Hawaii.
“In the early days of Waikiki, I’m talking about my first trip there in 1924,” recalls Blake, ” the beach wasn’t crowed. Maybe two hotels. The Moana Hotel was there, the Royal Hawaiian had not been built yet. There were probably less than 100 surfers. I was about the first mainlander to go over and actually live there and adopt their lifestyle. Because of my swimming records, Duke and his brothers were kind to me. The native Hawaiians were kind to me. I had the honor of riding the big surf with these Hawaiians. I sat at their luaus, watched their most beautiful women dance the hulas. I was invited into their exclusive Hui Nalu surfriding club, at the time, a club for natives only. I have held the honor position (bow seat) riding waves in the outrigger canoe and holding down the outrigger on the sailing canoe. I have been initiated into the secrets of spear fishing far out on the coral reefs.”
Blake was litterarly shocked from hawaiian culture and atmosphere. Ancestral powers and the power of nature and elements let him completely mentally overwhelmed. Start to study and discover the orign of such a rich ancient culture was the next step for a young Tom, who, in this way, continued the “search of truth” he started when only a kid in Milwaukee.
He started to restore the ancient surfboards inside the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, acquiring a deep knowledge on surfboards construction and on usage of materials. He started to make hollow boards (“cigars”), really much more light and manouvrable, so easy to use for more people, also those who didn’t have a perfect muscle body like him. These new boards were also started to use as rescue board, for their lightness and quickness. He started also to make dimostrations of surfing in all US.
But Blake didn’t finish to surprise. He created and patented a small, keel like fin. Fin who would have been appreciated and developed after the 40s by Bob Simmons, Joe Quigg and other important surfers/shapers. Blake inveted also a prototype of the windsurfboard.
Tom Blake, in 1929, invented also surf photography. He bought a small camera from Duke Kahanamoku and created a waterproof case, starting so to take pictures to the Waikiki surfers from his paddleboard.
Seeded by Blake’s ideas, man other people and surfers started to experiment and the revolution in the surfing industry started! He was a visionary. He was even wise enough to respect the earth. A vegetarian, Blake believed that every bit of this world — every grain of sand and every snapping barrel — is not simply the work of God, it is God. He explained his teory inside a book, titled “The Voice of the Atom.” Tom Blake wrote that Nature is God, which for him “provides a ready framework for human ethics.” he finished his work saying: “So, young surfer and old, play the game of life the same way as you have been successful with the live, breathing ocean. And good riding.”
He have had many appellatives: modern surfer, neuronal surfer, visionary surfer, legendary surfer. He was the first not hawaiian to link the beauty of the nature, of the spirit of the nature/God, with the surfing in the western countries. He always use to say “The real reward was doing it.”
Blake left us in 1994 at the age of 92. We, Chinasurfreport, on our mission to promote surfing in China, couldn’t not to write about Mr. Tom Blake and his extraordinary sensibility and profound sense of humanity who expressed into: lifeguarding, respecting of nature, respecting of people, respecting of God.
Thank you spiritual surfer.