The First Surfing Book

In life we learn that some things are worth holding on to so that others can enjoy them as well. Thirteen years ago, Kauai photographer and surf historian Timothy DeLaVega took that life lesson to heart, after literally holding on to a rare piece of Hawaiian history.

It was a small, old book comprised of six leaves and 12 pages. The Surf Riders of Hawaii, written by A.R. Gurrey Jr., was about eight-by-eight inches, made of heavy woven paper on which were mounted eight gelatin-silver photographs of Waikiki surfers.


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A.R. Gurrey Jr.

How rare? It’s believed that only eight copies currently exist.

“The first time I held it was in 2000 – I knew someone who had an original copy and I thought, wow, this is the coolest thing,” recalls DeLaVega. “I told myself, this needs to be redone but not like any other book out there. This needs to be restored in its original form.”

It was the start of a long and fulfilling project.

DeLaVega says it took years to track down the Gurrey family, but once he finally found them the real work had just begun. In an effort to ensure the book was handmade to the original specifications and that all text was restored to match the original style lettering, he set out to find the owners of all eight books.

“We have verified two different versions of the eight known copies that Mr. Gurrey handmade circa 1911 to 1915,” says the 60-year-old Hanapepe resident. “The two editions had different paper stock and some slight variation in the selection of photos. Bishop Museum and the Mission Houses Museum had copies of one of the versions. Luckily I found another owner who lives in Arizona. His book was of the highest quality.”

According to DeLaVega, no one knows how many of the handmade books were originally produced or exactly when it was completed. No paperwork has ever been found, not even a newspaper clipping mentioning the book. It is one reason the eight existing books are extremely valuable.

“Back in 2000, they were going for $300 to $800 because no one knew what they were,” says DeLaVega. “That changed when one of them sold at Sotheby’s Auction for more than $30,000.”

What is clear is that Gurrey took great care and detail in producing each book. He mounted each original photographic print directly onto the paper stock and then bound the pages together with a colorful cord.

“His obvious goal was to make every book special, an item precious unto itself,” says DeLaVega. “It is the first book dedicated to the sport and unquestionably a work of art to be in existence. But the importance of this book is not in its scarcity or even the personalized touch of its manufacture. It is the wonderful content.”

After years of research and working closely with the Gurrey family, DeLeVega is proud to announce publication of the 100-year anniversary edition of The Surf Riders of Hawaii. He says all photos were restored and printed using the silver halide method that was used by A.R. Gurrey Jr. in 1914.

“Basically it is an exact copy of original,” says a proud DeLaVega. “The inside paper is the same color although the texture is a little different. Outside, the cover is brown and all photographs are being restored. Everything matches how he did it and has the exact feel to it. This is something I enjoy doing, restoring photographs and texts.”

In June 2011, DeLaVega published his first book, Surfing in Hawaii: 1778-1930. The book featured more than 200 surfing images, including some never seen before photos of Duke Kahanamoku and Waikiki beachboys.

DeLaVega says he isn’t certain how much the restored handmade books will cost or how many he’ll eventually produce. He’s aiming to make 300 and no more.

“This is really a wonderful book from 100 years ago and it should be something the public can see, not just a handful of people,” he says. “Part of the money will go to the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation. And what I really want to do is have enough copies so all the major libraries around the state can have one, that way anybody can see it.”

The restored book will be on display as part of an exhibit at Capital One 360 Café on Kalakaua Avenue starting Aug. 4. It’s all part of the celebration of the 12th annual Duke’s OceanFest held at venue sites throughout Waikiki.

“I love history and I love surfing, and the minute I saw and held one of the original copies, I was just so stoked and I knew what I had to do,” says DeLaVega. “You can’t define this in monetary value. I’ve enjoyed meeting the (Gurrey) family and I’ve enjoyed every hour I’ve invested in this. It’s been a journey.”

A journey and a piece of history we can all hold on to for years to come.

For information on the Duke’s OceanFest, go to