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Tim DeLaVega – From Young Surf Rat to Surfing Author

by Cristina Costea

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As an author, a surfer, a photographer, and an environmentalist, Tim DeLaVega has accomplished many things that one can only dream of and BookSurfCamps.com was lucky enough to catch up with him and pick his brain as to what makes this awesome guy tick. 

Read on to learn more on what this established surf writer has to say about surfing, surfing books, surf camps and surf destinations in Hawaii!


BookSurfCamps.com: What attracted you to surfing? At what age did you know that you wanted surfing to be a part of your life?

Tim DeLaVega: My father was a world class athlete, so as a small boy he just tossed me in the water; sink or swim, so I learned rather quick how to swim. From there, I spent all the time I could wallowing in H2O aka water. I can remember as a young surf rat my friend Bruce Kuhlmey and I, dragging a water soaked log of a surfboard down to this wonderful little left where I caught that first taste of the glide. From there I was hooked and spent the next 15 years chasing waves.


Can you tell us  a little bit on what drove you to write Surfing in Hawai'i: 1778-1930?

My surfing publications have in a sense been steps on my surfing journey.

Back in the late 70ʻs I was a surfboard shaper in Hawaii and was given a Country Surfboards distribution in California by Ed Searfoss, so I opened a shop in Leucadia. At the time little value was given to vintage surfing magazines; posters, etc. So I was able to start a rather nice collection for pennies on the dollar.

Jumping to the early 90ʻs, I was building my parents a house in Los Osos, Calif. (a lifelong dream) and rediscovered my collection stored away in a horse barn. So, I contacted Surfer magazine and they ran a short note on my collection, which got me in contact with collectors from across the globe.

As we visited back and forth we tried to figure out the details of all those early publications and posters and then access a value to our little babies. So with Keith ʻMaynardʻ Eshelman and the rest of the T.E.A.M. (Together Everyone Achieves More” ) Mark ʻTommoʻ Thompson; Allen Kukel; Al Hunt; Joe Tabler; Bob ʻJensʻ Jensen; Bob Smith; Cary Weiss; Mark Fragale; Harry Bold and Steve Wilkings.

We did the Collectors Guide to help people learn all about their collection, value, how to care for, etc. Basically we went through all the surfing magazines and posters up to 1970. Currently, we are working a more updated one that will go to the 90ʻs.

I interviewed John Severson, Richard Graham and numerous other founders to get their info and it was well received.

Right after the publication Dave Marsh asked me to do a book on his 20 years of research (The Water Log) and after 3 more years of research published the first Bibliography on Surfing Literature. “200 Years of Surfing Literature, an Annotated Bibliography”

After 200 years I was asked by Arcadia Publishing, (thanks to Cary Weiss) to do a book on early surfing images with short historical text “Surfing in Hawaii, 1778-1930”

Then I self-published the first book dedicated to surfing; A.R. Gurrey Jr’s The Surf Riders of Hawaii which actually started right after we published the Collectors Guide.

My friend Allen Kukel was showing me his collection of books and paper; so he crawls way up into a high closet and pulls down this little jewel; a time capsule from a lost era, an original handmade “The Surf Riders of Hawaii”!

At the time Gurrey’s work had been forgotten and for me it was love at first site and I knew right then that this book needed to be republished just as it was done originally. So I spent about 14 years tracking down the family, getting good images and text, restoring and finally publishing the two handmade versions of the book.

The second edition “The Centennial Edition of The Surf Riders of Hawaii has “The Life and Times of A. R. Gurrey Jr." by Sandra K. Hall & Joel T. Smith with more restored Gurrey photos as well as the restored original book.

So each project has in it feed off the previous one and the information learned has overlapped from other projects and each one has been a voyage of discovery for me as well as the ever growing T.E.A.M.

surfing destinations in hawaii

During your research for the book, you must have come across some fascinating facts and legends. Care to share some of your favorites with our readers?

I always try to find first person views as I do not like historical revisionism. Meanwhile the study of surfing history has just blossomed, who would have thought some 20 years ago that there would be surfing Professors at universities! It is a field where we are constantly learning more and more about surfing’s glorious past.

For example: Right after publication of Surfing in Hawaii, 1778-1930”, I ran into Spencer Croul who told me that the cover image was actually done by J. J. Williams Studio, while all I had been able to find was a litho of the image from 1893. Later we learned that this may well be Ben Aipa’s grandfather!

And that is very much how publication works, you always seem to resolve a few unanswered questions right after you go to press.

Another example of how things are constantly being revised from “Surfing in Hawaii, 1778-1930”.  I did my best to research each era so when it came to ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs I contacted the most renowned scholars of the field, Edward and Diane Stasack. Basically what they said was that very few if any surfing petroglyphs could be considered pre-contact (1778). As the way ancient Hawaiians viewed petroglyphs was symbolic and not for illustration as we would think. Then last year a new field of possibly ancient petroglyphs was uncovered on west Oahu, which supposedly includes a surfing petro and may be pre-contact. I have not had the time to visit with the archeologist but look forward to seeing if once again; what we thing we know, may be revised again!


How different are today’s surfers from those who lived in 1800’s in Hawai’i?

The one constant though the years for surfers is the ‘stoke’! The joy of playing in God’s oceans.


What drove people to surf during one of the least understood eras of surfing? Was it just for fun or was there a deeper meaning to it all?

In pre contact Hawaii, surf riding rose to its greatest influence on any society ever. Whole villages where seen to empty when the surf was up! Legends of surfing exploits where carried on verbally for over 500 years! You could bet your life on a surfing contest or everything you owned! While shaping a surfboard or raising the surf for an event, chants where sung and offerings where given to the Gods! And ancient Hawaii was the perfect setting for the solid wood boards they rode, as Mark Fragale wrote “..keep in mind that this was a unique era, based on one simple fact: this was the time when surfing was done on solid wood—wood that had once grown high into the sky, wood that had once lived and breathed, wood that had a ‘uhane (soul). This was the era when surfers rode those billowing crests on the souls of trees.”


In your book, you have a whole chapter dedicated to surf legend Duke Paoa Kahanamoku. Kindly share with us why you think he’s such an important figure in surfing.

Besides all his well-documented exploits in the Olympics and spreading the gospel of surfing worldwide. Duke showed us everything on how a human should carry himself, live his life and treat others. As a Hawaiian he showed the world what the “aloha spirit” means. His calling card carried his creed:

“In Hawai’i we greet friends, loved ones and strangers with Aloha, which means with love.

Aloha is the key word to the universal spirit of real hospitality, which makes Hawai’i renowned as the world’s center of understanding and fellowship.

Try meeting or leaving people with Aloha. You’ll be surprised by their reaction.

I believe it and it is my creed.

Aloha to you.” Duke Paoa Kahanamoku

surfing destinations in hawaii

Tell us a bit about your future surfing plans. Any other books in the works? Or special projects?

Presently interviewing numerous surfers who first traveled to Hawaii in the 1950’s, as I have come across an old scrapbook of photos from a group of surfers who spent the winter on the North Shore during 1957-8. Have not figured out who the surfers are but they had boards shaped by Pat Curren, hung with Jose Angel and surfed all about Oahu. And I wanted surfers who were there to tell their stories, not for me to try and rewrite history.

Also plan on updating many of our past projects with the T.E.A.M. as digital publications with only very limited press runs.


What advice would you give to someone who wants to take up surfing?

Just do it!


What are some of your favorite surfing destinations in Hawai’i? How about the rest of the world?

I just want to play and have fun, so I time my sessions for the smallest crowds at a really nice left a few miles from me casa. I have always loved to travel so have been lucky to have surfed so many places way before the crowds and now with so many really wonderful surf camps, it is a great time to be a surfer.  What will the Kelly Slater wave pool bring us next? And the Olympics? Exciting times for the sport!


In your view, what are the essential ingredients to great surf camps?

  1. A camp that truly cares about the local people and culture, by hiring locals, sustaining a clean environmental eco-system and helping to sustain the local culture.
  2. Good waves of multiple skill levels.
  3. Limited crowds
  4. Enough food for the duration, no matter how simple a menu!
  5. Safety crew, well prepared for anything!

Presently planning a surf camp attack with some friends so have tried to follow these simple rules.


*all photos courtesy of Tim DeLaVega

Ready to experience an awesome surf camp? . Whichever destination you prefer, BookSurfCamps.com has got you covered! To find out more about Tim, head on over to Napali Photo!


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