George Freeth

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George Douglas Freeth Jr.
George Freeth.jpg
Born(1883-11-08)November 8, 1883
Oahu, Hawaii, United States
DiedApril 7, 1919(1919-04-07) (aged 35)
San Diego, California, United States

George Douglas Freeth Jr. (November 8, 1883 – April 7, 1919) was an American life guard and swimming instructor. Freeth was referred to in his day as the first white person to become expert at wave surfing, although he was of part Native Hawaiian descent. He and fellow Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku introduced the sport to the United States.[1]


Freeth was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1883, his mother was part-Hawaiian while his father, George Freeth Sr., was an Irish sea captain.[1] Further information taken from various descendants mentions that his mother was Elizabeth Kailikapuolono Green, daughter of William Lowthian Green and Elizabeth "Lepeka" Kahalaunani, a Hawaiian woman. Lepeka also conceived three daughters with Archibald Cleghorn, a well-known businessman of Honolulu. Cleghorn later fathered the well-known Princess Kaiulani with Hawaiian royalty Miriam Likelike, a sister to King David Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani.

While vacationing in Hawaii, industrialist Henry Huntington, saw Freeth surfing and quickly brought him to Redondo Beach, California in 1907 as an attraction showing off "the man who walked on water".[2] According to the 1910 Census, Freeth rented a room at 106 Pacific Avenue in Redondo Beach.

Freeth died at the age of 35 as a result of the global flu pandemic in 1919 while living and working in San Diego. According to his draft registration card a year earlier, Freeth was living at 1940 Abbott Street in San Diego and working as a lifeguard for the City of San Diego. Upon his death, he was buried in Oahu Cemetery in a grave with his sibling, A.R. Freeth.

Lifeguard contributions[edit]

Freeth is credited by some with developing the rescue paddleboard and the rescue can, tools commonly used by lifeguards.[3] However, the United States Lifesaving Association asserts that the rescue can was designed by Captain Henry Sheffield in 1897.[4]

In 1910, Freeth was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal for rescuing seven fishermen off Venice Beach during a winter storm in December 1908.[5] The obverse of the medal shows rescuers in a small, storm-tossed boat pulling a man from the water, and the legend reads:

                                 UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
                               ACT OF CONGRESS JUNE 20, 1874

The legend on the reverse reads:


And in the reverse center is inscribed:


Theft of bust[edit]

On August 7, 2008, it was reported that a bronze bust of Freeth was stolen from the Redondo Beach Pier where it was on display. Police had no leads at the time, but suspected that the bust was stolen to be sold for scrap metal because of its copper content.[6] On November 7, 2010, George Freeth's bust was replaced in Redondo Beach, CA.

Freeth's life and his contributions to surfing and lifeguarding is a significant part of the documentary film Waveriders.


  1. ^ a b Matt Warshaw (2005). The Encyclopedia of Surfing. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 214. ISBN 0-15-603251-1.
  2. ^ Fridrich & Shanahan, Wm. & Dennis (1982). Old Redondo. Redondo Beach, California: Legends Press. ISBN 0-9608808-0-1.
  3. ^ "Arthur Verge, Los Angeles Lifeguards". Archived from the original on 2012-04-27. Retrieved 2013-03-22.
  4. ^ Brewster, B. Chris (2003). Open Water Lifesaving, The United States Lifesaving Manual. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458: Pearson Custom Publishing. p. 16. ISBN 0-536-73735-5.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  5. ^ Cisco, Dan (1999). Hawaiʻi sports : history, facts, and statistics. Honolulu: University of Hawaiì Press. p. 277. ISBN 9780585329666. OCLC 45843018.
  6. ^ Lin II, Rong-Gong (August 8, 2008). "Bust of surfing legend stolen". Los Angeles Times.

External links[edit]