Ford, Alexander Hume


Relentlessly energetic promoter of the Hawaiian Islands and "the art of surf-riding" in the early 20th century; founder of the Outrigger Canoe Club, surfing's first organized group. "Alexander Hume Ford is Hawaii's best booster and the busiest man in the mid-Pacific," Sunset magazine wrote of Ford in 1917. "You can't keep the man himself still long enough to really photograph him."

Ford was born (around 1868) into a wealthy South Carolina plantation family, but orphaned at an early age. He grew up living with relatives. “As a boy," Ford later wrote, "I used to sit in school idling away my time [staring] at the picture in my geography book of Hawaiian men and women, who, standing on the tiniest of boards, stood poised upon the crest of monster rollers."

As as adult, Ford wrote for the New York daily newspapers and magazines, produced children's theater, and traveled extensively through Russia and China before settling in the newly acquired American territory of Hawaii in 1907. Ford, 39, fell in love with the islands and quickly became one of the territory's most ardent political and cultural boosters. Nothing thrilled Ford more than the ancient Hawaiian sport of surfing, which had suffered greatly during the previous century under the influence of Calvinist missionaries. Ford made himself a wooden plank board and took to the surf at Waikiki virtually the moment he arrived in Hawaii, practiced every day for four hours, and was riding alongside the native surfers three months later.

In May of 1907, when Jack London visited Honolulu, Ford—a slight, quick-moving man, with a pointy goatee and whisk-broom mustache—marched over and introduced himself, and convinced the athletically inclined writer that he had to try surfing. London's account of the experience was published a few months later in Woman's Home Companion. He never got to his feet and picked up a blistering sunburn for his troubles, but nonetheless experienced "ecstatic bliss at having caught [a] wave." Ford himself wrote an article on surfing for Colliers two years later, noting that the sport was already being exported to the mainland. "It has been done at Atlantic City, and is being taught by a Hawaiian youth [George Freeth] in Southern California."

Ford helped organize the Outrigger Canoe Club in the spring of 1908, for the purpose of "reviving and preserving the ancient Hawaiian sport of surfing on boards and in outrigger canoes." The Waikiki beachfront club and its two grass-covered houses immediately became the hub of Hawaiian surfing. Its mostly white membership, however, led to the formation of a second club in 1911, Hui Nalu, consisting mainly of native-born wave-riders. That same year, Ford founded The Mid-Pacific Magazine, as another way to further promote the Islands, surfing included.

Ford never married, and died in 1945. His memorial service was held at the Outrigger Canoe Club, and he was eulogized in the Honolulu Advertiser as "the livest live wire of all the Pacific commonwealth."

Hawaiian Prophet, Ford's biography, was published in 1980.