How can I hope
to tell of the pleasures and of surf bathing?
The words quoted will, perhaps, help some to understand, in a small degree, the wonderful fascinations of the delightfully healthy pastime of "surfing," or, more correctly, "breaker shooting."
As breaker shooting,
or "cavorting," is a much more scientific performance than the every day
indulged-in sport of sea bathing, I will endeavour to describe it in its
order, and enumerate some of the recommendations of the "surf."
Its very first claim upon us is its health-giving, physique-building properties:
One has only to visit the numerous beaches surrounding the city of Sydney to see its wonderful effects.
How many of our friends do we know who have been delicately inclined, and ordered into the open air, and have become surf converts?
Almost any of these once unfortunate beings could, at this moment, be pronounced "absolute cures."
I have at this moment a friend, said to be an incurable consumptive, and he swears by the surf, together with the sun.
This may seem paradoxical, as most chest weaknesses are ordered away from the salt air.
However, such is the case.
There are hundreds of persons taking to the surf nowadays for reasons other than those of pleasure.
One of its most particular claims is laid upon those suffering from obesity.
Very seldom will be seen a regular surf bather suffering from that complaint, which, I think, goes to show its effect on the abdominal regions.
These things may
be classed under the heading of "curative effects 6f the surf."
Leaving these, I come to its "formative values," as applied to the human frame.
Go to the beach and cast your eyes over the many hundreds bathing there.
What grander sight is there to behold?
The surfers are all bronzed of colour, full in chest, and thick of limb.
The surf will not, in its true sense, tolerate a weakling.
No; it will keep on improving him ...
... until he reaches a respectable physical standard.
Only the surf- bather knows the physical effort called for in getting out against a good sea, taking a good wave, and hanging to it, till it lands him on the sand.
This is not child's play.
No; 'tis something more, requiring a considerable amount of stamina.
One unacquainted with the ocean, might remark that he failed to see where the work came in.
He has evidently never "taken" a breaker.
To dispel his idea, let me take events as they happen when you enter the water.
First, you have
to swim out probably one hundred yards to the line of breakers.
This is no mean effort in a "lumpy" sea.
On getting out, you will have to hang about for a while until a decent wave happens along.
All this time you will have to support yourself, maybe in deep water, maybe in shallow, but whichever
it is, you will have to keep ducking under waves, to maintain your position.
Eventually the wave you fancy comes along; you take it and go up ,ashore, your body tense, and your breathing restrained slightly.
This, I am sure; is a physical strain, but one relieved by the exhilarating sensation of "cavorting" the wave.
There is as much "fitness" required in breaker shooting as in most other games, but it is gained under much more pleasurable circumstances than in other pastimes.
I think I have
dealt sufficientlv with the curative effects of bathing, so I will now
advance to the highest stage of surf-craft, and endeavour to explain to
the readers of this book how to shoot a breaker.
To begin with, the man who has done a fair amount of bath swimming and racing will be found to adapt himself to the peculiarities of a wave much more rapidly than one who has been debarred from the advantages of an up-to-date swimming club.
Hence are to be recognised out in the further line of breakers such men as Healy, Wickham, the Martins, and Colquhoun-Thompson, all members of the East Sydney Flying Squadron team, besides Read, F. C. Williams, Bell, and many others well known in the racing world.
These men are some of our best shooters, and I quote them to show how much better the fast men are than the slow.
Now, as to the
method of taking a wave.
The shooter gets out to the line of breakers that he intends to take off from, and there he remains till the most suitable wave rolls in.
I say ...
... most suitable, because a lot depends upon the choice of breaker to take.
You may have to allow four or five apparently decent waves to go by before you get one that you can take, the others being either "dumpy" or "short runs."
These defects in a breaker I will explain later.
At last you have decided upon the wave you want.
It is rolling in now.
Possibly you will have to go out and meet it, or maybe you will have to come inshore a little to get it on the ''catch' or "pick-up."
The "pick-up" or "catch" is that part of the wave which has a tendency to lift you up, and carry you onward with its rolls.
It is that part which is still green water, but is about to turn into a "comber" and run inshore.
The reader may ask, At what point do I take the breaker?
Well, you take it when it is about to turn from green water into a foaming billow.
Neither before nor after.
There is absolutely one moment when you must get off on a wave, and that is the instant the breaker "catches."
If you get away late you will find that you will be buried in the wave all the way ashore, or that you will drop behind on the take-off.
Then, again, if you take it too soon it will break on the top of you.
From this you will gather that there is that one instant only for the "pick-off."
Of course, onecan shoot a wave long after it has turned to foam in a sort of way, but it lacks that fascinating sensation of coming down the crest of a billow - a sensation one never tires of.
A word here as
to the most desirable waves for shooting.
The one I would fancy would be of fairly large proportions, rolling up lazily with a second bank behind it.
This wave will be known to most surfers as a "double-banker."
It will be fast, and certain to land you on the beach.
Should the front one become expended, the second one reinforces it, thereby making it the best style of wave to shoot.
But the "double-bankers" do not often come along.
The next best wave will be the green comber, that breaks and runs down its own body, being free from a "dump."
This wave can be taken by even a moderate shooter.
There are some things that must be avoided in a wave.
Should the shooter be just in the act of taking off, and the wave rear itself up in such a way that it presents a wall-like appearance, you must immediately pull back, or the consequence will be that you will be grinding and churning in the sand.
That wave was a "dumper," so be careful next time.
Every surfer knows the pains and penalties of this particular ...
... wave, and is on the alert to avoid it.
The dump or drop in the breaker is caused by the wave getting up so high that it loses all its body, and falls straight down again into the sand.
Almost any other wave can be taken in safety.
Regarding shooting ashore in a breaker, and landing on the beach, I have had the question put to me by some sage-looking persons, as to whether I turned my hands round like a propeller whilst coming along in the breakers.
One often meets with questions like these when in the sea, and I will take this opportunity of answering them.
Back again to the line of breakers for the take-off.
The wave is coming, and your chief consideration is now to pick it up, and get away.
There are two recognised methods amongst shooters.
The first is, as the wave goes to break or "catch" you, take one trudgeon kick, and you are off.
You then bring your hands in between the thighs and hold your body rigid, your shoulders and head being well out and ahead of the wave.
If the wave is strong and fast you will be able to throw your head high in the air, and arch your back. This is one of the prettiest things to be seen about a good shooter, and can only be done with a good wave, with plenty of power behind it - for preference, a double-banker.
But, on the contrary, should the wave be weak, and inclined to drop you, it will be then necessary to hang the head low over the crest of the wave, hump the shoulders, and paddle the feet slightly, using the crawl kick.
The paddling of the feet is not to be altogether recommended, as it detracts from the grace of the shooter, but still there are times when it is the only means of finishing on a wave.
The second method
of shootjng a breaker is with arms advanced under the water, as in the
underarm stroke, and the legs ready for a trudgeon kick.
As the breaker picks up, you draw both hands back, as in the first method, snap the legs together, and you are away, as before.
There are many other so-called styles of shooting the breakers, such as standing on the bottom, and pushing-off in a diving attitude as the wave breaks.
This is unpleasant, as your head is buried in foam all the time.
Another practice is to take the wave long after it has broken, and start in the foam.
It is indeed hard to get them properly, though the feat may be accomplished most easily with a surf-board.
The surf-board is used to a great ,advantage on flat, shallow beaches.
It is a piece of board, cedar for preference, about 18in. long, 10in, wide, and about half-an-inch in thickness.
It is square at one end, and half-round at the other.
The rounded end is to the front when shooting.
In taking a wave in deep water the board is held with the underarm hand.
As you take off, one stroke is taken with the overarm hand, and then as you are coming down on the wave it is brought, forward on to the board, which is then held out rigidly in front of the body, with extended arms.
In taking a wave in shallow water, whilst standing on the bottom, the board is held with both hands in front of the body.
As the wave comes down you swing forward from the bottom, bringing the board with extended arms out in front, and in that way go ashore.
There are other ways of shooting with boards of much larger proportions, but as the methods are not carried out in this country I will refrain from describing them here.
A point which
I have so far omitted, and which, to my mind, gives a very great finish
to one's water craft, is trick or fancy shooting.
What finer sight is there, or one carrying so much grace and finish, than for the shooter, as he takes off, to complete one, or even two, revolutions, whilst coming down the crest of a huge billow?
This performance is commonly known as the "roll," and is only negotiable by our best shooters. There is also the "back shoot."
Instead of taking off in the front, as before, you take off on your back, and remain that way till you get ashore.
There is also the "double shoot."
In this, two shooters get away together, and come down the breaker double-banked, or one on top of the other.
The one who is to have the top position requires to be much lighter than the one underneath.
Yet another pretty movement is to take the wave on your back, and as you are coming down with the crest, to gracefully roll over on your front.
If the half-roll is completed with finish it will bring you out, quite to your hips, in advance of the wave. A delightful sensation, indeed.
As a shooter is cavorting, or coming down, there is nothing finer than to see him soaring from his left to his right side.
It has the same appearance as a bird hovering.
One of the hardest things to perform is to roll twice on the take-off, shoot in on your front for some distance, and roll again once, and then still onward.
You need a double-banked wave for it.
There is one feature which is of the utmost importance to sea ...
... bathers, in that it either breaks or makes your swim.
It is the much-dreaded undertow which in the past has been responsible for so many tragedies.
This loss of life would be greatly minimised if bathers unfamiliar with the spot would take particular care to inquire as to the part in which they enter.
They should never heiitate to ask one who swims frequently at the spot where the safest part for bathing is.
There are two distinct kinds of under- tow, or, more correctly, current.
One, which is nearly always to be seen at the rock end of a beach, sweeps round the rocks into the sea.
Then, again, there is the current which runs out at different parts of the beach.
Neither of these are very desirable playmates, although the fore-front surfers, in time, acquire a
contempt for them.
It is difficult to set a hard and fast rule as to the means of getting out of an undertow when caught in it. It is harder still to allow yourself, in the recognised way of getting out of an undertow, to be carried out to sea in the current tin it expends itself.
This, however, is one way.
Another, and most effective one, too, is to swim across the current until you are clear of it.
An undertow, by the way, is rather a grim finish to a chapter on surf-bathing, but I trust that after following the forms of physical culture set forth in this book all the readers will be strong enough to stem the strongest current that ever ran.
HAROLD BAKER'S RECORD
... Championships of N .S. W.;
1908, represented Australia against New Zealand at water polo;
1908, represented N.S.W. at Australasian meeting, in New Zealand;
won 100 and 220 yds. Australasian Championships;
1908-9, member of E.S.S.C. Flying Squadron Team, 2nd in 500 yds. Teams' Championship of N.S.W., also numerous scratch and handicap races;
1908-9-10, Captain of Maroubra Surf Club;
1909-10, won several alarm reel races and resuscitation events in the surf.
1905, member of Womerah F.C. Club, winners of A Grade Eastern Suburbs Junior Competition; 1906-7-8-9-10, member of Sydney District First Grade Club;
1908, represented combined Metropolis against combined New Zealand Universities;
1910, represented combined Metropolis 2nds against combined Metropolis 1sts;
also, represented combined Metropolis 1sts against combined Country;
also, represented combined Metropolis lsts against Combined American Universities.
1907-8-9, won Wrestling-on-Horseback Championship of Sydney Squadron N .S. W. Lancers.
HAROLD BAKER'S HEROISM
mid-day on the date mentioned, Baker noticed that a number of persons in
the water at the popular Ooogee Beach were in difficulties.
He ran down a couple of hundred yards, and on drawing nearer to the surf saw that his worst fears
were being realised.
Fully dressed as he was, he swam rapidly to the mass of struggling, choking, despairing bathers, who had been carried far beyond the safety zone by the force of the strong current, running in a deep channel caused by storm waters from the land.
Then ensued a terrible time.
The drowning men and women clutched frantically at their rescuer, and it was only after super- human efforts that he sucooeded in quietening them sufficiently to be able to get to work.
One by one he bore the helpless bathers a'shore, shedding portions of his garments as he returned, until at length he worked in comparative freedom.
James Clarken, a well-known footballer, also dashed to the rescue, and he and Baker succeeded in safely bringing ashore no fewer than ten women and men who were on the point of perishing. Unfortunately, four lives were lost, despite the desperate efforts of Baker and Olarken, who were subsequently much downcast by the tragedy.
A day or two later
Mr. Hugh Ward, the actor-manager, came forward with the proposal to raise
£1000 for the purpose of rewarding the heroes of the Coogee sensation.
The idea was taken up with alacrity, subscriptions poured in rapidly, and a big sum was raised by an athletic carnival on the following Friday.
In very little over a week the sum called for was in hand - apart from a substantial fund raised for relatives of the victim's - and Harold Baker and James Olarken were given tangible proof of the public appreciation of their bravery and self-sacrifice.
In addition to the a'bove monetary reward, the Royal Humane Society has decided to confer upon each of the two heroes its, highest distinction - a gold medal.
"MR. HAROLD BAKER
The Noted Swimmer, Surfer, and Lifesaver."
Baker, Reg "Snowy":
|Baker, Reg "Snowy":
General Physical Culture.
With Articles On Special Subjects By Leading Australian Athletics.
(Health Strength Skill).
Melbourne. G.Robertson & Co., 1910.
Hardcover, 126 pages, black and white photographs and diagrams.
Cover image: Mitchell Library, Sydney.
"THE SNOWY BAKER
STORY is an action-packed romp full of astounding true tales and 16 pages
of fabulous photographs and images. Reginald 'Snowy' Baker - a non-drinker
and health and fitness fanatic - represented Australia in three sports
at the 1908 Olympic Games, played in two rugby union tests, represented
his country as a horseman and travelled the world as a champion swimmer,
diver and boxer. His life story is entwined with the stories of all the
major sports figures of the first half of the 20th Century: Frank Beaurepaire,
Les Darcy, Duke Kahanamoku, H.H. Dally Messenger and Freddy Lane.Snowy
next embraced the life of an entrepreneur, potion maker, publisher and
boxing promoter, mixing with many of the major figures in Australian social
history before he and his trusty 'Boomerang the wonder horse' took up a
career in film. Snowy starred, produced and undertook all of his own stunts
in some of the first feature-length Australian films including The Man
From Kangaroo.Then it was off to Hollywood where his escapades included
filmmaking with Charlie Chaplin, teaching Rudolf Valentino to kiss and
to fence, instructing Elizabeth Taylor to ride for National Velvet, playing
polo with Roy Rogers, providing advice and a front for Spencer Tracy as
he began his affair with Katharine Hepburn and protecting a philandering
Douglas Fairbanks Snr from his wife.A full life indeed for a working class
boy from Surry Hills."
Australian Dictionary of Biography - Online Edition
Note: Includes image of "Baker, Kahanamoku and Beaurepaire"
" Reginald Leslie (Snowy) Baker (1884 - 1953), by unknown photographer, courtesy of State Library of New South Wales. Original : PXE 653 (v.58)."
State Library of NSW
Davis sporting collection part II : Swimming
65. Snowy Baker, Duke Kahanamoku and Frank Beaurepaire
LESLIE (SNOWY) (1884-1953),
- sportsman and showman, was born on 8 February 1884 at Surry Hills, Sydney, son of George Baker, an Irish-born Sydney Municipal Council clerk, and his wife Elizabeth Jane, née Robertson. Very blond, he was called 'Snowy' from childhood; he was educated at Crown Street Public School and, reputedly, learned horsemanship at dawn work-outs on Randwick Racecourse. In 1897-99 he won a series of swimming championships for his school, swam and played water polo for the East Sydney Swimming Club, and in 1901 finished second to R. Cavill in the State half-mile championship. He did not, as was later claimed, study engineering at the University of Sydney or win several 'blues'; he may have worked for the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. as an engineering draftsman. He played Rugby Union for Eastern Suburbs and represented New South Wales at half-back against both Queensland and the touring Great Britain side in 1904. A 'rare tackler … and as hard a player for his weight as has been seen in the game', he played for Australia in the first Test. As an oarsman, he rowed for the Mercantile Rowing Club in championship maiden and junior fours and eights in 1905-06; he was also a capable cricketer.
Baker served as a trooper with the New South Wales Lancers from about 1902, gaining the rank of sergeant and excelling in a variety of military sports: over the years he won many prizes in such activities as fencing (with the sword and bayonet), wrestling on horseback and tent-pegging. A fair shot, he was 'a decidedly handy man in the event of a foe descending on our peaceful shores'. In 1902 he took up boxing; for many years he weighed 11 st. 7 lb. (73 kg). In 1905 he became New South Wales amateur middleweight champion and next year retained his title, won the same belt in Victoria, and became the heavyweight champion of both States.
In December 1906, farewelled by 1000 people in Sydney including a boatload of twenty young ladies who pursued him to the Heads, Baker left for England to compete in the Amateur Boxing Association's championships, but contracted enteric fever and pneumonia. However, he boxed in the 1908 Olympic tournament held in London in October, three months after the games proper. As a middleweight he won three fights in the one day, two of them by knockouts, to reach the final which he lost narrowly on points to J. W. H. T. Douglas. He visited Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia and Europe and performed at both exhibition and competition level, mainly in aquatic sports. He was welcomed as a distinguished athlete at gentlemen's sporting clubs wherever he went.
Returning to a considerable welcome in Sydney in December 1908, Baker began to capitalize on his athletic and boxing fame and opened a physical culture establishment, with mail-order courses, in Castlereagh Street. On 31 March 1909 at St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, he married 37-year-old Ethel Rose Mackay, daughter of a squatter and widow of Augustus Daniel Kearney, a Victorian physician and notable tennis player. A journalist of skill, Baker contributed to the Sydney Evening News in 1908-10, published a book, General Physical Culture (Melbourne, 1910), and in 1912 began Snowy Baker's Magazine, a penny monthly that attained a circulation of over 3000 in its two years of existence.
Meanwhile he had become involved in H. D. McIntosh's Stadiums boxing organization, mainly as a referee; at times controversial, Baker wore green trousers and a felt hat, later evening dress. In December 1912 he arranged the purchase of the Rushcutters Bay Stadium for £30,000 and soon, with John Wren, had Baker's Stadiums in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane, and was following McIntosh's policy of bringing international boxers to Australia. In July 1914 the stadium staged its first Les Darcy fight and Baker soon controlled the Maitland boxer's engagements. He was annoyed when Darcy left Australia secretly in October 1916, and had to face accusations thereafter that he had been largely responsible for the boycotting and even the death of Darcy in the United States of America in May 1917. Baker always denied the charges and seems conclusively to have disproved them face-to-face with a Maitland committee of inquiry in October.
He tried three times to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force, but was prevented by a spinal injury; instead he devoted himself to fund-raising concerts. Boxing declined in popularity and he put on shows and film-nights at the stadium. Baker moved into the film business in 1918, and played a secret agent in The Enemy Within and a stationhand in The Lure of the Bush. In 1919 he was co-producer with E. J. Carroll and starred as a boxing parson in The Man from Kangaroo, as a bushranger in The Shadow of Lightning Ridge, and as a jackeroo in The Jackeroo of Coolabong (1920). All his roles featured his horsemanship, with his famous grey, Boomerang.
In August 1920 Baker left for the United States of America to further his film career, but although he did appear in some movies, succeeded rather as a coach and instructor in athletic feats and as a businessman. In 1933 he became a director and major operating partner of the Riviera Country Club, near Santa Monica, California, and spent an active life largely as a riding instructor to Hollywood stars and as a polo player. In the early 1930s he had contributed a column to the Sydney Referee. He re-visited Australia briefly in 1925, 1932 and 1952.
Survived by his wife and a step-daughter, Baker died of cerebro-vascular disease on 2 December 1953 at Los Angeles, and was cremated. His estate in New South Wales was valued for probate at £39,111. His stature as an athlete depends largely upon the enormous range rather than the outstanding excellence of his activities; it was as an entrepreneur-showman, publicist and businessman that he seems in retrospect to have been most important.
His brother William Harold (1887-1962), was born on 29 September 1887 in Sydney. He was a notable swimmer, winning three New South Wales championships in 1906 and captaining the Australian water polo team. He played Rugby football for Australia three times against New Zealand and won boxing and wrestling championships. With Snowy he worked for Stadiums Ltd and refereed many of Darcy's most important fights, including the one against Fritz Holland on 12 September 1914 when he disqualified Darcy for a foul. He was described as a 'man with a marble mouth and a jaw of steel. A man of ice with frozen eyes and a frozen voice'. Captain of Maroubra Surf Club in 1900-10, on 28 January 1910 he took part in a famous surf rescue of over 100 people at Cronulla Beach and was awarded the Albert Medal for bravery; a public subscription for him raised £1000 in its first week. He died on 17 October 1962 at Woollahra, survived by a daughter and by his wife Nellie Innes Sara, née Crawshaw, whom he had married on 12 June 1912.
His brothers Frank,
who joined the film industry in Los Angeles in the 1920s, and Ernest were
water polo players; Frederick was an amateur welterweight champion of Australia,
and refereed for Stadiums Ltd.
R. Swanwick, Les Darcy, Australia's Golden Boy of Boxing (Syd, 1965); E. Reade, Australian Silent Films (Melb, 1970); People (Sydney), 27 Sept 1950; Parade, Oct 1959; Referee, 1908, Dec 1912–Dec 1913, 31 Oct 1917, 13 Apr 1932; Punch (Melbourne), 19 June 1913; Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Dec 1953. More on the resources
Author: W. F. Mandle
Details: W. F. Mandle, 'Baker, Reginald Leslie (Snowy) (1884 - 1953)',
Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, Melbourne University Press,
1979, pp 150-152.
Baker Boxing Diving Swimming 1884 - 1953
Harry Gordon, AOC historian
“Snowy” Baker, Australia’s greatest all-round athlete, competed in 26 different
sports, and excelled in all of them. He was an international footballer,
swimmer, boxer and diver, and was in championship class as a horseman,
rower, wrestler, polo and water polo player, track athlete, fencer and
He remains the only Australian to have represented the nation in three separate sports at the Olympic Games, and he played rugby union for Australia against the touring Great Britain team in 1904.
At the London
1908 Olympics, he competed in the boxing, swimming and diving, winning
a silver medal in the middleweight boxing division after losing narrowly
on points in a hard-fought encounter with Britain’s J.W.H.T. (“Johnny Won’t
Hit Today”) Douglas.
Douglas, who earned his nickname as a stonewalling cricketer, later captained England on a Test tour of Australia.
Baker’s Olympic boxing performance has been matched by only one other Australian – light-welterweight Grahame ‘Spike’ Cheney, who won silver in Seoul in 1988.
Baker was a member (with swimmers Frank Beaurepaire, Theo Tartakova and Frank Springfield) of the Australian 4 x 200m freestyle relay team that won its heat and finished fourth in the final.
He had little preparation for his springboard diving event, and finished sixth in his heat.
Baker had a varied
post-Olympic career, most notably as a boxing referee, boxing promoter,
entrepreneur, writer, actor, film-maker, Hollywood stuntman and director
of an exclusive country club in California.
During the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, he was both Australia’s team attaché and a perceptive correspondent for the Sydney Referee.
Harry Gordon, AOC historian