Surf State | U.C. Davis Magazine

Did you learn anything surprising?

I was surprised to learn how influential he was. Basically it started out as a novel, and I quit the novel and decided that I needed to find out more about his real life before I could start making things up. Going into his biography, I realized he pioneered California beach culture because he combined surfing and lifesaving. It was light bulb moment for me because there was something bigger in his story.

What kind of research did this book involve?

For me, it was really essential to have access to the digitized databases of newspapers. It helped me to understand the kind of daily activities of his life, because so little is known about him and there was a lot of conflicting information about his accomplishments, what he did, who his family was . So I started doing research in the newspapers. It was a goldmine to fill in those details.

What is the preview for the next book?

I found this little niche in California beach culture, so my current project picks up where Freeth left off when he died – from 1920 to WWII. During the 1930s, essentially during the Great Depression, there was a huge Hawaiian influence in California, as well as in movies and music. It really helped California beach culture grow. But in the 1930s, that’s when Californians started making it ‘Californian’. They use cars to get to the beach, invent surf racks, make their own surf clothes. It’s kind of “do-it-yourself”. So the second book is about the Hawaiian influence but also about how California is starting to break away from those influences and really make it California beach culture.

As a French professor at Drury University in Missouri, do you surf very often?

I’m on a sabbatical this year, so I spent four months in California last summer and it was great surfing, reconnecting with friends and family, and doing research. It’s my indirect connection to California.

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