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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 March 2008, 14:51 GMT
Ulster roots man who gave world surfing
By Johnny Caldwell
BBC News

George Freeth
George Freeth's father came from Ulster
It's unlikely the Beach Boys gave Northern Ireland much consideration when writing any of their numerous hits.

However, songs like Surfin' USA, Surf City and Surfin' Safari owe more to this part of the world than you probably thought.

For it was the son of a man from Ulster who brought surfing to California and in turn gave to the world, having resurrected the sport in Hawaii shortly after the turn of the last century.

George Freeth's father had earlier emigrated to what is now the 50th US state, where missionaries had for some reason done their best to stamp out surfing.

This very Irish connection to the origins of one of the world's coolest pastimes is a featured a documentary getting its UK premiere at this year's Belfast Film Festival.

Pet Sounds
The Beach Boys refer to surfing in many of their songs

"There were a lot Freeths in County Antrim and in Monaghan, but unfortunately we haven't been able to narrow down exactly where George Freeth's father was from," Waveriders director Joel Conroy told BBC News. "We actually spoke to his great grand niece in Hawaii, but she couldn't shed any more light on his Irish roots.

"But she did have his Congressional Medal of Honour which he received for saving the lives of several Japanese fishermen."

George Freeth, besides being known as the father of modern surfing, was also the first official lifeguard on the US's Pacific coast, where today at Redondo Beach a statue in his honour can be found.

Its inscription tells of how he was born in Honolulu on 8 November 1883 "of Hawaiian and Irish ancestry".

Scene from Waveriders
Waveriders is being screened at the Belfast Film Festival

"As a youngster he revived the lost Polynesian art of surfing while standing on a board," it continues.

Joel Conroy's documentary also charts the awakening of surfing across the island of Ireland, climaxing with Gabe Davies, Richie Fitzgerald, Al Meanie and Duncan Scott attempting to ride a huge wave off Mullaghmore, County Sligo, using the new technique of tow surfing.

Waveriders is being screened at the QFT, as part of the 8th Belfast Film Festival, at 1630 BST on Saturday 19 April.





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