The Atlantic did some digging on the above surf video. As for Edison, the jury is still out as to whether he ever actually witnessed the spectacle himself.
Leonard DeGraaf, an archivist at Thomas Edison National Historical Park, tells the publication: “We have no evidence Edison ever visited Hawaii. There’s tons of stuff about Edison out there that’s bogus.”
As The Atlantic quickly discovered, it’s a moot point whether the inventor followed the camera to Hawaii. What matters is that an employee did, and stayed for three months capturing some amazing footage. DeGraaf continues on Bonine’s film, “I think this is the earliest record of an Edison film crew in Hawaii.”
Remarkably, The Atlantic tracked down some publications at the time that referenced the then epic shoot.
The Honolulu Advertiser, for example, offered: “Moving pictures of canoes and surfboard riding are to be taken off the Moana and Seaside hotels, Waikiki, this afternoon…Those who can ride surfboards standing up are wanted to be there in force.”
While possibly the earliest surfing video existing, it may not be the earliest ever taken.
Historian DeSoto Brown tells The Atlantic: “Presumably the oldest surfing footage was shot in 1897 or 1898 by Burton Holmes, a professional travel writer and lecturer. However—and this is typical of old films—the footage is not known to exist anymore, so nobody can see what was shot.”
Thanks to impeccable conservation, some things from those early days do exist, and we have the luxury of viewing them online in the comfort of our homes.