Q&A with the author of WAIKIKI DREAMS

Patrick Moser, the author of Waikiki Dreams: How California Appropriated Hawaiian Beach Culture, answers questions on his new book.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?  

I wanted to continue the history that I had begun in Surf and Rescue: George Freeth and the Birth of California Beach Culture. Waikiki Dreams picks up where the Freeth story left off, covering the development of California beach culture from 1920 to World War II. There are so many interesting characters who form part of that history, and I wanted to bring their stories to life.  

Q: What is the most interesting discovery you made while researching and writing your book?  

I learned that California beach culture of the 20th century developed at the expense of indigenous peoples whose coastal lands were taken from them during the 19th century. Moreover, one of the reasons why beach activities like surfing and lifeguarding are predominantly practiced by white Californians today is due to policies and practices of exclusion that originated in private clubs and municipal organizations along the Santa Monica Bay in the 1920s. Had clubs and cities allowed women and people of color to work as lifeguards, for example, the seascapes along the Golden State might look very different from what they do today. 

Q: What myths do you hope your book will dispel or what do you hope your book will help readers unlearn? 

I hope readers will see the historical examples of systemic racism and sexism that I identify in the development of California beach culture as an opportunity for all of us who enjoy the coastline and its many possibilities for pleasure to work toward creating and maintaining equal access for everyone. 

Q: Which part of the publishing process did you find the most interesting?  

I have appreciated working with all of the professionals at the University of Illinois Press. Their respective expertise in every stage of the process has taught me so much about publishing. Jennie Fisher designed the book covers for both Surf and Rescue and Waikiki Dreams. I have especially enjoyed the collaborative work of choosing a photograph that represents the heart of each book and then seeing how she brings those visuals to life and enhances them with various design elements. Everyone works so hard at the Press to produce books that authors can feel very proud of. 

Q: What is your advice to scholars/authors who want to take on a similar project? 

We have a saying in surfing: You don’t know until you go. You can watch waves from shore, or even check them online through a surf cam, but you won’t really know how they’re breaking until you actually paddle out. I’ve enjoyed the serendipity of “paddling out” into this project, so to speak—finding primary documents that I didn’t know existed: letters, photographs, recordings, newspaper articles, interviews, newsletters, among others. I hope my research has contributed to further opening up the field of Critical Surf Studies, and I’m interested to see how current and future scholars improve upon my work. 

Q: What do you like to read/watch/or listen to for fun? 

I enjoy streaming a good drama/mystery: Mare of Easttown, Unforgotten, Broadchurch. My Spotify list leans toward the nostalgic with Americana hits from singers that I grew up listening to in the late 1960s & 1970s: Peter, Paul, & Mary, Steve Miller Band, Tom Petty, Credence Clearwater Revival. I’ve been reading a lot of historical fiction lately. I just finished Trust by Hernan Diaz, an imaginative and stimulating novel that covers the same time period as Waikiki Dreams. 

Patrick Moser is professor of writing and French at Drury University. He is the author of Surf and Rescue: George Freeth and the Birth of California Beach Culture and the editor of Pacific Passages: An Anthology of Surf Writing.

About Kristina Stonehill