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$5,000 reward for stolen surfer statue in Redondo Beach *

August 9, 2008 |  4:06 pm

The_chairman_of_the_board Who stole the bronze bust of George Freeth, the father of California surfing, from its perch on the Redondo Beach pier? A $5,000 reward awaits the person with the answer, courtesy of Body Glove founder Bob Meistrell, the Daily Breeze reports. The bust went missing sometime late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning, hacked loose from the concrete pedestal where it sat for 31 years. 

Freeth, half Hawaiian and half Irish, came to the U.S. in 1907 after Jack London, awed by the 23-year-old surfer's athleticism, wrote about him in "A Royal Sport: Surfing in Waikiki," an article published in the lady's Home Companion, according to Surfing for Life. London's raves led real estate tycoon Henry Huntington to hire Freeth to put on surfing exhibitions in front of the Hotel Redondo, billing him as "The Man Who Could Walk on Water.  Thousands came to watch him and soon, he was traveling up and down the SoCal coast, spreading the gospel of surfing.

George Freeth, the man who walked on water In 1909, when a fishing boat capsized in heavy surf in Santa Monica, Freeth swam out and saved all seven men on board. For that, he earned the Congressional Gold Medal. (That's it on the right side of the photo. His National Lifesaving Award is on the left.) Freeth went on to be the first lifeguard in Southern California and organized the state's first professional lifeguard corps.

Remember "Baywatch"? Freeth is credited with inventing that red, torpedo-shaped rescue can that was as much a prop on the show as Pam Anderson's jiggle. By the time he died in the 1919 influenza pandemic that swept the globe, the sport of Hawaiian kings was well on its way to defining California culture to the rest of the world.

And now his statue is gone. Know who took it? Here's the contact info:

Bob Meistrell: (310) 374-3441 (ext. 292 or 277)

--Veronique de Turenne

* A previous version of this post stated that George Freeth won a Congressional Medal of Honor. In fact, he was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.