The first written account of surfing, according to most scholars, dates to 1778 in Hawaii. Yet, as Kevin Dawson (a surfer himself) points out, those scholars are “a hundred and forty years too late, and some ten thousand miles off the mark,” because the first account of surfing was actually recorded in the 1640s on Africa's Gold Coast (p. 28). This is one of many surprises that readers will find in Dawson's enlightening Undercurrents of Power, which explores the “aquatic fluencies” of early modern Africans and African-descended people, concentrating on the eighteenth century (p. 2). Rejecting the “landlocked paradigms” that have, in Dawson's view, predominated in studies of the African diaspora, he shows how “waterscapes” served as crucial social, cultural, and working spaces on both sides of the Atlantic (p. 251).

Dawson argues that people throughout Africa lived, worked, and socialized...

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