Magnum Thomas: Hollywood’s Moustache Wearing, Bad Guy Fighting, Surf-ski Kayaker

Wednesday, 12 September 2012
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Thomas Magnum on the phone.

Outside of Bo and Duke, Thomas Magnum from Magnum PI was the coolest guy and television when I was a kid growing up. I jealous of both his Ferrari and moustache and couldn’t understand why my father didn’t have either of them.

Besides the car chases and bad-guy brawls, I thought it was awesome that he got to spend spent a lot of time out on the ocean in his kayak (or more specifically a surf ski). Throughout the series Magnum got out paddling in nine different episodes which is quite a bit considering he lived in Hawaii and didn’t really surf. Also remember that it was 1980-88 and hardly anybody in North America kayaked in those early years so it’s interesting that the writers kept the character involved in such a local, niche sport.

As far as what he paddled, there isn’t a lot of specific information but throughout the series Thomas Magnum used several different models including a custom designed kayak which was manufactured by Hayden Surf Ski. Most of the other episode stills with his boat don’t show any logos so it’s harder to tell the specific manufacturer.

Thomas Magnum on his surf-ski.

I’m not sure if Tom Selleck gets out paddling today but he did use his surf-ski quite a bit to relax in-between takes during shooting. I found an old news report of him getting in a small bit of trouble one afternoon when he got caught in the surf and almost got washed over a reef. The April 7, 1981 edition of the Weekly World News carried the story of his brush with death at the hands of 6-foot monster waves. That being said, the Weekly World News loved to be a bit over-dramatic as shown by the other headlines in that issue including, “Bee Gee’s visit brings child’s miracle recovery” and “Girls tortured in satanic rites in castle of horror” so I’m sure he just got pushed around a bit in the waves then went back to the set to sign more autographs.

The headline, “Magnum star Tom Selleck beats death in terrifying ocean ordeal” sold a lot of papers at grocery stores across America.

Thomas Magnum kayaking.

Thomas Magnum kayaking.

As the series went on the writers started adding more kayaking to the show peaking with the fourth season opener as an all surf-ski episode called, Home from the Sea. Magnum battles for his life when he falls off his surf-ski far from shore. Here is the description:

“Magnum's tradition of spending the Fourth of July alone at sea turns to a life-and-death battle when his surf ski capsizes from a reckless boater and a strong current takes him further and further from land. Forced to tread water for hours in shark-infested waters, Thomas uses his memories of his mom and dad to keep himself alive while Higgins, T.C., and Rick begin a frantic search for him.”

To be honest, it isn’t really that good of an episode. He just treads water for and hour and has a bunch of flashbacks. No car chases or bad-guy fights.

So this leads me to think about the influence that Magnum PI had on the world of kayaking. While I don’t think that Hollywood’s hairiest chest and sexiest moustache brought surf-skiing specifically to the common man, I do think it showcased kayaking as another form of exercise and excitement while making the sport look awesomely cool. I will say though I do know for a fact that he made a whole generation of 12-year-old boys want to become swim instructors.

magnun teaching swimming

Here is a great compiled clip somebody put together of Magnum paddling along with some other surf-ski racing footage spliced in for good measure. Enjoy!

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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