A Pacific Islander known only as Tommy Tanna, who was employed as a servant in Sydney in the late 19th century, is widely credited with introducing body surfing to Australia. Along with the better-known Alick Wickham and Duke Kahanamoku, Tanna represents the contributions of Pacific Islanders to the development of Australian aquatic sport and is racialised and mythologised in memory. This paper examines Tanna via the lenses of race and performance. It aims to situate Tanna within the context of other Pacific Islanders in the aquatic ‘show spaces’ of Sydney and the reinvigoration, development and reification of a Nimble Savage stereotype which ascribed aquatic prowess to some Islanders, and to assess his surfing activities as performative of race. This discursive context assists in analysing the ways that Tanna has been represented in varying acts of social memory, which themselves are performative acts that link his contributions with his Pacific origins.