Hawaiian Culture - He’e nalu (Surfing)

Makua and Kila statue - The Surfer Boy and the Seal at Waikiki Beach

The skill of riding waves likely originated from when humans first began swimming in the world’s oceans. In this respect then, bodysurfing (riding a wave without the assistance of any buoyant device) would be the original type of ‘wave-catching’. It most probably developed within the greater Pacific region as a part of fishing and also for recreation over many thousands of years.

However, the art of actually standing up on a board (surfboard) to ride a wave is a relatively recent innovation developed by the Polynesians and modern surfing can be traced directly back to the surfers of early Hawai’i.

The Hawaiian people did not consider surfing to be a mere recreational activity as it is viewed today. Rather, they integrated surfing into their culture. They referred to what is the ‘art of surfing’ as heʻe nalu which translates as ‘wave sliding’.

Before entering the ocean, they prayed to the gods for protection and strength to undertake the powerful and often unforgiving ocean. However, if the ocean was calm and therefore lacking suitable waves, then the surfers would call upon the kahuna (priest), who would assist them in a surfing prayer, asking the gods to deliver great surf.

In addition, prior to entering the ocean, the kahuna would also aid the surfers, mainly of the Ali’i (nobles) in undertaking the special spiritual ceremony of constructing a surfboard. This would involve selecting one of three types of trees i.e the koa, ‘ulu or wiliwili for local craftsmen to construct their board for them. There were three main shapes- the ‘olo, the kiko’o and the alaia.

Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku

Duke Kahanamoku, a Hawaiian Olympic swimmer and a member of the Ali’i, travelled the world giving swimming exhibitions and it was during this period that he popularized the sport of surfing in places like Australia and the USA.

The Duke was a cousin and close friend of HRH Prince Darrick’s family and a national swimming team mate of Prince Darrick’s grandmother Ali’i Bernice Lane.

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