Source Documents
a.p. taylor : surf riding under hawaiian skies, 1922 

Albert Pierce Taylor : Surf Riding Under Hawaiian Skies, 1922.
  Taylor, Albert Pierce: Under Hawaiian Skies
A Narrative of the Romance, Adventure and History of the Hawaiian Islands
Advertiser Publishing Company, Ltd., Honolulu, Hawaii, 1922.
Chapter 30- Surf Riding

Internet Archive

The vast majority of the chapter on surf-riding is copied from
Thrum's Hawaiian Almanac and Annual for 1896, updated with some references to the Outrigger Canoe Club.
Probably the most widely cited article on ancient Hawaiian surf-riding, unfortunately Thrum's article is misleading and inaccurate.
 1896 Thrum* : Hawaiian Surfriding.

Page 399                                                                                      CHAPTER XXX

OLD Father Neptune is one of Hawaii's closest neighbors, one of its best-liked and in a sense one of the most helpful, for it is Neptune who has given the Hawaiians that rarest of aquatic sports surf-riding with their great surf-boards and with their wonderful outrigger canoes.
The vast ocean with its changing colors, increasing in alteration of hues the nearer one approaches the shore line, is always cool and inviting, and the Hawaiians, the ancients, created the sport that has made Waikiki Beach and all Hawaii famous the world over.

No more picturesque scene is found in any waters than that seen almost daily at Waikiki, when bronze-skinned, stalwart youths of magnificent physical proportions toboggan in on the crest combers standing, kneeling or lying down upon their boards; and it must be said that visitors to Hawaii become as proficient today in this exhilarating art, for it is an art.

But I wonder how many devotees of surf-riding today, even including the young Hawaiians, know that behind that art of the sea is a mountain-high background of pagan prayers and of ceremonials by the ancient priesthood, participated in even by the kings and the great chiefs?

It was a favorite pastime of the ancient Hawaiians and was one of their expressions of racing when chiefs and commoners put all their wealth into the proficiency of champion surfers.
Often the kings and chiefs gathered upon the shore for festivals and staged surf-riding races, when there came two rivals, probably the best of that particular island, to display their prowess with the great boards.
Oftentimes a famous surf-rider from another island was present and then the contest narrowed down to an ex-

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hibition of utmost skill, with the spectators on shore often divided into two factions, betting upon their favorites.

Native legends abound with the exploits of those who attained distinction among their fellows by their skill and daring in this sport, indulged in alike by both sexes, and frequently, too, the gentler sex carried off the highest honors.
These legendary accounts are usually interwoven with romantic incident, as in the abduction of Kalea, sister of Kawaokaohele, Moi (king) of Maui, by emissaries of Lo-Lale, chief of Lihue, in the Ewa district of Oahu; the exploit of Laieikawai and Halaaniani at Keeau, Puna, Hawaii; or for chieftain supremacy, as instanced in the contest between Umi and Paiea, in a surf-swimming match at Laupa-hoehoe, which the former was challenged to, and won, upon a wager of four double canoes; also of Lonoikamakahiki, at Hana, Maui, and others.

How early in the history of the race surf-riding became the science with them that it did is not known, though it is a well-acknowledged fact that, while other islanders may divide honors with Hawaiians for aquatic prowess in other respects, none attained, until recent years, the expertness of surf sport, which early visitors recognized as a national characteristic of the natives of this group.
In recent years, however, through the efforts of the Outrigger Club, at Honolulu, the art of surf-riding, which had nearly vanished, was revived.
Young white men and women took up the sport and became proficient.
Hawaiians again took it up and there ensued a keen rivalry, which is still in vogue at Waikiki Beach.
Now the art of surfing has been acquired by travelers, and naturally photo-albums in thousands of parts of the world are adorned with pictures of the owners standing in front of their boards uplifted on the sandy beaches.

It would be interesting to know exactly how the Hawaiians, over all others in the Pacific, developed this into a scientific sport.
That it became national in character can be understood when we learn that it was identified, to some extent at least, with the ceremonies and superstitions of kahunaism (witchery, witch-doctoring), especially in preparation therefor, while the indulgence of the sport pandered to their gambling propensities.

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Old Hawaiians who have told the story of surfing, as handed down in chants and by mouth to mouth, say that much valuable time was spent in ancient times in practising the sport.
Necessary work for the maintenance of the family, such as farming, fishing, mat and fa/?a-making, and such other household duties required of them and needing attention, by either head of the family, was often neglected for the prosecution of the sport.
Betting was made an accompaniment thereof, both by the chiefs and the common people, as was done in all other games, such as wrestling, foot-racing, quoits, checkers (konane), holua and several others known only to the ancient Hawaiians.
Canoes, nests, fishing lines, tap as, swine, poultry and all other property were staked, and in some instances life itself was put up as wagers, the property changing hands, and personal liberty, and life itself, sacrificed according to the outcome of the match.

There were only three kinds of trees known to be used for making boards for surf-riding, namely, the wiliwili, ulu, or bread fruit, and koa, of the acacia family.
The uninitiated were natur ally careles, and indifferent as to the method of cutting the chosen tree, but among those who desired success upon their labors, rites were carefully observed.

Upon the selection of a suitable tree a red fish called kumu was first procured, which was placed at its trunk. The tree was then cut down, after which a hole was dug at its root and the fish placed therein, with a prayer, as an offering in payment therefor.
After this ceremony was performed, the tree trunk was chipped away from each side until reduced to a board approximately of the dimensions desired, when it was pulled down to the beach and placed in the halau (canoe-house) or other suitable place convenient for its finishing work.

Coral of the corrugate variety termed pohaku puna, which could be gathered in abundance at the sea beach, and a rough kind of stone called oahi, were the commonly used implements for reducing and smoothing the rough surfaces of the board until all marks of the stone adze were obliterated.
As a finishing stain the root of the ti plant (Cordyline terminalis), called mole ki t or the pounded bark of the kukui (candle-nut) tree, called hili, was

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the mordant used for a paint made with the root of burned kukui nuts.
This furnished a durable, glossy black finish, far preferable to that made with ashes of burned cane leaves or amau fern, which had neither body nor gloss.

Before using the board there were other rites or ceremonies to be performed, for its dedication.
As before, these were disregarded by the common people, but among those who followed the making of surf-boards as a trade, they were religiously observed.

There are two kinds of boards for surf-riding, one called the olo and the other a-la-ia, known also as omo.
The olo was made of wiliwili, a very light, buoyant wood, some three fathoms long, two to three feet wide, and from six to eight inches thick along the middle of the board, lengthwise, but rounding toward the edges on both upper and lower sides.
It is well known that the olo was only for the use of the chiefs, and forbidden the common people.
They used the a-laria, which was made of koa, or ulu.
Its length and width was similar to the olo, except in thickness, it being but of one and a half to two inches thick along its center.

The line of breakers is the place where the outer surf rises and breaks at deep sea.
This is called the kulana nalu.
Any place nearer or closer in where the surf rises and breaks again, as they sometimes do, is called the alma, known also as kipapa or puao.

There were only two kinds of surf for riding, one called the kakala, known also as lauloa, or long surf, and the ohu, some times called the opuu.
The former is a surf that rises, covering the whole distance from one end of a beach to the other.
These at times form successive waves that roll in with high, threatening crest, finally falling over bodily.
The first of a series of surf waves usually partake of this character, and is never taken by a rider, as will be mentioned later.
The ohu is a very small comber that rises up without breaking, but of such strength that it sends the board on speedily toward the shore.
This is considered the best, being low and smooth, and the riding easy.
The lower portion of the breaker is called honua, or foundation, and the portion near a cresting wave is termed the muku side, while the distant or
clear side, as some express it, is known as the lala.

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During calm weather when there was no surf there were two ways of making or coaxing it practiced by the ancient Hawaiians, the generally adopted method being for a swimming party to take several strands of the sea convolvulus vine, and, swinging it around the head, lash it down unitedly upon the water until the desired result was obtained, at the same time chanting sonorously as follows:

"Ho ae "ho ae alune i ka pohuelme,
Ki apu mii lawe mai
Ka ipu iki waito aku."

The swimmer, taking position at the line of breakers, waits for the proper surf.
As before mentioned, the first one is allowed to pass by.
It is never ridden, for its front is rough.
If the second comber is seen to be good it is sometimes taken, but usually the third or fourth is the best, both from the regularity of its breaking and the foam-calmed surface of the sea through the travel of its predecessor.

In riding with the olo or thick board, on a big surf, the board is pointed landward and the rider, mounting it, paddles with his hands and impels with his feet to give the board a forward movement, and when it receives the momentum of the surf and begins to rush downward, the skilled rider will guide its course straight, or obliquely, apparently at will, according to the splendid character of the surf-rider, to land himself high and dry on the beach or dismount when nearing it, as he may elect.

In the use of the olo the rider had to swim out around the line of surf to obtain position, or be conveyed thither by canoe.
To swim out through the surf with such a buoyant bulk was not possible, though it was sometimes done with the a-la-ia.
Various positions were assumed in riding by the old-time experts.
This skill died out and was only revived by the Outrigger Club.
They stood, knelt, sat and now come in, one performer sitting astride the shoulders of a companion who stands on the board.

There are certain surfs running to various islands that are famous for surf-riding.
"Halehuawehe" is the name of the great surf off Waikiki

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which attracted the chiefs of olden times and now often referred to as the "Queen surf" because it rolled toward the beach home of the late Queen Liliuokalani, now the home of the Princess Kalanianaole.

Hula and Ahua were surfs at Hilo, Hawaii, the latter off Cocoa-nut Island.
Punahoa, a chiefess, was the noted rider of Hilo during the time of Hiiakaipoli.

Kaloakaoma, a deep-sea surf at Keaau, Puna, Hawaii, famed through the feats of Laieikawai and Halaaniani, as also of Kiiakaipoli and Hopoe.

"Httiha," at Kailua, Kona, Hawaii, was the favorite surf whereon the chiefs were wont to disport themselves.

"Kaula" and "Kalapu," at Heie, Keauhou, Kona, Hawaii, were surfs enjoyed by Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) and his sister, the Princess Nahienaena, whenever they visited this, their birth place.

"Puhele" and "Keanini" at Hana, Maui, and 70, at Lahaina, Maui, were surfs for the exploits of chiefs of early days.

"Makaiwa," at Kapaa, Kauai, famed through Moikeha, a noted chief of that island immortalized in old meles as follows :

"Moikeha is contented with Kauai,
"Where the sun rises and sets;
The bend of the Makaiwa surf
The waving of the Kalukalu
Live and die at Kauai."


Taylor, Albert Pierce:
Under Hawaiian Skies
A Narrative of the Romance, Adventure and History of the Hawaiian Islands
Advertiser Publishing Company, Ltd.,
Honolulu, Hawaii, 1922.

Internet Archive


Geoff Cater (2018) : A.P. Taylor : Surf Riding Under Hawaiian Skies, 1922.