taylor : surf
Pierce Taylor : Surf
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,
Chapter 30- Surf Riding
Internet Archive https://archive.org/details/underhawaiianski001950mbp
Introduction The vast majority of the chapter on surf-riding is copied
fromThrum's Hawaiian Almanac and Annual for
1896, updated with some references to the Outrigger
most widely cited article on ancient Hawaiian surf-riding,
unfortunately Thrum's article is misleading and inaccurate. See:
1896 Thrum* : Hawaiian
SURF-RIDING HAS BACKGROUND OF PAGAN RITES
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- Page 340
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
This skill died out and was only revived by the Outrigger
They stood, knelt, sat and now come in, one performer
sitting astride the shoulders of a companion who stands on
There are certain surfs running to various islands that are
famous for surf-riding.
"Halehuawehe" is the name of the great surf off Waikiki,
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
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 :
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."