Volume 68 1959 > Volume 68, No. 4 > Surfing in ancient Hawaii, by Ben R. Finney, p 327-347
SURFING IN ANCIENT HAWAII
IN ANCIENT HAWAII the sport of surfing reached its highest development. The three forms of the sport, body-surfing (kaha nalu), outrigger canoe-surfing (probably called no ka pakaka ale), and surfboarding (he'e nalu), were developed to a degree achieved nowhere else in Oceania. In this paper we are concerned with the most remarkable and popular form, surfboarding, which shall hereafter be referred to simply as surfing. In this sense surfing means to ride on a wave, using a surfboard for support.
In an earlier paper it has been pointed out that the use of a board in surfing was common in many parts of Oceania, and not just Polynesia. 1 The significant elaborations in surfing, which are usually attributed to the whole of Polynesia, were seen to be more limited to certain islands of East Polynesia, of which Tahiti and Hawaii were the most outstanding. In Tahiti the sport had advanced to the point where the surfers, especially the most expert, might kneel or even occasionally stand on their boards. In Hawaii the skill of the surfers had advanced to the point where the more difficult positions of sitting, kneeling, and standing were frequently practised. Furthermore, this similarity, plus the fact of the popularity of the sport in both areas among adults and especially chiefs, and in view of the frequent limitation of the sport in the rest of Oceania to boys who rode the waves while lying prone on their boards, led to a suggestion of a historical connection between the development of the sport in Tahiti and in Hawaii.
Ernest Beaglehole calls attention to the phenomenon of cultural peaks, that is, “. . . specific areal developments of institutional forms common to the widespread and fundamental Polynesian culture . . .” 2 He adds that “by specific institutional developments, the process of which is for the most part obscure and has presumably been due to historical factors, environmental limitations and freedoms, economic causes or the influence on culture of marked personalities, certain Polynesian islands or cultures show peaks in which complexes or elements have been selected from a widespread pattern and given formal elaboration.”
In Hawaii a cultural peak development in regard to surfing; i.e., Hawaiian surfing is an element that was selected from a Polynesian, and Oceanic, pattern of surfing and given formal elaboration. In this article we are concerned with describing this elaboration in surfing and outlining the essential details of the sport as practised in ancient Hawaii. The information on ancient surfing has been gained largely - 328 from the accounts of the early explorers and travellers, and from the descriptions of the sport by Hawaiians, like John I'i and David Malo, who wrote in their own language about surfing and many other aspects of Hawaiian life. Although the modern sport of surfing, which will be the subject of a future article, diverges in many aspects from its pre-European predecessor, insights gained from modern surfing and surfers have been indispensable in interpreting the written sources.
Before we go on to discuss all the traits of Hawaiian surfing which make up the cultural peaks, the popularity of the sport in Hawaiian life and its status as a national sport of the Hawaiians can be gauged by considering some of the comments of early describers of Hawaiian life, who have referred to surfing with such statements as a “national pastime”, a “most prominent and popular pastime”, or the “favourite amusement” of the Hawaiians. 3 In addition, William Ellis, in describing the scenes on his tour of Hawaii in 1823, writes: “Sometimes the greater part of the inhabitants of a village go out to this sport [surfing] . . . and spend the greater part of the day in the water.” 4 Another early observer, writing about Lahaina, Maui, also in 1823, noted that the surfboard “. . . forms an article of personal property among all the chiefs, male and female, and among many of the common people.” 5 The universality of surfing in Hawaiian life, being practiced by men, women, and children, chiefs and commoners, 6 further confirms the status of surfing as a Hawaiian national sport.
The chiefs (ali'i), who prided themselves on their ability in sports, were specifically noted for their prowess in surfing. Ellis writes that Kaumualii, the king of Kaui, had been one of the most expert surfers of all the islands and that “we have seen Karaimoku and Kakioena, some of the highest chiefs in the island [Hawaii], both between fifty and sixty years of age, and large corpulent men, balancing themselves on their long and narrow boards, or splashing about in the foam, with as much satisfaction as youths of sixteen”. 7 Apparently the chiefs, who had an abundance of leisure time for sports, preferred such rigorous sports as surfing, which served them not only as amusements but also as physical training to keep them fit for their chiefly office and its requirements for physical strength and skill. John I'i writes that Kamehameha I was trained in his youth to surf with board and canoe and that he and his wife, Ka'ahumanu, were expert surfers, noted especially for their skill in lele wa'a (canoe leaping), in which the surfer leaps from a canoe with his board into a moving wave to surf it to shore. 8 An expert surfer might be honoured in a chief's court and Kamehameha included among his retainers of skilful and learned men a champion surfer named Kekakau. 9- 329
Whether or not the chiefs would tabu a surfing area, and thus prohibit commoners from enjoying the sport there, remains in question. Ellis reports that when the chiefs were swimming and frolicking in the waters of a river mouth where the ocean waves and the river stream met, the chiefs would forbid all commoners to approach. 10 However, in the same narrative Ellis seems to speak of chiefs and commoners surfing together. Many other narratives seem also to refer to both chiefs and commoners surfing together, although, since most of them, including the description by Ellis, date from after the formal abandonment of the tabu system in 1819, they may not reflect entirely the pre-European situation. In one legend, as recounted by Westervelt, 11 one special surfing place at Waikiki beach, Oahu, is mentioned as being tabu to all but the queen. In the same account, the breaking of the tabu by Piikoi, a young Hawaiian athlete who inadvertently rode to shore on the same wave with the queen as she was surfing at her tabu surfing place, results in Piikoi being beaten and almost killed for breaking the tabu.
However, the most definite evidence of the special privileges of the chiefs in surfing occurs in connection with the types of surfboards, the olo and the alaia. The long, narrow olo boards were reserved exclusively for the chiefs, 12 while the commoners were apparently left with the shorter, thinner alaia boards. Since, as will be discussed later, the olo board was especially adapted for and surfed on large, gently-breaking swells which occur in only a few favourable areas, this may have in effect limited these surfing areas to the chiefs and their olo boards.
If we judge from the many reports of surfing from the historical period, it seems clear that men and women shared the surfing beaches fairly equally, although the accounts of children surfing usually refer only to the use of small boards in the small waves close to the shore. When more difficult and dangerous surfing is mentioned, male surfers usually dominate the narratives.
The sexual freedom among Hawaiian men and women was an important aspect of surfing whereby the participation of both sexes added zest and interest to the practice of the sport. 13 In fact, according to Waimau, when a man and woman rode in on the same wave sexual indulgence often followed. 14 Surfing was also a means of more formal courtship, as will be illustrated by some traditional accounts, whereby a man or woman would seek to attract a mate by displaying his or her skill at riding the waves.
The renown of those who were skilled in surfing is reflected in Hawaiian songs and stories. The competitive and amorous adventures of the surfers are so frequently the subject of numerous accounts that the popularity of surfing in Hawaiian life could almost be established by them alone. In addition these accounts, some of which will be sum- - 330 marized here, provide an insight into two important features of the traditional sport, surfing contests, and as mentioned above, courtship.
A contest in which a great chief of Hawaii, Umi-a-liloa, took part tells us something of the seriousness of a surfing contest. According to Fornander, Umi, before gaining his office as high chief, attended a surfing match at Laupahoehoe, Hawaii. 15 While there he was challenged by Paiea, a lesser chief, to a surfing match with only a small bet, which Umi refused because of the insignificant amount of the wager. When Paiea offered to bet four double canoes, Umi accepted the match, defeated his opponent, and won the canoes. However, during the match Paiea's surfboard struck Umi on the shoulder and scratched off some of his skin. At that time Umi said nothing, but upon coming to power as a high chief he had Paiea killed and taken to the heiau at Waipunalei to be sacrificed to Umi's god.
Naihe, the champion surfer of Kau, Hawaii, figures in another account of a surfing match. According to Mary Pukui, the fact that Naihe was an expert surfer made some of his fellow chiefs so jealous that they plotted to lure him into a surfing match and then dispose of him. 16 Inviting him to a surfing match at Hilo, they secretly made the rule that no one, once out surfing, could return to shore until his personal chanter stood on the shore and chanted his special surf chant, which told of the glory and skill of each chief as a surfer. 17 Although Naihe's personal chanter, an old woman, had accompanied him to Hilo, Naihe in ignorance of this new rule let the old woman sleep while he joined in the contest. By the time he learned of the rule he was already in the water and thus helpless to return to shore. However, a chief from Puna decided to help Naihe and sent his servant to awaken the old woman. Upon hearing of Naihe's plight she rushed to the beach where she chanted his surf chant, thus allowing him to return to shore and foiling the plot of the other chiefs. Part of this chant, as translated by Mary Pukui, follows:
The great waves, the great waves rise in Kona,
Bring forth the loin cloth that it might be on display.
The ebbing tide swells to set the loin cloth flying,
The loin cloth, Hoaka, that is worn on the beach,
It is a loin cloth to wear at sea, a chief's loin cloth.
Stand up and gird on the loin cloth.
The day is a rough one befitting Naihe's surf board.
He leaps in, he swims, he strikes out to the waves,
Waves that break into a heap, waves that break and spread.
The surf that rises above them all,
The rough surf on the island,
The great surf that pounds and thrashes . . .
As mentioned earlier, surfing might be a part of a young man's suit of courtship. In the story, The Romance of Laieikawai, one of- i
Hawaiian surfing scene, from Cheever 1851:68. The artist, although distinctly portraying the prone, kneeling and standing positions, has incorrectly pictured the surfers as riding in behind the wave. A surfer always slides on the forward slope of a wave.
PLATE 2- ii - 331
This old-time Hawaiian surfer, photographed some time in the late 19th century, is holding an alaia surfboard at Waikiki beach, Oahu. (Courtesty B.P. Bishop Museum.)
Laieikawai's suitors is Huailiki, the champion surfer of Kauai, who travelled from his native island to Hawaii in order to win the hand of his lovely favourite. 18 When he arrived at Keeau, Hawaii, he found Laieikawai there, but all his attempts to attract her attention failed. On the fifth day of his stay he thought to show off to Laieikawai by displaying his skill on a surfboard and thus surely win her favour. So, taking his surfboard, he paddled out to the waves where she could observe him, then waited until he could ride a wave alone, and gracefully surfed to shore. However, neither this grand ride nor the rides which followed brought any notice or applause from Laieikawai. Huailiki then left his board on the beach and body-surfed several waves to shore, after which he finally received a summons from Laieikawai who presented him with a lehua lei, as she always did for those who surfed well. This brief recognition of his surfing skill was the only attention Huailiki received from Laieikawai and eventually he returned to Kauai without having won her.
A woman, Kelea, “the surf-rider of Maui”, is the subject of another story as recounted by King Kalakaua. 19 Kelea, the beautiful sister of the ruler of Maui, was famed as the most graceful and daring surfer in the kingdom. One day while surfing at Lahaina she accepted an offer from an Oahu chief to ride the waves in his canoe. The chief, Kalamakua, taking advantage of a squall which blew the craft out to sea, abducted Kelea to take her to Oahu. During the voyage Kelea learned that she was to be the wife of Lo-lale, the high chief of Oahu. Kelea, after her initial anger at being abducted, became pleased with the situation and soon thereafter became the wife of Lo-lale. However, Lo-lale disliked the sea and dwelt inland at Lihue. Kelea, confined in Lihue far from the sea, longed to return to the surf and was only happy on her occasional visits to the seashore at Ewa where she surfed in the company of Kalamakua. Finally, she vowed to return to the shores of her native island and left Lo-lale forever. However, on her way to Maui she stopped at Ewa and there accepted a proposal of marriage from her fellow-surfer, Kalamakua, the chief who had abducted her.
TYPES OF SURFBOARD
As mentioned earlier, in contrast to the rest of Oceania excepting Tahiti, the surfers of Hawaii practiced other techniques in surfing than simply lying prone on their boards. The common Hawaiian technique of standing upright on a surfboard requires a larger boards than that needed for the prone technique. Thus it is useful to make a distinction in wave-riding boards: between the body-board which just furnishes the surfer with support for his arms and chest as he surfs in the prone position, and the true surfboard, which because of its size and buoyancy supports the surfer out of the water, thus allowing him to assume the sitting, kneeling, and standing positions. In an earlier paper an arbitrary division of the two kinds of boards was made using the length of - 332 the board as an indication of its buoyancy. 20 A board under 5 feet in length was probably used only as a body-board, while a board of 5 feet or longer was probably used as a surfboard.
In the chart of Hawaiian board types, which are representations of boards in the Bishop Museum collection, two small body-boards are included with the surfboards for an overall view of Hawaiian board types, together with an indication of the probable evolutionary sequence of board development.
Of the true surfboards, two types are distinguishable in Hawaii: a long, narrow, and thick olo board which is pictured on the right of the chart, and the shorter, relatively thinner and wider alaia board, of which two examples are included in the chart.
The olo, as previously noted, was for chiefs only. Board 298 in the chart is an olo that once belonged to chief Abner Paki, the father of Bernice Pauahi Bishop. Its distinctive features are the great length, relative narrowness, and thick cross section with an approximately equally convex top and bottom which taper to a slightly rounded edge. The olo boards were the largest of the Hawaiian surfboards, and, according to Thrum, they were 2 to 3 feet wide, 6 to 8 inches thick, and up to 18 feet long. 21 Other writers have noted that some measured as long as 24 feet in length. 22 However, the latter length is doubted by Emerson and by Blake, who both call attention to the fact that the Bishop Museum olo boards are shorter, and question the feasibility of handling a 24-foot board. 23 Blake also questions the existence of a 3-foot wide board on the basis that a board so wide would be extremely difficult to paddle. 24
The measurements of three olo surfboards in the Bishop Museum collection may give some idea of the range in size of the olo type. Board 297 is 14 feet 5 inches long, 20 inches wide, 5.8 inches thick, and weighs 148 pounds. Board 298 is 15 feet 7 inches long, 18.5 inches wide, 6.3 inches thick, and weighs 160 pounds. Board B.7349 is 17 feet 2 inches long, 16.6 inches wide, 5.7 inches thick, and probably weighs over 150 pounds. The general shape of board 298, as represented in the chart, is shared by boards 297 and B.7349. Peter Buck accepts boards 297 and 298, both of which belonged to chief Abner Paki who surfed around the 1830s, as representing an authentic pattern for the olo surfboards in general. 25 In view of the statements of Buck, Blake, and Emerson, it seems likely that the olo surfboards, in general, measured within or near the range of the Bishop Museum boards.
Olo surfboards, according to most sources, were made of wiliwili (Erythrina sandwicensis), a light Hawaiian wood that was also used for the outrigger of a canoe. When it is used to make a surfboard, its - 333 prime advantage is in producing a lighter and thus more manageable board. However, Paki's boards (297, 298) are made of koa (Acacia koa). The other olo board (B.7349) is made of pine, which raises the question of whether it was hewn from a pine log that had drifted to Hawaii or whether the wood was commercially imported. Buck suggests that the use of koa in chief Paki's boards might have been due to the difficulty in procuring wiliwili trees of sufficient size to make the large olo surfboards. 26 This same scarcity may also have been the reason for the use of pine.
Contrasting with the olo type is the shorter, relatively broader and thinner alaia surfboard. This type is broadest close to the nose and then tapers toward the tail, as can be seen in board D.1555 in the chart. It is difficult to give the exact dimensions for this type. According to Thrum, they were similar in length and width of the olo, 27 while Buck writes that they “ . . . evidently ranged from 6 to 9 feet”. 28 These and other sources agree only that the alaia was very thin.
If board D.1555, a 7 feet 4 inches long surfboard that falls into Buck's range, and which is thin in cross section, is definitely an alaia, a unity of design is apparent between this board and board 6809, which falls out of Buck's range, being 12 feet 2 inches long. But because the latter board has the same general shape and thin double-convex cross section as the shorter board, it is also classed as an alaia. The general outline of the alaia shape is shared by the two small body-boards in the chart (C.7868, C.5966), and one of them, C.7868, also has the double-convex cross section. Board C.5966, which was found in a cave near Hookena, Hawaii, and is reputed to have belonged to a Hawaiian chiefess who lived several hundred years ago, does not have the double-convexity characteristic of the other boards, although its exposure in a cave may have warped and worn it so that this feature is no longer apparent.
The term alaia may, therefore, have included both body-boards and surfboards. However, as a distinction between body-boards and surfboards has already been made in this study, the alaia surfboards will be considered apart from body-boards. If all the boards under 5 feet in length are excluded as body-boards, the alaia surfboards in the Bishop Museum collection range up to 12 feet 2 inches in length, from 13.5 to 19.8 inches in width, and from .4 to 1.5 inches in thickness. Of the alaia surfboards from the chart, board D.1555 measures 7 feet 4 inches in length, 15.5 inches in width, and .9 inches in thickness, while board 6809 is 12 feet 2 inches long, 19.8 inches wide, and 1.5 inches thick.
Both the top and the bottom of the alaia surfboards are convex and round off to a uniformly thin, slightly-rounded edge. Many of the boards appear to be equally convex on either side so that it is difficult - 334 to determine a top or bottom, if ever such a distinction was made. Also, there is no noticeable camber in the boards, i.e. they are essentially straight, unwarped planks. It may be that many of the alaia boards, and the olo boards which shared the same characteristics, could be surfed on either side.
Koa, breadfruit (Artocarpus incisa) and sometimes wiliwili are the most commonly mentioned woods for the alaia surfboards, although, according to Waiamau, surfboards could also be made of kukui (Aleurites moluccana) and ohe (Tetraplansandra hawaiiensis). 29 However, all the Bishop Museum alaia surfboards are made of koa, which might indicate that this was the most commonly used wood for surfboards.
There may have been other surfboard types because, as can be seen in the list of surfing terms, the Hawaiians used other terms for surfboards besides alaia and olo. Two of these terms, onini and owili, appear to have referred to the olo type, as both are defined as thick surfboards made of wiliwili. The kioe is referred to as a small surfboard and the pa-ha and the pu'ua are designated simply as surfboards in the sources. John I'i describes the kiko'o board as a 12 to 18 feet long surfboard that is good for a surf that breaks roughly but which is hard to handle. 30 Inasmuch as I'i represents the kiko'o as distinct from the olo and alaia, it may be a separate type of surfboard for which more evidence is unfortunately lacking. However, there is the possibility, as suggested to me by Mrs. Mary Pukui, that the numerous terms may merely be regional names for the same surfboard types.
The construction of a surfboard was an exacting task that might require the services of a professional board maker who, aside from shaping the surfboard, also practiced the traditional ritual, which will be described later, that insured a successful surfboard. Peter Buck describes the skilful process of shaping the surfboard: 31
The old boards were dubbed out with stone adzes from a section of a tree trunk of the required diameter. They were then rubbed down with rough coral to remove the adze marks and polished with 'oahi stone rubbers, much as canoe hulls were smoothed. They were stained a dark color with the root of the ti plant (mole ki) or the juice of pounded kukui bark (hili). Sometimes the soot of the burned kukui nuts were used, and Blake (1935, p. 45) quotes a record of a wiliwili board being buried in the mud near a spring. The juice from banana buds and charcoal from burnt pandanus leaves are also recorded as stains. When the stain was dry, a dressing of kukui nut oil was applied as a finishing process.
The olo and the alaia each required a different style of surfing. The olo was used on the gently sloping and often unbroken waves, while the alaia was surfed on the steeper, faster-breaking waves. The Hawaiian terms for the former surf are 'ohu and opu'u; for the latter, kakala and lauloa. 32- 335
The great length and bulk of the olo was both an advantage and disadvantage in handling it on the waves. On the one hand a swell could be caught long before it would break and could be ridden for a long distance even after the wave had broken and flattened out. Also, a wave that peaked up but remained unbroken could be ridden with the olo. On the other hand the olo was difficult to handle in steep waves and was not easy to turn either fast or sharply. According to Thrum, a rider on an olo board had to exercise much caution to avoid the steep portion of the wave because the nose of the board could easily be forced into the base of the wave. 33 This would abruptly stop the slide down the wave and both board and rider would be thrown into the air as the board rebounded out of the wave. Because the olo, Thrum adds, was too bulky to paddle easily through the surf, the board had to be either paddled around the breaking surf or carried out in a canoe in order to reach the unbroken swells.
Because of the difficulties of manœuvring the large olo surfboard, it could only be used in a few favourable areas where there was ample space for its characteristically long rides. Waikiki beach was one of the places where the olo could be used with advantage. However, the combination at Waikiki of long, low swells and sandy shore is not a too common configuration in the Hawaiian islands. For instance, along the Kona coast of Hawaii, where surfing activities were once concentrated, a rocky coastline with steep waves that break relatively close to the shore probably permitted only the use of the alaia.
The alaia surfboard, because of its shortness and slight bulk, could be manœuvred quickly on steep, fast-breaking waves to avoid its being engulfed by the toppling crest or having its nose pushed under the water at the base of the wave. The alaia could thus be used close to the shore and along the rocky coast where a surfer needed much dexterity to ride the waves successfully and avoid having his board thrown up on the shore or smashed on the rocks. As the Hawaiian coasts abound in the fast-breaking surf that often rises and breaks close to shore, it is no wonder that the majority of the Bishop Museum surfboards (10 out of 13 of the definitely ancient boards in the collection) belong to the alaia type and that the majority of the early reports tell of surfing in the alaia style.
METHODS OF SURFING
We will attempt now to present an outline of the significant features of actually riding the waves. Once a surfer has passed the line of breakers, he arrives at the kulana nalu, which is the place where the surfers paddle to catch the swelling wave. 34 The surfer waits there for a wave that will give him a good ride. When such a wave approaches, he points his board toward shore, aligns it perpendicularly to the advancing wave front, and then paddles with his hands to gain speed. When he has the necessary speed, and when the wave is steep enough, - 336 he starts sliding on the wave. A wave can be caught after it has broken, but the ride is considered better if the surfer catches the wave before it breaks. If he has an olo or one of the longer alaia boards the surfer propels his board by paddling with his hands alone; on a smaller alaia board the surfer both paddles with his hands and kicks with his feet.
In 1878 Caton observed a Hawaiian surfing on a 7-foot alaia board at Hilo, Hawaii, and wrote: 35
One instantly dashed in, in front of and at the lowest declivity of the advancing wave, and with a few strokes of the hand and feet established his position; then without further effort shot along the base of the wave eastward with incredible velocity . . . his course was along the foot of the wave, and parallel to it . . . So soon as the bather had secured his position he gave a spring and stood upon his knees upon the board, and just as he was passing us . . . he gave another spring and stood upon his feet, now folding his arms upon his breast, and now swinging them about in wild ecstacy in his exhilarating ride.
Beside the simple prone position (kipapa) of riding, more difficult riding positions were often used, which, according to Thrum: 36
. . . could only be indulged in after the board had taken on the surf momentum and in the following manner. Placing the hands on each side of the board, close to the edge, the weight of the body was thrown on the hands, and the feet brought quickly to the kneeling position. The sitting position is attained in the same way, though the hands must not be removed from the board till the legs are thrown forward and the desired position is secured. From the kneeling to the standing position was obtained by placing both hands again on the board and with agility leaping to an erect attitude, balancing the body on the swift-coursing board with outstretched arms.
The type of board partially determined the choice of riding position. The olo and the larger alaia are ideal for the standing position. However, the smaller, less buoyant alaia boards, being more difficult to stand upon, are better adapted for prone riding.
The following description of riding a wave applies primarily to the more manœuverable alaia. Once the surfer has caught the wave he has two possible places on the wave to ride. The first is to ride straight in front of the breaking wave, which is less skilful and often results in the rider losing control of his board and falling off. The alternative is to ride not straight in front of the wave but on either side of the break, which is accomplished by turning the board to the right or the left and angling away from the break. In this angling technique (lala), which is discussed by Caton and Buck, 37 the surfer, by sliding at an angle, increases his speed as well as his exhilaration. As he moves along the curling wave with the break to his back, he has the speed of both the - 337 incoming wave and the speed of his slide along the wave to the right or the left. Thus, the resultant speed is much greater than is possible when merely riding straight in toward shore. Guiding his board by leaning one edge of it into the wave in the direction he wishes to turn, or by dragging his foot as a rudder, the surfer slides smoothly along the unbroken, curling wave, always moving away from the tumbling crest at his back. Upon nearing shore, he may turn back into the broken part of the wave and ride to shore, or he may slip off his board, grab the nose of it, and dive under the wave, coming up on the seaward side, clear of the wave.
When a surfer slips from or is knocked off his board, it is often carried by the wave to the shore, where, if the coastline is rocky, it is often smashed and battered against the rocks. In one of the first accounts of Hawaiian surfing, which describes the difficulties the Hawaiians had in surfing at rocky Kealakekua Bay, James King writes that in a heavy surf a surfboard might be “ . . . dashed to pieces, at the very moment the islander quitted it”. 38
Surfing contests, like those described for Naihe and Umi, were common in ancient Hawaii. According to David Malo, the contesting surfers paddled out to a predetermined position to await the waves. 39 As soon as a large wave arose they paddled, caught the wave, and rode it until they came abreast of the buoy (pua), which was anchored inshore. The first to reach the buoy was the winner of that ride. Emerson, Malo's translator, who was unable to translate the rest of the account, suggests that it might mean that the victor was declared only after more than one ride had been completed. 40 According to Waiamau, who wrote in the newspaper Kuokoa about some aspects of the surfing matches among chiefs, the chiefs before entering the water for the contest had a dog put in an underground oven to be baked so that they might replenish their strength from time to time while they were surfing. 41 Also, if the contest was one of “pride”, the chiefs would gird themselves in tapa loin cloths that had been dyed red.
A story of contests between chiefly surfers and holua sledders at Keauhou, Hawaii, which is cited by Blake 42 and still told by one aged Hawaiian of the area, follows: At Keauhou there was once a raised stone holua slide that stretched from the mountain slope to the shore of Heeia Bay. 43 At the bottom of the slide was a grass house and opposite the house out to sea were the famous surfs of Kalapa and Kaulu. At the flashing of a white tapa flag from the house a young chief on the mountainside would give a short run and throw himself and his sled upon the slide and start a rapid descent down the track. At the same - 338 signal, which was probably not given until a large wave was approaching the shore, a surfer waited out at sea would catch the wave and surf it all the way to the shore. The first contestant to arrive at the grass house was the winner.
Betting, a major part of every surfing contest, was probably an important inducement for the practice of the sport as a whole, and, according to I'i and Malo, 44 this wagering, both by surfers and spectators, on the outcome of the surfing matches was a favourite Hawaiian pastime. The Hawaiian passion for betting contrasts with the other Polynesian islands where it was apparently unknown, according to Emory, who also writes that during a sports contest, “in the intensity of the moment a man would sometimes rashly bet all his most precious possessions and lose all, then in desperation he might bet his bones, and so lose his life or his personal liberty”. 45 Waimau notes that if anyone has some personal property he wishes to bet, he first makes ready the particular item, or items, then seeks out an opponent to challenge to a match on which the property will be staked. 46 Unfortunately, except for this statement and the legendary wager by Umi and Paiea of four double canoes, little else is known of the specific matches or of the methods of betting.
OTHER USES OF SURFBOARDS
In addition to surfing, the Hawaiians used their surfboards for transportation. Turnbull remarks that although the Hawaiians “. . . have excellent canoes in abundance, the natives, both men and women, often dispense with the use of them, and swim to vessels approaching the island with no other support than a thin feather-edged slice of wood . . .”. 47 Along the rocky coast of Kona, Hawaii, surfboards were probably used to cross bays, to travel from one rocky point to another, to visit incoming canoes, and, as mentioned, to visit European ships in historic times. In the famous print by J. Webber showing Captain Cook's ships at anchor in Kealakekua Bay, a man can be seen lying on a surfboard as he paddles out to visit the English ships. 48
RITUALISTIC ASPECTS OF SURFING
Finally in this sketch of surfing, we many consider to what extent the sacred or religious aspect of Hawaiian culture entered into the practice of the sport.
During the construction and preparation of a surfboard various rites and ceremonies were performed to insure its success in riding the waves. 49 Although common people often disregarded this ritual, those who were professional surfboard makers followed the rites faithfully. - 339 When the board maker had selected a suitable tree, he placed a red fish (kumu) in its trunk and then felled it with his stone adze. He then dug a hole in the remaining roots and put the fish in it, with a prayer, as an offering in return for the tree. Then he cut the tree down to a rough plank, which he later finished in a canoe house (halau) or some other suitable structure near the shore. Before the board could be used it had to be properly dedicated with another ritual.
When the waves were still, the Hawaiians would attempt to invoke the rising of the surf. A common method to raise the surf was for a group of surfers to take the strands of the pohuehue (beach morning-glory: Ipomea pes-caprae) and lash the surface of the water in unison as they chanted. Fornander gives the following surf chant and its translation: 50
Kumai! Kumai! Ka nalu nui mai kahiki mai,
Alo poi pu! Ku mai ka pohuehue,
Hu! Kaikoo loa.
Arise, arise ye great surfs from Kahiki,
The powerful curling waves.
Arise with pohuehue,
Well up, long raging surf.
The sports and games of the Hawaiians, like the other features of their life, were intimately connected with the gods and spirits of the day. Kenneth P. Emory writes: 51
No important contest was engaged in without approaching the gods with prayers and offerings to win their favor. Over every sport some god presided. When a man felt he was in harmonious relations with the mysterious forces about him, he was quite likely to accomplish superhuman feats of strength and skill.
The Makahiki celebration, which lasted for three lunar months from mid-October through mid-January, was a yearly festival when the Hawaiians stopped work, relaxed, and gave much of their time to sports, dancing, and feasting. 52 Thousands might gather to watch the great sports tournaments, which included surfing as well as other activities. 53 Lono was the patron of the festivities and a special god of sports (akua paani) presided over each contest.
Unfortunately, there is no specific mention of a special deity for surfing in Hawaii, although in Tahiti, according to Ellis, the presiding god of surfing was Huaori. 54 His Hawaiian counterpart, who can only be inferred, remains unnamed.
In the early part of this century J. F. G. Stokes gathered some interesting information connecting surfing with a large stone structure on the north shore of Kahaluu Bay, Kona. Concerning this structure, called Kuemanu heiau, Stokes writes: 55 - 340
The natives explained that it was a heiau for surf-riding, where they could pray for good surfing weather, and consequently good sport, and the pool [sic] convenient for removing salt on return [from surfing].
The structure consists mainly of an upper terrace which rests upon a larger foundation terrace. Stokes likens the upper terrace to a bleacher on which spectators might watch the surfers riding the waves in front of the heiau. A deep, stone-lined pool, filled with brackish water and suitable for bathing, is sunk into one side of the foundation terrace.
Stokes, however, doubted that the structure was a heiau and cites as evidence the fact that a modern Hawaiian house, which few Hawaiians would have the temerity to erect on a real heiau, had been built on the upper platform. Stokes has told me that the structure might have gained a sacred aura, which led his informants to think of it as a real heiau, because the chiefs used it as a resting and bathing place while surfing. However, in his manuscript, Stokes notes that there was a lua pua (bone or refuse pit of a heiau) within the structure, and that “ . . . there may have been sacrifices of those who disregarded the surfing kapu, but then there were other very important sacrificial heiaus at Kahaluu which, I believe, would have claimed the victims”. 56 He also notes that the various features of Kuemanu, such as the rinsing pool and the platform for spectators, recall Keolonahihi heiau, which is located in Houaloa, a few miles north of Kahaluu.
In August of 1958 I found these sites, Kuemanu and Keolonahihi, in a fair state of preservation, though the outer platform of Keolonahihi has been damaged by surf action. Judging as a surfer, I found the most striking feature of each locality to be the good surf that breaks in front of each structure. The platforms of each are aligned so that anyone sitting on the edge of them could easily view the surfers as they rode the waves. Furthermore, the pools, which are still full of brackish water, seemed as though they might have been ideal for rinsing after surfing, especially since there are no rivers or streams in the area.
The waters fronting the two structures were well known as ancient Hawaiian surfing areas, each with several individual surfs. 57 At Keolonahihi, which appeared to have the better surf of the two, Kamehameha I learned to surf, and the chiefs favoured the surrounding Holualoa lands for residence because of the abundant food resources and the good surf of the old days. 58
Whether these heiaus, or structures, were actually dedicated to surfing, or whether they had a less specific connection with the sport, remains in question. However, considering the evidence, there does appear to be some association between heiaus, or heiau-like structures, and surfing.- 341
In conclusion it may be said that the picture of surfing in ancient Hawaii presented in this paper is admittedly only a reconstruction, an outline of a once vigorous Polynesian sport. By means of this presentation, however, by a consideration of the various aspects of surfing—the popularity of the sport among Hawaiian men and women, the special privileges of the chiefs in surfing, the large and carefully made surfboards, the frequent mention of surfing in the oral literature, as well as many others—the unique elaboration of Hawaiian surfing, which we have chosen to characterize as a “cultural peak”, becomes readily apparent. Finally, it should be added that this description of ancient surfing is only a part of the whole story of the Hawaiian sport. The rapid decline and near disappearance of the sport in the first years of European contact and settlement in Hawaii, the revival of Hawaiian surfing in the first decade of this century, and the subsequent spread of the modern sport from Hawaii to coastal areas throughout the world, form the episodes of the story, to be recounted later, of the transformation of surfing from a Polynesian into a modern world sport.
SURFING TERMS IN ANCIENT HAWAII
The importance of surfing in Hawaiian life and the elaboration of the sport is partially attested by a proliferation of special terms used by the surfers, although the Hawaiian surfing terms which are given in dictionaries, chants and legends probably represent only a portion of the traditional vocabulary of surfing. In the following list the terms which were obtained from the above mentioned sources are listed alphabetically, with single words and compound phrases listed together.
SURFING AREAS OF ANCIENT HAWAII
Along the Hawaiian shores are many locations where the ocean swells and the land meet to produce excellent surfing waves. These areas, and often the particular surfs, are mentioned in Hawaiian songs and stories. All of the ancient surfing areas that I have been able to locate are plotted on the maps of the separate islands and are listed by island and number on a separate table. The first listing for each number is the most precise geographical location available, such as the river mouth, town, bay, valley, or district. The second listing, which is underlined, is the particular name of the surf, if it is known.
Mrs. Mary Pukui, who has for many years collected the names of the famous surfs from legends and chants, has allowed me to include them in this compilation and, in addition, has given me the translation of some of the surf names. For instance, Kaka-loa refers to roughness and probably describes the character of the waves. Niu-ku-kahi means lone coconut tree and perhaps refers to a feature of the shore. Ka-lehua-wehe means the lehua (a flower) removed. Concerning the origin of the latter name, Mrs. Pukui has told me that, according to the legend (which appears to be the same as the one cited earlier from Westervelt in which, however, the surf is mistakenly called kalehua-wike), a visiting youth came wearing a lehua lei and rode the surf at Waikiki that was forbidden to all but the queen. When she rode in on a wave, he did also, and, removing his lei, gave it to her.
For the island of Hawaii I have listed 49 individual surfs, whereas I have only been able to compile 57 surfs for all the other islands combined: Oahu 17; Maui 19; Kaui 16; Niihau 3; Molokai 1; Lanai 1. Even though Hawaii is larger than the other islands, the number of surfs there is impressive. This probably reflects the large population of Hawaii in pre-European times, and the correlation between population and the number of surfs is supported by the clustering of surfs along the Kona coast, which was perhaps the population centre, not only of the island, but of the whole group.
Surfs not located:
Surfs not located:
Surfs not located:
Surfs not located:
Surf not located: Hilole.
1 Finney (in press).
2 Beaglehole 1937:138-140.
3 Bingham 1847:136; Ellis 1831:IV:369; Jarves 1843:63; Malo 1951:223; Stewart 1839:169; Thrum 1896:106; Waimau 1865.
4 Ellis 1831:IV:371.
5 Stewart 1839:196.
6 Thrum 1896:106-107.
7 Ellis 1831:IV:371.
8 I'i 1959:133.
9 Fornander 1916-20:II:478.
10 Ellis 1831:IV:371.
11 Westervelt 1915:166.
12 Thrum 1896:109.
13 Emerson 1892:59.
14 Waimau 1865.
15 Fornander 1878-85:II:96.
16 Pukui 1949:225-226.
17 In more modern times the Hawaiian monarchs had their own surf chants and King Kalakaua appropriated Naihe's chant to serve as his own.
18 Beckwith 1919:448-454.
19 Kalakaua 1888:229-246.
20 Finney (in press).
21 Thrum 1896:109.
22 Fornander 1916-20:III:206; Malo 1951:223.
23 Malo 1951:223; Blake 1935:37.
24 Blake 1935:47.
25 Buck 1957:385.
26 Buck 1957:385.
27 Thrum 1896:109.
28 Buck 1957:384.
29 Waimau 1865.
30 I'i 1959:135.
31 Buck 1957:385.
32 See list of surfing terms, Appendix 1.
33 Thrum 1896:110.
34 Thrum 1896:109-110.
35 Caton 1880:243-244.
36 Thrum 1896:111-112.
37 Caton 1880:242-245; Buck 1957:386.
38 Cook 1784:III:147.
39 Malo 1951:223.
40 Malo 1951:224.
41 Waimau 1865.
42 Blake 1935:35-36.
43 The mountain section of this slide can still be seen today.
44 I'i 1959:67; Malo 1951:223.
45 Emory 1933:142.
46 Waimau 1865.
47 Turnbull 1813:252.
48 Cook 1784:III:54 (see footnote).
49 Thrum 1896:108.
50 Fornander 1916-20:III:206-207.
51 Emory 1933:144.
52 Malo 1951:141-159.
53 Emerson in Malo 1951:155.
54 Ellis 1831:I:226.
55 Stokes 1919.
56 Stokes 1919.
57 See list of surfs, Appendix 2.
58 I'i 1959:6.
59 Note 1. First listing refers to the geographical location of the surf.
2. Second, italicised listing is the particular name of the surf, if known.
3. Right hand column is the reference for the surf.
a. HEN Hawaiian Ethnological Notes (manuscript in B.P. Bishop Museum).
b. M. Pukui = Mrs. Mary Kawena Pukui of the B.P. Bishop Museum.