Surfing was once the sport of island chiefs. Today, it binds Hawaiians to their cultural identity. (National Geographic magazine)
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- Read through our great encyclopedic entry on surfing, and take a look at the graphic above. What type of wood do you think ancient Hawaiians used to make paipo, alaia, and olo surfboards? (Get to know some Hawaiian plants here.)
- Used by surfers of all ages and abilities, ancient paipo boards were probably made of sturdy wood such as koa. (FYI: The word “paipo” is a 20th-century invention for a much older concept! Paipo is taken from the Hawaiian phrase “pae po’o”, meaning “to surf head-first.”)
- Ancient alaia boards, ancestors of today’s shortboards, were also most likely made of koa.
- The mighty olo boards were made of low-density wiliwili, an endemic (and beautiful!) Hawaiian tree that is very buoyant.
- What do you think modern surfboards are made of?
- As other cultures began making surfboards and non-native plants began to grow in Hawaii, lumber used to make surfboards grew to include balsa, redwood, and even mahogany.
- Read about how one Canadian school is using pine, cedar, and indigenous craftsmanship to resurface an ancient surfing (paddleboarding) tradition.
- Most modern surfboards are made of synthetic materials, such as plastic and fiberglass.
- The Nat Geo article, “Pure Hawaiian,” says that the concept of surfing probably developed around South Pacific islands such as the Marquesas and Tahiti. How the sport’s popularity get to Hawaii? How did it get to the rest of the world?
- The first Hawaiians, mariners from southern Polynesia, brought the concept of surfing with them. Only in Hawaii “did the sport become an important part of the culture, embraced by chiefs and commoners of both genders on most of Hawaii’s eight major islands.”
- European explorers (notably, James Cook and his expedition crew) brought the concept of surfing beyond Hawaii.
- The Nat Geo article makes a great point of saying that surfing is a vital part of Hawaiian cultural identity. Is there an activity, pastime, or tradition that is a part of your own cultural identity?
- Concepts to think about might include a festival or celebration; style of music, dance, or art; sports; language or accents (I love this sign); or fashion.
- Students might also want to think about variations on larger concepts. For instance, in Hangzhou Bay, China, there is a tradition of surfing the waves of a river, not the ocean. (The powerful tide of the East China Sea creates a tidal wave on the Qiantang River.)
Nat Geo: Hawaiian Renaissance—Beyond the glitz of tourist beaches, locals cling to the spirit of the ocean
Nat Geo: What is Surfing?
3 thoughts on “Surfing Hawaiian Culture”