By Lara Hughes, Editor-in-Chief
Matt Arellano, Photographer
The Hawaiian term for surfing is he’enalu, which, literally means, “to ride the waves.” According to the Hawaiian Encyclopedia, Hawaiians have been surfing for hundreds of years. They left petroglyphs of surfers carved into the lava rock, and there are stories about surfing that have been handed down over the generations through Hawaiian chant. These chants reportedly date back to over 500 years ago.
Back then, the size of your board was determined by who you were. The bigger your board was, the higher your status was. Ali’i, or chiefs, used 14-16 ft. boards while commoners used 10-12 ft. boards. The type of wood was also taken into consideration. The chief ’s boards were made from the wood of the wiliwili tree, while the commoners boards were made of the heavier, and thus less buoyant, wood of the koa tree. These boards could weigh in at as much as 175 pounds.
Today the chants and hulas are still performed and there are still songs sung about surfing. Modern artists such as the Ka’au Crater Boys who, as reported by Uke Tabs, have been making waves with their, “distinctive and creative sound reflecting their love of Hawaii and of their favorite non-musical activity, surfing,” are just one of the bands who have honored the activity through their art. And while we may not be carving petroglyphs as the ancient Hawaiians once did, there are currently multiple surfing magazines and journals, which commemorate this historical sport through writing, design and photography.
So, if you are hoping to get out on the water with a board in hand and partake in the Hawaiian tradition that now spans the globe, Hawaii may just be the perfect place to do that. In fact, if you are a student at UH Hilo there is even a surfing course offered. It is listed as KES 145 Surfing and is part of the kinesiology and exercise sciences.
There are a few factors to take into consideration before diving in though. The Surfing Handbook tells beginning surfers to take into account ocean conditions such as weather, currents, landscape features in and out of the water, wave size and your own swimming ability. You also have to watch out for other surfers and know the rules of surfing. They also suggest that beginning surfers get a foam board because they are, “safe and have a ton of floatation.” Once you’ve got that down you can begin looking for the right break. The Surfing Handbook says to look for a place that is relatively un-crowded (but make sure you have some people around for safety). They also state that a break with calm crumbling waves and a sand bottom will be much safer for beginners, and easier on boards and feet.
A few warnings? Don’t go where the experienced surfers are as you could get in the way and create dangerous situations. Find a peak to yourself if possible, but if you are very new, make sure there are a few people around. It’s always a good idea to go to a spot where there are lifeguards on duty and do not surf in shore break. Shore break is where the waves break directly onto the sand at the edge of the waterline and can be extremely dangerous.
For more information you can check out their site at http://www.surfinghandbook.com. Those who have done it and have a passion for it though, like 11-time Association of Surfing Professionals World Champion, Kelly Slater, have made it a way of life. He is quoted as having said, “The joy of surfing is so many things combined, from the physical exertion of it, to the challenge of it, to the mental side of the sport,” and local Hawaiian legend, Duke Kahanamoku once said, “Out of the water, I am nothing.”