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The Surfing Solution
by Serge Kahili King

The people we now call Hawaiians loved to surf in ancient times. However, in view of the fact that it was definitely a leisure time activity, it was most probably, primarily, a sport for the nobility.

In Hawaii the sport is called he'e nalu, meaning "to slide on waves," and the surfboard is called papa he'e nalu, "something flat for sliding on waves." This flat something was usually a piece of wood left over from building a canoe, but those who were really into the sport had special surfboards made. One type, called aiaia or omo, was small, thin, heavy, and made from koa or breadfruit wood. A much lighter and longer type, called olo, was made from wiliwili wood and could be up to five and a half meters (18 feet) in length. And someone had to make it with a basalt chisel.

Early reports by Europeans indicate that the Hawaiians surfed mainly by lying or kneeling down on the boards. They also did it naked, because water would have destroyed their paperbark clothing.

The sport of surfing declined under missionary influence and was revived in the early twentieth century by Hawaiians, interested Europeans, and mainland Americans.

The first man to surf standing up in modern times was George French, a part Hawaiian who taught himself how to do it at the age of sixteen in the year 1900. The man who helped turn surfing into a world-wide phenomenon was the famous Duke Kahanamoku, a friend and contemporary of French.

There are many legends in Hawaii of heroic chiefs, gods, and goddesses for whom surfing was a passion. Pele, the volcano goddess, loved to surf, as did her rival, the snow goddess Poliahu, and Hina, goddess of the moon. One story of Hina says that she surfed on Kauai with a handsome chief named Makali'i who came from the Pleiades. The result of their surfing was the birth of the Hawaiian superman, Maui.

Surfing had many metaphoric meanings for the ancient Hawaiians. The story above tells of one that related surfing together to making love. A proverb recorded by Mary Kawena Pukui demonstrates another one: Ho a'e ka 'ike he'e nalu i ka honua o ka 'ale - Show your knowledge of surfing on the back of a wave." The kaona, or inner meaning of this one is that talking about your knowledge or skill isn't enough; you have to prove it by demonstrating it.

Surfing can be an excellent metaphor for our modern concerns with peace and effective ways of dealing with the dangers of war and terrorism. First, it is useful to know that the word nalu, meaning "wave," also means "to reflect, to meditate." And this meaning comes from the roots na (peace, calm) and alu (to cooperate, to act together).

Surfers riding waves face a lot of dangers. There are dangers of drowning, hitting reefs or submerged rocks, encountering sharks, crashing into another surfer, being injured by one's own board when wiping out, and more. Skilled surfers must know their own capabilities and shortcomings; they must know the qualities and characteristics of their boards; they must understand the nature of wind, water, and waves; and most of all, they must become very familiar with the environment in which they will be surfing. To top it off, they must know and do all these things in a spirit of peaceful calm and cooperation.

As another Hawaiian proverb says, Hiki mai ka 'ino, hiki mai no ka malie - Bad weather comes, good weather comes, too." The sea changes. Life changes. We surf on anyway.

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