Issue Date: August 21, 2009
City: Honolulu, HI
In the tropical Pacific Ocean, about 2,500 miles from the continental United States, canoes and surfboards often dot the Hawaiian coastline.
Hawaii’s earliest settlers arrived there aboard double-hulled canoes. The islands’ Polynesian inhabitants used the boats for fishing, traveling, and exploration. The crafting of canoes included a spiritual ceremony with prayers and the selection of the wood for the boat, usually the koa tree. The boats were prized for their speed. “One man could paddle a single canoe faster than a boat’s crew could row a whaleboat,” said visitor William Ellis in 1823.
Long before the first Europeans set their eyes on Hawaii’s exotic, sun-filled beaches, the island’s Polynesian settlers practiced surfing as a spiritual art. The natives called it he’e nalu, or “wave sliding.” They asked the kahuna, or priest, to pray for strength and a good surf.
Members of Hawaii’s ruling class used the best beaches and boards. The commoners were not allowed on the same beaches, but could raise their rank in society by showing off surfing talents. Although European settlers in the 1800s discouraged Polynesian culture, surfing regained popularity in the 20th century as a recreational sport for all.