Jun 08, 2015
An Original Hawaiian Surfboard Comes Full Circle
It's been said that everything old becomes new again.
While this adage undoubtedly rings true across the board, nowhere is it more evident than in surfboard design today While a quick glance at most modern surfboards will reveal a highly tuned mixture of foam, fiberglass, and a lot of shaper know-how, recently some surfers have opted to ride something a little more traditional. Enter the alaia, an ancient Hawaiian surfboard design.
Pronounced (ah-lie-ya) these wooden crafts were the original surfboards for many Hawaiians. Hand carved out of Hawaiian koa wood (occasionally breadfruit or wiliwili), alaias were relatively short in length and featured a rounded nose. Commonly ridden throughout Waikiki and into the Kaka'ako / Ala Moana area, the alaia was the only style of board that maka'āinana (commoners) or surfers who weren't part of the ali'i (royalty) were permitted to ride. (The ali'i rode a much longer, heavier board known as the olo.)
When Mark Twain visited the island in 1872, he marveled at the sight of seeing Hawaiians surfing on alaias and wrote the following account, which was published in newspapers in the mainland:
"The natives would paddle three or four hundred yards out to sea (taking a short board with him), then face the shore and wait for a particularly prodigious billow to come along; at the right moment he would fling his board upon its foamy crest and himself upon the board, and here he would come whizzing by like a bombshell! It did not seem that a lightning express train could shoot along at a more hair-lifting speed … None but the natives ever master the art of surf-bathing thoroughly."
As surfing gained popularity throughout the 20th century, surfboards evolved into the lightweight foam-and-fiberglass composite we're accustomed to today. Over the course of the past few years, surfing's gone retro and has reached into the depths of history to resurrect the alaia.
In the mid 2000s, famed surfboard shaping brothers, Tom and Jon Wegener, began shaping alaias once again in California and Australia. Not long after, the likes of Rob Machado, Chris Del Moro, and other influential professional surfers, picked up the relics and include them in their quivers. Today, this historical shape can be seen under the arms of surfers across the world.
And how do they ride, you might ask? Fast and wild! The shape, along with the fact that they don't include a fin, ensures that once you're able to stand up and draw a line down the wave, you'll hit mach speed in a hurry. While they're undeniably hard to master, riding an alaia, especially in the lineups that skirt Ward Village, is something every surfer worth his salt should attempt. For surfers, it's as close to going back in time and sharing a session with the likes of the Duke as we'll ever get.
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