The Orgins of the Shaka

Where did the Shaka hand sign come from? We see everyone doing it in surfing. The old pros throw it up while taking photos with their fans. Their fans do it when they geek out after catching their first real wave. It has become the sign for surfers and riders to say “hello”, “all is good” or “take it easy”. It symbolises solidarity, compassion and friendship and that’s why we decided to make it our logo here at RideWithLocal. But such an awkward hand gesture, surpassed only by Star Trek’s Vulcan salute, doesn’t just come out of nowhere. We caught some cyber waves and surfed the web to try to find out who was the first person to wiggle a Shaka sign. Was it Shaka Zulu? Shaquille O’Neal? Let’s find out.


A High School Football Cheer

The first theory states a Hawaiian high school football cheer consisted of chanting “Hey! Hey! Easily!” (using a Pidgin accent) ended with a Shaka-like hand gesture in the air with the palm up and the little finger extended imply, “I could beat you easily with just my little finger”. So it’s meaning related to doing something easily was adopted by surfers to express “Hey, take it easy!” which then morphed into the infamous “Hang Loose!”


Drinking with the Portuguese
A second theory relates the origin of the Shaka to the Portuguese immigrants in Hawaii in the begining of the 1900’s who folded their middle fingers and put their thumbs to their lips as a friendly gesture to suggest sharing a drink with the natives they met in Hawaii. Bottom’s up!


The Tale of a Whale Tail
Yet another theory relates the origin to Whalers who signaled a catch with a “tails up” hand sign to tell the good news when coming into the port. It’s true it does look quite a bit like a whale tail.


Shaka is for Victory
Shaka and its very positive associations may simply derive from the popular World War II “V for Victory” hand sign, in Hawaii often held up and rotated rapidly back and forth. But, that is more likely to be what we know as the peace sign.


Hawaii Five–O, Yeo!
The late Lippy Espinda, a used car salesman and Oahu-based entertainer, is considered to be the first one to throw a Shaka in the air. Espinda, who appeared often the show Hawaii Five-O as well as the The Brady Bunch episodes shot in Hawaii, used the term and the sign during his television ads. Though the claim that he is the originator of the Shaka sign is unlikely, but is credited for making it cool with the kids of the 60’s.


The Story of Hamana Kalili
Polynesian researchers tell us that the word “Shaka” is not of Hawaiian origins. The strongest clue to its origin refers to Hamana Kalili of Laie (June 18, 1882 — December 17, 1958), a Hawaiian fisherman from the town of Laie who lost three middle fingers from his right hand during an accident at the old Kahuku Sugar Mill.

Because he could no longer work in the mill, Hamana became a security guard on the sugar train that used to travel between Sunset Beach and Kaaawa. He was always trying to keep mischievous kids off of the train that would jump on and ride from town to town. To communicate that Hamana was not looking and that the way was clear, the kids started signaling each other with their hands, mocking the missing fingers.

Conclusion, is that we have no way of knowing for certain where it came from, but we brand ourselves proudly with it as a sign of respect and mutual understanding between all riders, whether it be beginners and pros, whether it be tourists and locals. We are all united even though we have never met. We are part of family to make sure we are not alone riding in perilous waves or the deep backcountry. A little gesture that means, you always have a friend out there. Find your local at