The shaka looms large in surfing. It’s as ubiquitous as the thruster. It has fully transcended its Hawaiian origins. “You can take the surfer out of the waves,” a friend joked. “But you can’t take the shaka out of the surfer.” We see this in older, landlocked folks who have not ridden a wave in decades, but point a camera at them and they reflexively flash a shaka. I was pondering this very phenomenon the other day when, on cue, a friend texted me a note that ended with a shaka emoji. The shaka emoji! The emoji was made for shakas!
To better understand the shaka, I called the Hawaiian bodysurfer Sean Enoka to get his take. Born and raised on Oahu, Sean is the founder of Kaha Nalu Hawaii, a company and community designed to promote Hawaiian bodysurfing and perpetuate Hawaiian heritage and traditions. Sean is a regular at Sandy Beach and Point Panic. The shaka flows from his hand like water.
Tell me about the origins of the shaka.
There’s a guy back in plantation times who was one of the overseer guys who had an accident with his middle three fingers, right? So all he had was the thumb and the pinkie. The guy’s name was Hamana Kalili. But for me, growing up, the shaka was just something that was just a part of the culture. As far back as I can remember, the Hawaiian side of my family, they all drank Primo, and the Primo cartoon guy with the shaka, that was my first understanding of what the meaning of it was. But growing up over here in Hawaii, everyone’s doing it, so nobody really explains. It’s just kind of like a vibe, right? The translation that everybody likes to use is ‘hang loose,’ but I don’t know if I identify with that. Shaka for me is more like ‘chill out’ or ‘it’s all good,’ you know what I mean? ‘It’s all g.’
Do you remember when you first started seeing shakas?
Growing up over here, everybody makes shaka to you. Whenever you show up to one family gathering, it’s requirement you got to go and kiss everybody hi. And growing up as one kid that’s kinda like ohhhh, one hassle kinda, but everybody makes shaka. That’s just kinda universal growing up over here. Even if I see one baby I try and get their attention and just one hand gesture, one easy-going hand gesture.
Now there’s the shaka emoji on the iPhone. What do you think of that? Is it good to see it spread so far and wide?
It’s definitely cool. The shaka emoji sign was actually supposed to be the ‘call me’ sign. But as soon as we saw something that looked like one shaka we were on it. It just became one shaka. But for me on emojis, shaka is my response for everything. OK, we going to meet you at Sandys? Shaka. Oh, my wife, I need you to buy milk. Shaka. That’s my most-used emoji response, ‘cause it’s the easiest, ‘cause, Hey, it’s all good.