The iconic “Shaka” gesture: a symbol among surfers

As well as a greeting, it is a gesture that expresses peace, union, friendship, much loved by surfers all over the world. Its origins have to do with a tragic story that occurred long ago in Hawaii

Among surfers, there’s a widely popular greeting known as the “shaka” (or “Hang Loose”), which involves raising the thumb and pinky finger while keeping the fist closed. It’s an iconic gesture used to greet each other with good intentions, symbolizing unity, friendship, and peace.

The origins of the gesture

The origins of this gesture are much debated, but according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, they trace back to a sorrowful story about a century ago. A worker named Hamana Kalili, who was employed at a sugar cane plantation in Hawaii, suffered an accident that resulted in the loss of three of his fingers.

Unable to continue working as a laborer, the plantation owners offered him a position as a security officer for the sugar cane train. Part of his job was to prevent children from jumping on the train: when he saw them approaching, he would shout and wave his hands to stop them, inadvertently forming the peculiar gesture. The children soon began to imitate it to signal to others that Kalili was not in the vicinity.

Some researchers argue that losing fingers was not uncommon for those who worked in sugar cane plantations, so it is likely that many workers used this gesture (not just Kalili), which is why it became widely adopted as a form of greeting. The modern well-wishing gesture popular among surfers thus originated from a challenging and tragic context.

The term “Shaka”

The term “shaka” associated with the gesture is not a Hawaiian word but was coined by David “Lippy” Espinda, a Hawaiian car salesman, who often used the slogan “shaka, brah!” in his television commercials, linking it to the iconic sign. The shaka sign then became a key element of the third electoral campaign of Frank Fasi, the mayor of Honolulu.

This is how it gained significant popularity in Hawaii, where it is used by everyone to express friendship, gratitude, goodwill, and encouragement. A gesture of unity that was later adopted by surfers, who have helped make it famous worldwide.

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