Kānaka ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiians) are recognized as the people and culture that gave surfing (heʻe nalu) to the world. This includes hand planning, body boarding, knee boarding, stand-up surfing, paddle boarding, and wind surfing.
The first recorded account of surfing was made in 1779 by Lieutenant James King of His Majesty’s British Navy while aboard the HMS Discovery captained by James Cook. The Discovery was anchored in Kailua Kona on the Island of Hawaiʻi (Moku o Keawe) where the following observation was made:
“When there is a very great sea and surf breaking on the shore,” King wrote, “the men, sometimes 20 or 30, go without the swell and lay themselves flat upon an oval piece of plank about their size and breadth. They keep their legs close on top of it, and their arms are used to guide the plank. They wait the time of the greatest swell that sets on shore, and altogether push forward with their arms to keep on its top, and it sends them in with a most astonishing velocity.” . . . “They seem to feel a great pleasure in the motion which this exercise gives.”
Surfing was enjoyed by both men and women of all ages (Makaʻāinana – Commoners), but certain surf spots, board types, and woods, were reserved for the Aliʻi (of royal blood, descendants of the gods).
The ancient Hawaiians were deeply spiritual people and this spirituality flowed into and through every aspect of their lives including the making of surfboards. Protocols and rituals were followed though every significant phase of the surfboard making process. Prayers were made during the tree selection process, and certain birds were watched to see if they pecked at a tree indicating bugs and insects in a tree, such trees were not selected. Once a tree was selected, acknowledgements and hoʻokupu (offerings) were presented to the appropriate gods and or goddesses associated with that particular type of tree, forest, and region. When the tree was fallen, prayers and chants of thanksgiving were offered as the tree was pre-shaped and dragged towards the ocean were it would be completed.
When working with larger Koa logs,
the center portion was reserved for
canoes, while the sides were split off
for surfboard blanks. Koa wood is very
hard, but is also very brittle, and splits
The primary tool for carving was the
stone adz. It is shaped by chipping
at it with a similar or harder stone.
The best adz stone in Hawaiʻi was
found on Mauna Kea, Moku o Keawe,
at an adze quarry called Keanakākoʻi .
It was important to keep the adze
head sharp, this was done by grinding
the adze head on a grindstone, using
various grades of sand.
Once the adze head was complete,
it was lashed to a pre-formed wooden
handle, using coconut cordage. Many
different adze shapes and sizes were
used to complete each phase of the
As the wood plank was shaped into
a surfboard, prayers and chants were
made regarding the future owner and
his or her new surfboard.
The initial smoothing of the board
shape was done by charring with
fire, and scraping, followed by
sanding with various grades of coral
As the board neared completion, the
board was rubbed with different grades
The final sanding was done with
water and sharkskin.
The finished board was then given
a coat of kukui nut oil to
bring out its beauty and seal the
wood from the elements. The tip
of a pandanas kernel was smashed
to create a brush to apply the oil.
Once complete, the board received a
name and blessing that both owner
and board would take care of each
other and that there would be many
safe and enjoyable days in the surf.
The above process added mana
(spiritual power) to the surfboard
and its new owner and a symbiotic
relationship was created. A cherished
surfboard handed down from one
generation to the next was an object
of great mana, a true family heirloom.
Mahalo to Ron Croci for the drawings.
BK Kahiko (Ancient Style) Surf Team (l-r: Hanalei, Kaliloa, and Kaimi) at Honoliʻi, Hilo.
BLACK KOA acts to protect, preserve, and perpetuate, the ancient sport, skills, and protocols of hana papa heʻe nalu (surfboard making) and heʻe nalu (surfing). BLACK KOA SURFBOARDS specializes only in traditional Hawaiian surfboards made in Hawaiʻi, the piko (center and genesis) of surfing. Each BK board is hand carved by a Native Hawaiian Master Carver from a solid plank of Native Hawaiian wood. BK boards are carved following traditional Hawaiian protocols at every phase of the board making process and are true to traditional shapes and sizes. The BK board making process results in boards of unequaled mana.
BLACK KOA will provide you with a board that is historically authentic and culturally appropriate that will allow you to experience the true essence and beauty of surfing as it was originally meant to be.