As Much a Religion as a Sport
Even though O`ahu may be more famous nowadays, there are also those, like Aeder, who know where to find the best swells and breaks on Hawai`i Island, and for whom surfing the Big Island is close to spiritual.
“I moved to the Big Island in 1993,” Aeder says, “and it really opened my eyes. There are other areas where early evidence of surfing is seen, but Hawai`i is where it really came to fruition, and a lot of that happened on the Big Island.”
He points to Kahalu`u Bay, an ancient surf spot in Kailua-Kona once used by Hawaiian ali`i (royalty) and the Ku`emanu Heiau at the north end of the bay, where the ali`i would pray for good surf and probably shaped their boards.
Aeder also points out that one of Captain Cook’s lieutenants, James King, described seeing Hawaiians surfing in his journal entry from 1779 when their ships arrived in Kealakekua Bay:
“A diversion the most common is upon the water, where there is a very great sea, and surf breaking on the shore. The men, sometimes 20 or 30, go and lay themselves flat upon an oval piece of plan [board] 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, it sends them in with a most astonishing velocity, and the great art is to guide the plan so as always to keep it in a proper direction on the top of the swell, and as it alters its direct. If the swell drives him close to the rocks before he is overtaken by its break, he is much praised.”
Many other writers — Mark Twain and Jack London foremost among them — have been taken with the art and sport of surfing over the years since Cook. London’s enthusiastic account of his experiences learning to ride a surfboard in Waikīkī, first published in Woman’s Home Companion and then reprinted in The Cruise of the Snark in 1911, helped to popularize surfing outside of Hawaii. It is, London said, the “royal sport for the natural kings of earth.”
“It is special to live in such a surf-laden area,” Aeder reflects. “I drive by the water and think, ‘This is where it all began.’ I can almost picture Kamehameha out there on his board.”