From Hawaii to Finland: a true story about the power of the shaka

June 2, 2022 | Surfing
Shaka: a universal gesture made famous by surfers and board sports enthusiasts | Photo: Cristian Palmer/Creative Commons

The story of the shaka is the story of how our planet is home to a single race - the human race.

I am no dinosaur, but I was born in the 20th-century, and I have to say it is rather strange to admit it.

Although I am typing these words on a modern and up-to-date laptop computer, I might have already lived half of my life.

I wish I am wrong. My dream has been to live until I am 100 healthily.

If you, dear reader, were born after the year 2000, you may already have your driver's license and could've already kicked off a successful start-up company.

So, you are part of a very different generation. You grew up with the internet, WiFi, and digital devices for cleaning the floor and opening doors.

The good news is that there are still bridges between past, present, and future generations.

For instance, riding a wave and sharing the stoke across multiple generations has been a timeless characteristic of my favorite sport.

My hopeless romantic view of life and the world continues.

Although I've always felt like I was too old for my age (I've been saying it since I was 18 and 20 years young), my youthful spirit and relatively high fitness levels keep me afloat.

Not bad. I'll take it.

Eiranranta Beach, Helsinki: if can't surf in the Baltic Sea, grab a skateboard | Photo: SurferToday

From Waikiki to the World

Surfing helped me focus on what I think are the things that matter in life: health, respect, generosity, empathy, and love toward other human beings.

Surfing is a multicultural and transgenerational experience that allows us to put things into perspective and enjoy the miracle of life, in and out of the water.

Although I don't want to sound philosophical and insist on the cliché reflections that have already been poured into words of magazines and surf videos, it's good to remember our roots and stay true to our ground.

Surfing makes us better people - better social individuals, better friends, better family members, better partners, and better lovers.

If we narrow down the history of the sport of surfing to the moment when it became a pastime and outdoor physical activity, we could very well be celebrating the 100 years of wave riding.

The explosion and first surfing boom date back to the 1920s when the Honolulu beach boys started teaching haoles the art of walking on water.

One hundred years ago, mainland Americans and tourists from Europe began exploring the beauty of the Hawaiian islands and their tropical magic.

And suddenly, they had locals inviting them to ride a gentle breaking wave rolling in from the horizon at Waikiki Beach.

Duke Kahanamoku was one of the early surfing pioneers, even though the art of gliding across saltwater oceans is thousands of years old.

There are several theories on how and where the original shaka sign was born. The most plausible theory tells us that the hand gesture as a greeting and validation sign comes from Laie, Oahu, Hawaii.

The shaka gained traction in 1960s Southern California and quickly became a national surf culture symbol.

However, thanks to the Information Age, the act of extending the thumb and pinky fingers while holding the three middle fingers curled into the palm of the hand spread throughout the world like a tsunami wave.

Although it can still be misinterpreted in Russia, China, Turkey, and a few other countries, the shaka sign will sooner or later become a standard welcoming body gesture across the planet.

Ponke's Park: a skatepark near the Merisatamanranta boardwalk in south Helsinki | Photo: SurferToday

The Scandinavian Shaka Experience

One of these days, I went for a walk in sunny Helsinki, the capital of Finland. My goal was to start documenting the city's skatepark infrastructure.

Despite being blessed by strong winds and stunningly beautiful Baltic Sea waters, the shores of Finland don't usually get good surf.

Alternatively, Finnish board sports enthusiasts focus on skateboarding, indoor surfing, skiing, and snowboarding.

And I can tell you - they're outstanding in all of them.

So, as I walked along the gorgeous Merisatamanranta boardwalk in south Helsinki, I came across a magnificent skate park surrounded by ultra-green trees and a perfectly trimmed grass lawn.

I was staring in awe at the beautifully designed skateboarding facility called Ponke's Park.

Suddenly, I spotted some ten-year-olds riding their scooters in the half-pipe. "Wow - they're good," I thought to myself.

Bikes and scooters - electric and classic kick scooters - are extremely popular in Finland. Everyone rides them all the time to go from one side to the other side of town.

The teenagers were performing turns and small airs over the half-pipe's coping, and I wanted to get a good photo for my archive.

So I got closer - probably ten yards away from where the performing stage was.

As I got closer and pointed my camera, the youngsters immediately started charging harder. They wanted to show off their skills which is perfectly fine and understandable.

I was delighted. They were doing it for me and the photo opportunity.

As they pulled off a few tricks and maneuvers, I couldn't resist. They were too good for me to just pass by and ignore them with a typical cold-blooded Scandinavian look.

I instinctively took my sunglasses off so that they could see my face and smile and immediately threw a right-hand shaka over the side of the half-pipe.

They were standing on the structure's top decks. For a second, they looked at me without exactly knowing what to do or say.

But their expressionless faces immediately changed and, one and a half seconds later, I earned myself a return shaka.

One of the blond kids was smiling back with a mix of pride, happiness, satisfaction, and recognition and throwing a perfect shaka.

Helsinki: the capital of Finland has several high-quality skate parks | Photo: SurferToday

A Universal, Cross-Generational Gesture

I was surprised and immediately got goosebumps. Yes, sometimes small gestures and body language can mean a lot.

The kid had understood that I really enjoyed his riding talent and skills, but he was also kind enough to give back in the same exact.

I was so delighted with the exchange that I sent him another "cool, thank you" shaka. Naturally, he smiled even more and raised his shaka above his head.

I could feel he was thrilled about the universality of the Hawaiian hand sign, and I was too.

After all, he must have easily noticed by my tanned Western European skin that I was not from the same latitude and country.

I was so happy that, as I started walking away from Poke's skate park toward Eiranranta Beach, he made sure I got extra and even more enthusiastic shakas from him.

As we lost eye contact, I felt shaka had been officially validated as one of the best ways of making the world a better place, courtesy of wave and sidewalk surfers.

The antipodal city to Helsinki, Finland, is Waitangi, New Zealand, where, I am sure, the shaka is a symbol of good things and positive vibes.

And Helsinki is also 6,816 miles (10,970 kilometers) away from Honolulu.

It's been proven, dear readers - the shaka works. Long live shaka.


Words by Luís MP | Founder of SurferToday.com

The Surfing Christmas Gift Guide for 2022 | Explore our Christmas gift ideas for surfers