Shaka: the surfers' sign | Illustration: Shutterstock

The shaka sign is the famous surfers' hand gesture. The story of the popular signal goes back to the roots of Hawaiian culture. Shaka brah!

When the surf culture grew and spread through California and America during the 1960s, a new body gesture gained enthusiasts.

Surfers from Hawaii started saluting fellow wave riders and friends with an original hand sign.

Shaka is physically performed by extending the thumb and pinky fingers while holding the three middle fingers curled into the palm of the hand.

Learn how to throw a shaka.

Surfers loved it, and before long, the original shaka from Hawaii had an alternative nickname: Hang Loose.

The surf sign prevailed and expanded into Europe, Oceania, Asia, and Africa; the shaka gesture was adopted by an increasing number of water sports enthusiasts, and the star system also started doing it.

And when the president of the United States of America - Barack Obama - started throwing shakas, the trend conquered the world.

Shaka: surfers love it

Shaka: An International Hand Sign

But what's the real meaning of shaka? In fact, it can mean many positive things.

"Hi," "Thank You," "All Right," "See You," "Peace," "Goodbye," "Take Care," and "Chill Out" are some of the daily reasons for delivering shakas.

Interestingly, the surfers' official salutation has a few different meanings in various countries.

In China, it means "six;" in Russia, a similar gesture can be an invitation to drink a beer. In some Caribbean islands, it may suggest sexual contact.

Polynesian researchers now know that the word "shaka" is not of Hawaiian origin.

The strongest clue to its origin refers to Hamana Kalili of Laie (June 18, 1882 - December 17, 1958), a Hawaiian fisherman from the town of Laie who lost three middle fingers from his right hand during an accident at the old Kahuku Sugar Mill.

Because he could no longer work in the mill, Hamana became a security guard on the sugar train that traveled between Sunset Beach and Kaaawa.

Apparently, he was always trying to keep kids off the train; they would jump on and ride from town to town.

To communicate that Hamana was not looking and that the way was clear, the kids started signaling each other with their hands, mocking the missing fingers.

There is also the story of David "Lilly" Espinda, the car lot and gas station owner who used the shaka to greet his customers.

Later, the Mayor of Honolulu, Frank Fasi, made it even more popular. Today, there's even an official shaka emoji on our smartphones: 🤙🏻

Words by Luís MP | Founder of

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