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A Surfboard for Everybody

Hawaiian surfers with alaia boards
19th century engraving
Engraving, 1866
Paipo rider, 1964. Photo: Val Valentine
Tom Stone on olo board, 2008. Photo: David Pu'u

The average Polynesian peasant-surfer likely banged together his new surfboard with no more godly thought than a woodcrafter making a door. At the royal level, however, boardmaking was a serious matter, filled with rites and rituals. A craftsman would search the highland forest for a suitable tree. Small and midlength boards were usually made of koa, a fine-grained hardwood, or the softer breadfruit. Longer boards were generally made from wiliwili, the same lightweight wood used for canoes. O...

When one ancient Hawaiian chief came to power, he captured an old surf rival and then—depending on what version of the story is being told—had him either slow-baked in an oven or splayed and gutted on a stone alter.