Ancient Sliding Sports of Surfing and Holua sliding

He'ehölua (mountain surfing) and He'enalu (surfing) are traditional ritualized forms of athleticism that are important ritual expressions of the Hawaiian people. He'ehölua (over 2,000 years old) is similar to surfing a wave except it is done on a rock foundation on a sled that is usually 12 feet long, 6 inches wide, and 4 inches in depth, and weighing approximately 30 - 60 pounds; capable of reach speeds of 50 mph+, while surfboards of the old time could be 60 - 150 pounds or more and reach lengths of 20 feet. For these ancient sports of the Hawaiian weight is an important factor for board and sled to function properly - a light weight sled means slow speed, and a light surfboard means you can not get down a wave fast enough or control direction and length of ride. In an attempt to preserve what little is known about ancient Hawaiian surfboard making, boards will be made in the authentic style of old Hawaii . Ancient building methods consistent with historical practices, including important rituals and offerings that was an integral part of board building. The traditional means and time of constructing a surfboard or hölua sled, that once took years, can now be done in a total time of approximately 48 hours.

Primarily traditional surfboards and sleds were made from various native woods:

Surfboards - (traditional native woods) wiliwili, koa, 'ulu (breadfruit); (non-native woods after 1830's) redwood, mango, pine, cedar, etc.

Hölua Sleds - (traditional native woods) kauila, 'uhi'uhi, mämane, 'ulu, 'ohi'a; (non-native woods today) red gum, pine, mango, oak, redwood, etc.

The knowledge of the ritualistic expressions of surfing, sledding, and the art of making surfboards and sleds in a traditional manner, from a native perspective - the practice and cultural interpretation of these sports is a unique to these islands and the native people.

Over time we have loss sight of the fact that traditional Hawaiian sports such as he'enalu , he'ehölua , ' ulumaika (stone rolling), lele pali (cliff jumping), and the many other sports of the Hawaiian people were a significant component to our culture that is not just decades old or just several hundreds of years old, but in actuality is thousands of years old!  Perpetuated by cultural myths much of the knowledge of such sports as surfing has been confined to a specific time period and select (mostly foreign) individuals with most of the information focusing on the post-contact era.

Today we recognize that Hawaiian sports are traditional ritualized forms of athleticism significant to the culture and the ritual expressions that have been overlooked or vilified. From a native perspective, the cultural interpretation of our Hawaiian sports is a source of identity for us as the native people of these islands.

As the Native people of these islands we have begun a process of re-institutionalizing the traditional performances of these sports, and our ancient ways of constructing the physical objects - seeing the spirit that lives in each piece of wood. This process means that every papahe'enalu (surfboard) or papahölua (sled) are unique physically and spiritually - never identical.

Surfing is one of the oldest continuously practiced sports on the planet. The art of wave riding is a mixture of sheer athleticism, art and culture. Much of what we know about surfing was recorded when Europeans first landed in Polynesia in the late 1700's.

It is thought that early surfing began with Polynesians riding waves in their canoes, on their way in to shore from a day of fishing. Ingeniously, they discovered that, given a little more paddling effort, they were able to catch waves over coral reefs and hasten their arrival on the beach. As a culture that cherished the sea, these Polynesians found a way to make their chores into a game of fun. These first surfers were true waterman in their use of strength and skill to maneuver these heavy boats, which eventually evolved into slabs of wood.

The first Polynesian surfers who began standing upon wooden boards in the surf of the Pacific Ocean did so between 1500 B.C. and 400 A.D. And today, we wish to take you on a journey back to those days of old....

Tom Stone (Pohaku) is an avid waterman, previous surfing and windsurfing champion and lifeguard, and is a devoted educator of our youth. Tom is currently a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Center for Hawaiian Studies. He is working on his third Master's Degree in Polynesian Studies, and will begin pursuit of a Doctorate Degree in the same field of study later this fall.

Pohaku is credited with reviving the He'e Holua - a narrow wooden sled made from native woods used for mountain sliding - and unveiling a more accurate portrayal of its cultural significance in early Hawaii . While replicating the first modern day holua, Tom has diligently researched ancient chants, previ ously written materials and went to areas where rock slides were built - some nearly a mile long to prove that he'e holua was not just a sport as originally thought, but had greater ritualistic and cultural purposes. Tom also is credited for being the first person to ride a holua in over 100 years, something he has also shared with various school children who wanted to learn about the past. Pohaku was featured in numerous publications and news broadcasts, including the cover and in a feature article of Hawaiian Airline's Hana Hou Magazine, "Sacred Sledding, Rediscovering the Lost Athletic Ritual of He'e Holua." (October/November 2001), Longboard Magazine, Surfer Magazine, Outside Magazine, Windsurfer Magazine, etc.

What little known history of Hawaiian surfing, and the cultural and ritualistic practices associated with it, is being lost everyday as oral traditions and personal experiences are failing to be captured for the future generations. As surfing has become an internationally known sport surrounded by a fabricated subculture, the world is seeking out the true culture and history of these ancient sports of the Hawaiian which we - as Natives to the islands - now provide.



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