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Surfing Like Ancients

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Tom Pohaku Stone

Traditional Surfboard Shaper
It’s a peaceful morning at Kahana Bay on Oahu’s Windward side. There isn’t a single soul on the sand – a far cry from the bright lights and buzz of Waikiki. The waves here are legendary. Once, long ago, a Kahana Bay Chief challenged the Goddess Hiiaka – sister of Pele, the Goddess of fire – to a surfing competition in these waters. It did not go well for the Chief.
 
Tom Pohaku Stone paddles out to the break on his favorite surfboard – not a modern, fiberglass board, but a board he built with his own hands. Stone is an educator, craftsman and former pro surfer. He’s obsessed with reviving and perpetuating lost aspects of Hawaiian culture, like perfecting the art of crafting papaheenalu (surfboards) in the traditional Hawaiian way.
 
About a quarter mile from shore, he takes off on a small, playful wave. Tom wears his traditional malo, and seeing him surf here at Kahana Bay can make you feel like you’ve been transported 1,000 years back in time. 

Tom Pohaku Stone shaping a surfboard.

Tom Pohaku Stone

Why is surfing so special to Native Hawaiians?

Standing on a board originates in Hawaii. Surfing is who we are as native peoples. We come from the ocean, we love to surf waves. We surfed waves for generations, and we surf waves still. And that's what those boards are about, it's about being able to constantly ride the waves of time. It's an endless wave that never stops.

"We’re not land people, we’re ocean people."

How did hand-crafting surfboards start for you?

I was a pain-in-the-butt kid, right? And I so wanted that beautiful shiny fiberglass board. And we come from a family that just didn't have that kind of money. My dad, he said he'd take care of it. He got a piece of wood, he cut it out. Started carving it in the traditional way.

But at the end of it, I just looked at the board and told my dad I hated it. And in his anger, he just took the board, broke it, lit it up in the fire pit and burned it. And that's actually the number one regret I've ever had, and I've only had a few. 
 
That was an awesome thing my dad did for me. I'm glad before he passed away that I really had the opportunity to express that to him. That I began to go down this pathway, that he had given me that gift, and that he saw the boards I made and he was pretty ecstatic. He was happy.

“When you stand up on a wood board, it's like listening to a beautiful symphony playing that's just soothing to your soul.”


What’s it like riding a traditional wood board?

When you stand up on a wood board, it's like listening to a beautiful symphony playing that's just soothing to your soul, and you just embrace it. It's a harmonization between the wind, the motion of the water, the breaking of the wave. I'm not in this time era, or this time point or era. I'm out. I'm in another place. And I love being in that place.


Why is carrying on what you’ve learned so important to you?

This isn't my knowledge, this is my kupuna's (ancestors) knowledge that they gave to me and now my kuleana (responsibility) is to give to those that want to carry it on. That's what's important, passing that tradition on.

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