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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, August 8, 2003

Old way is new wave in surfing

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Tom Pohaku Stone, a Hawaiian studies professor at the University of Hawai'i, just finished constructing this 13-foot traditional surfboard at his Wilhelmina Rise home.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

In May, Tom Pohaku Stone spent three to five hours a day creating his first wooden surfboard from wiliwili, carving away by hand.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Imagine modern basketball players trying to dunk on one of those old peach baskets.

Or football players using leather helmets and no face masks.

That's kind of what the Hawaiian Longboard Federation is planning to do with the inaugural Old Hawai'i Wooden Surfboard Series, which starts in October.

"I kind of wanted to look into the culture and history of surfing and somehow incorporate it into the surfing that we do today," said Diane Johnson, president of the HLF.

It is a daunting task that has started in the Hawaiian mountain forests and will culminate in the ocean.

The goal is to carve about a dozen surfboards — some by hand — out of logs, and then stage a contest using only those boards.

"It's not so much a competitive thing," Johnson said. "We just want to go back to the roots of surfing."

Tom Pohaku Stone, an avid waterman and a professor at the University of Hawai'i Center for Hawaiian Studies, will carve and shape each of the surfboards.

In keeping with Hawaiian tradition, he will carve some of the boards using only hand-held tools.

"Every board will have come from a living tree," Stone said. "So every board will have special meaning."

The boards will vary in size from around 6 to 15 feet in length. Different types of wood will also be used — wiliwili, ohi'a, kamani and mango logs have been chopped.

In May, Stone started shaping by hand the first board out of a wiliwili log that originally grew in Waimea Valley.

He spent about three to five hours a day diligently carving away with a small axe and a hand file. Once the desired shape and texture were achieved, Stone stained the wood with kukui nut oil.

He finished the first board in June. He has finished two boards by hand. The other boards Stone will shape using more modern tools.

"It would take me a year or more to do 12," Stone said. "You'd have to be insane to do something like that. Hey, I gotta go surf, too, you know."

The first contest is scheduled for Oct. 18 and 19 at Waikiki.

Old Hawai'i Surfboard Series

Event 1: Oct. 18-19 at Waikiki Beach

Event 2: Nov. 8-9 at Lahaina, Maui

Event 3: Feb. 7-8, 2004, at Kona, Hawai'i

For information on the series visit www.hlfhawaii.com.
"It's a privilege for me to be a part of this," Stone said. "You don't see boards like this anywhere anymore. It's a chance to keep the Hawaiian culture alive and pass it along to the next generations."

Modern boards are made of foam and fiberglass and shaped with electric tools. A 10-foot longboard built by today's standards might weigh less than 15 pounds. A similar board shaped out of wiliwili wood would weigh around 50 pounds.

"It's totally different; you can't compare the two," said legendary surfer and Waikiki beachboy Rabbit Kekai.

He should know. Kekai, 82, said he used to ride wooden surfboards as a teenager. Back then, the great Duke Kahanamoku owned a koa surfboard and Kekai would often ask to ride it.

But even by then — the 1930s — the wooden boards were being phased out.

"That's what you call the good old days," Kekai said. "The board would slide right into the wave and then you just enjoy the wave. But once everybody started coming out with the new boards, you had to ride the new boards to keep up."

In addition to being light, the styrofoam boards came equipped with skegs, fins to help the steering process.

The wood boards did not have skegs. Instead the surfers steered with their feet.

"Once the kids try it, they'll understand what we went through back then and how this sport was formed," Kekai said. "They have it easy now."

It will be an education for more than just the kids.

Lance Ho'okano, a professional longboard surfer, has been invited to participate in the series.

"None of us from my generation even know what these boards are about," said Ho'okano, who is in his 40s. "I've never been more interested in being a part of something as far as surfing."

Ho'okano theorized about what his first experience might be like: "I think it's going to be a little hard

to paddle simply because the board is heavier. As far as surfing, it's going to be all about the glide. None of this performance stuff. It'll be just the basics — catching a wave and becoming one with the wave."

On a recent visit to Stone's workshop, Ho'okano got to participate in the carving of the wiliwili board.

"You can feel the mana (Hawaiian spirit) in the board," he said. "The boards we get now, if you break one, you just go out and get another one. With these (wooden) boards, you feel like it's alive."

Johnson is hoping the feeling catches on. She is seeking sponsors to help pay for the project.

"This is not a money-making thing," she said. "We just want to make sure the history of surfing is not lost on future generations."