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Moonlight casts a cool glow over the ocean as a night surfer prepares to paddle out a Publics
Vol. 11, No. 1
February/March 2008

  >>   Night Shift
  >>   Ancient Pathways
  >>   Trees of Life

Surfing 101 

story by Catharine Lo
photo by Dana Edmunds


The first surfboard Tom “Pohaku” Stone ever had was one his father carved out of wood. Since it wasn’t the glossy, store-bought kind, he never rode it. Instead, he broke it and burned it—one of the few regrets of his life, he says. That youthful defiance has since been replaced by a great appreciation for his father’s artisanship, skills that Stone now applies as a crafter of wooden surfboards.

Today, Stone is passing on his knowledge to Hawaiian Studies students at Kapi‘olani Community College in Honolulu. In “The History of Surfing from a Native Perspective,” the country’s only accredited course on surfing, Stone shares the lessons he was taught by his hanai uncles—the “old-timers,” he calls them.

Stone’s class teaches the Hawaiian perspective on the history of surfing. “The purpose is to give surfing a native voice,” says Stone, a sponsored surfer and former lifeguard. He points out that the history of the Hawaiian pastime is usually told from a foreign point of view and only includes the period after Cook’s arrival; even those accounts are full of inconsistencies and inaccuracies. “Much gets lost in translation,” he says.

Part of the course work includes fashioning a wooden board from a log (typically koa, wiliwili or mango) using only hand tools. It’s through this practice that Stone, also renowned for reviving he‘e holua, the sport of Hawaiian sledding once suppressed by the missionaries, conveys the importance of honoring and perpetuating traditions. “A living culture is something that should be cherished and nourished,” he says. “In the end, the students get the picture.”

And what about field testing their handiwork? The students bring the board to the beach, where the ocean activates its life. “Everything you make has a spirit that you help nurture,” Stone says. “I ride every board I carve. It will catch at least one wave.” HH