Ka Wai Ola

By Keli‘i Collier

How foa surf? Das one tough question. There are so many ways to ride a wave and so many types of waves to ride. I got five hundred words, max, to share with you, the concept of surfing. Therefore, this not going be one ripe ice-cold Haden mango that your Tūtū Wahine when peel, slice and put in one ziplock bag for you. Going be more like one order of chicken feet at Fook Lam, Chinatown, O’ahu next to Waolani river. They both ‘ono, but just different.

Best place for us to start is with our kino. In my opinion the purest form of waveriding is our body in a wave. Das it. But our nature as humans is to evolve. As a result, today, we can stand, kneel, sit or lay down. Thus the birth of the surfing industry, which provides more wave-riding toys den shave ice flavors at Waiola’s. Short, mid, long boards with five, four, tree, two, one and no skegs; SUPs; foils; wave-skis; body boards; hand planes… And foa da O-Geez out dea: knee boards; paipo boards (pae po’o); bully boards; McDonald’s trays; Duck Feet… The tyranny of choice definitely exists.

But for me surfing comes down to one vital principle: Paddling. Paddle…paddle… and paddle. And when you tired of paddling, paddle some more. Build that paddling strength. It is the Golden Ticket to The Willy Wonka Wave-Riding Factory. Paddle your body with whatever wave-riding appendage you choose. There is no substitution for paddling time. It will save you.

O ke kahua ma mua, ma hope ke kūkulu1 is an ‘ōlelo no’eau. Choose the site first, build after, meaning, learn all you can then practice. Thus, your next step is to choose your surf spot, find a nice place foa your ‘okole, sit down and watch. Watch how surfers enter the water. Watch where the waves break and where the surfers sit. Watch how the changing tides and winds affect the waves and surfers. Watch their effects. Watch from what direction the waves come and what direction they break. Left? Right? Or both? Learn then practice.

Rap Reiplinger expresses both the terror and excitement of catching a wave in his song Fate Yanagi:

Point Panic was unreal
90 feet and glassy…hoohoo.
But I look back
And da wave coming at me
Was soooo monsta,
Eh, I knew my eggs was headed
For dat big omellete in da sky.2

Most of us, including myself, no like catch one “90 feet” wave no matter how “glassy.” But we like have fun. We made it. Now time foa practice. Take all you’ve learned and make your way out to the line up. But here’s my main caveat: Do not upset the existing surfing line-up hierarchy. Stay out da way, catch the scraps, not da sets and heed the wise words of Mr. Miyagi: “Never put passion in front of principle. Even if you win, you’ll lose.”3


  1. Collected, translated, and annotated by Mary Kawena Pukui ; Illustrated by Dietrich Varez. ‘Olelo No‘eau Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings. Honolulu, Hawai’i. Bishop Museum Press, 1983.
  2. Reiplinger, Rap. Poi Dog. Mountain Apple Records, 1978.
  3. The Karate Kid. Directed by John G. Advildsen, performance by Ralph 3Macchio, Noriyuki Pat Morita, Sony Pictures, 22 June 1984.