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A Short History of the Shaka

The shaka hand gesture is the symbol made by holding the hand in a loose fist and extending the thumb and pinky finger with the back of the hand facing the recipient. You have most likely seen this gesture being flashed by surfers and Hawaiian natives, but do you know what it actually means? Sure it can be a way to say “hey” or “that’s cool,” but it holds a much deeper meaning. This gesture is more than just a mere wave or thumbs up. The shaka is a symbol of the “Aloha spirit,” which is the coordination of the mind and spirit to think and exude good feelings to others.

Just like “aloha” means much more than just “hello” or “goodbye,” the shaka is more than just a simple greeting or gesture of thanks. Saying “aloha” means that there is a mutual regard and affection for the other person. It is acknowledging the importance of each and every individual in collective existence. This same core value is reflected in the shaka. The simple gesture symbolizes a reverence, solidarity, compassion and friendship. It is a sign of respect and mutual understanding for the recipient.

Surfers and more recently scuba divers have adopted this Hawai’ian gesture and brought it across all parts of the world. The symbol that often is interpreted as “hang loose” fits the surfing culture. While there is debate over where the shaka originated, legends point to Hamana Kalili of Laie who lost the three middle fingers of his right hand while working at the Kahuku Sugar Mill. As he was a guard of the sugar train, his all-clear wave evolved into the shaka and was emulated by children. Wherever the symbol came from, it is important to know its meaning today as you travel to scuba spots across the world. Take the compassion and understanding that comes with the shaka and spread the mutual respect wherever your diving travels may take you.

Here is a fun video that gives a short history of the modern shaka and some creative variations of the shaka starting at 2min 40 sec. Our favorites include: the I’m Far Away Shaka and the We Just Won Shaka.

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