Reprinted from John R.K. Clark’s book,
Hawaiian Surfing: Traditions From the Past.
Perhaps the most famous description of bodysurfing is found in the story of ‘Umi and Pai’ea, two chiefs from the island of Hawai’i who were both skillful bodysurfers. When ‘Umi as a young chief visited Laupāhoehoe, Pai’ea challenged him to a heihei, or bodysurfing contest to see who could get the longest ride on the same wave. ‘Umi and Pai’ea caught a wave together, but during the ride, Pai’ea crowded ‘Umi into a rock, causing ‘Umi to injure his shoulder. ‘Umi still won the contest, but years later, when he was king of the island of Hawai’i, he put Pai’ea to death for this incident. In the passage that follows, the writer offers a version of the story, which at the same time provides a description of traditional bodysurfing.
‘Umi and his wives went sea bathing, surfing (he’e nalu), riding on the surf (kaha nalu), and a certain chief of Laupāhoehoe noticed ‘Umi’s skill in surf riding. His name was Pai’ea, and he knew all the surfs and the best one to ride. It was the one directly in front of Laupāhoehoe, facing Hilo. It was a huge one which none dared to ride except Pai’ea, who was noted for his skill. Gambling on surfing was practiced in that locality. All of the inhabitants from Waipunalei to Ka’ula placed their wager on ‘Umi and those of Laupāhoehoe on Pai’ea. The two rode the surf, and while surfing, Pai’ea noticed that ‘Umi was winning. As they drew near a rock, Pai’ea crowded him against it, skinning his side. ‘Umi won against Pai’ea, and because he crowded ‘Umi against the rock with the intention of killing him, Pai’ea was roasted in an imu in later years.
–Kamakau. Ruling Chiefs. p. 10-11
Clark, John R. K. Hawaiian Surfing: Traditions from the Past. Honolulu: U of Hawaiʻi, 2011. Print.
*Cover photo: Brian Yee- @808makuatomakai