Hang Loose: Things to know about the surfer greeting

In Hawaii, greetings without the “Hang Loose” greeting and the accompanying Shaka sign are no longer imaginable at all. Hang Loose! The Shaka sign means something like “Stay cool!”, “Everything’s okay”, “How are you?” or “Aloha”. The surfer greeting has several meanings. But the hand signal has long been popular not only among surfers in Hawaii.

Known worldwide: the surfer greeting Hang Loose

Over time, the surfing community established the greeting around the world. Well-known personalities such as Elvis Presley or the former US President Barack Obama greeted people in public with the Shaka sign. That’s why “Hang Loose” has long been a common form of greeting even on the world’s most beautiful beaches.

How does the surfer greeting work?

A typical feature of the surfer’s greeting is a closed fist with a little finger and a splayed thumb. What was once used as a Hawaiian greeting has become a staple in the world of surfing. In the meantime, the Shaka hand sign has established itself worldwide. The hand sign is even available as an emoji.
Origins of the surfer greeting

There is no clear evidence on the actual origin of the “Hang Loose” greeting. Numerous stories and theories circulate about when and where the surfer’s greeting first took its course. Some stories around the Shaka sign tell of a surfer waving after a shark attack. This surfer – it is said – lost his middle finger in the shark attack. Other reports are about whalers who announced a successful catch with a hand signal. Moreover, it is said that Spanish explorers once shared drinks amicably with Hawaiians with the help of folded middle fingers and a thumb on the lip.

Hang loose! – Functional advantages of the Hawaiian greeting

According to Wikipedia, the Hawaiian surfer salute has a functional explanation. According to this specification, the splayed fingers signal harness hitching, while the fist stands for the harness hook for hooking the windsurfers. This technique helps surfers to relieve the pressure on their own arms and to withstand the sail pressure of the wind through their body weight. The surfers seem to be hanging in the sail. According to another explanation, however, the surfer greeting could also indicate wave design. According to Wikipedia, the Shaka would stand for the so-called “A-Frame” in the world of surfers. Waves in the A-frame break only at a single point. In this interpretation, the Shaka character would represent a wave.

Origins of the surfer’s greeting according to stories from the Polynesian Cultural Center.

A different point of view is taken by the Polynesian Cultural Center from Oahu, Hawaii, which associates the hand sign with Hamana Kalili. Kalili (1882 – 1958) was a North Shore resident who worked at the Kahuku Sugar Mill and lost three fingers on his right hand during his employment. After the accident, Kalili worked as a security guard for the railroad that once transported the sugar cane. In turn, he signaled with his right hand for a free ride. If children wanted to steal the sugar cane from the wagons, he shooed them away from the train by waving his hand. Therefore, over time, the boys and girls began to imitate Kalili.

How does the surfer greeting work?

The perfect surfer gesture takes some practice. First, it is useful to make a fist to spread from it the thumb and little finger. If you fold your middle fingers down at the same time, you can then turn or shake your hand as you wish. Among Hawaiians and surfers, it has become common practice to adapt gestures to different life situations. Some of the most common shakas are the XXL, double, menehune, baby and local shaka. For some surfers the hand moves rather statically, for others actively. But in every form and execution, the gestures spread the same message – a joyful aloha.

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