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Rare Hawaii surfboards, photos highlight new Bishop Museum Surfing exhibit


Hawaii’s early Polynesian settlers were among the first people to take to the ocean to master the art of he‘e nalu or “wave-sliding.”

The sport the world now recognizes as surfing was especially popular with Hawaiian royalty, or alii. Their first plank boards were shaped from trees. The larger the waves you surfed, the more respect you would gain.

The Hawaiian even developed prayers to their Gods, hoping for good waves. Some disputes were settled by surfing contests. Surfing was less a recreational activity than an important part of the culture—a skilled art to master.


When European missionaries arrived in the 1820s, they forbade many Hawaiian cultural practices. One of these was surfing, which they considered a rowdy activity. Surfing remained a largely underground activity until 1905, when Hawaiians who lived near Waikiki began taking to the waves again. Worldwide interest in surfing began to take hold when Hawaii Olympian and avid surfer Duke Kahanamoku (second photo from top) showcased the sport on his international travels.

The new exhibit, Surfing: Featuring the Historic Surfboards in Bishop Museum’s Collection, celebrates Hawaii’s important role in the emergence of surfing as a worldwide sport. It opens this Saturday, June 19, at Oahu’s Bishop Museum, and continues through Sept. 6, 2010.

The exhibit’s main attraction? More than 25 antique surfboards — a few of these even used by alii to ride the Pacific swells.

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
Classic Hawaii art gets new home at Bishop Museum
125 years of Hawaii history featured in new Bishop Museum exhibit
Bishop Museum's Hawaiian Hall reopening in grand style this weekend

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