With its origins shrouded in mystery, the shaka has become one of Hawaii’s hallmark gestures. The base concept is simple: extend your pinkie and thumb while curling your pointer, middle and ring fingers. Boom! You’ve got yourself a shaka. Over time, however, the shaka has evolved and formed variants, each with different intricacies in both form and meaning. Here are just a few of the more common types of shaka you’ll see.
The swiss-army knife of shakas, acceptable in any situation. Pinkie and thumb are fully extended, while the rest of your fingers are tightly curled into your palm. The palm can be pointed at your chest when you need to strike a pose for photos, or pointed toward someone else to send a message of confirmation or thanks.
The Stoked Visitor
This shaka is immediately followed by a camera flash and slight wrist pain. The key to this is that it's shaken vigorously and without mercy. All fingers are at max flex and sunscreen-caked hands are sometimes raised high above the shoulder.
You’ve heard people say “hang loose” when they shaka—well, this one hangs the loosest. Hawaii locals like to flaunt this shaka, and it’s the epitome of taking it easy. The pinkie and thumb have an imperceivable bend, while the rest of your fingers are barely curled. It’s like you want to shaka, but your fingers are so relaxed that you get halfway there and are just cool with it.
Your friend just got spit out of a heavy North Shore barrel. You throw up a shaka, but it just doesn’t feel right. There’s not enough energy there. The remedy: throw up two shakas, the second one either in front or behind the original shaka. Now your recently barreled buddy can truly acknowledge your stoke. Add a quick “Chee!” or “Chee pono,” an expression of satisfaction or gratification, and you took it a step further.
The Shoots can only mean one thing. Shoots. Shooties. Rajah dat. It’s a classic shaka, pointing the pinkie at the person you’re talking to, and quickly tilting the shaka downward. This shaka keeps it casual while agreeing to plans, however, context is key. Don’t let this shaka be the response to serious situations, such as “Stop that person, they stole my wallet!” or “Will you marry me?”
You’ve got to look the part when performing The Bangah. Recommended attire? Tank top or Fox T-shirt. Recommended face? Mean. Recommended location? Anywhere. When throwing up The Bangah, bow the legs, curve the torso upward and initiate two shakas simultaneously, with your arms crossing. This can work as an intimidation method before an inevitable scrap (fight). It also doubles as a fun, ironic pose for photos when your family or friends are throwing up normal shakas and you need to remind them how weird you are.
Things change when making the 2,000-plus mile journey to the mainland. Poke bowls don’t have rice, slippers are called flip-flops and shakas are front facing, tightly curled and lack that relaxed tilt. Found on T-shirts with catch phrases such as “good vibes” or “hang loose,” this shaka is also easily mistaken for the letter Y in sign language. This version is generally elevated and accompanied by an upwards look, just to make sure you're doing it right.