Man sitting on a cliff in Hawaii making the shaka sign
July 22, 2019
| by
Maria Mancuso

Oahu Things to do: Origin of the Shaka Sign

Oahu has some of the friendliest people in the world. Almost everywhere you go on the islands, you will see locals and visitors giving each other the ‘Shaka’ sign or ‘Hang Loose’ sign – this Oahu Travel Blog article tells the history of this popular hand signal.

It is a universal signal used by surfers, local Hawaiians and many tourists who get caught up in the Hawaiian culture during their visit and like the feeling of greeting others, ‘the Hawaiian’ way.

This Oahu Travel Blog article, ‘Oahu Things to do: Origin of the Shaka Sign,’ gives you historical look at this universal hand signal to, ‘Take it easy’, ‘Peace’, or a casual acknowledgement, ‘Hello’, or ‘I’m chilling out.’

The origin of the ‘Shaka’ or ‘Hang Loose’ sign:

We have all seen the ‘Shaka’ or ‘Hang Loose’ hand signal, which is the hand gesture made by extending the pinky finger and the thumb, while keeping the three other fingers curled in towards the palm of your hand.

The Shaka was made popular, first on the Hawaiian islands, among surfers and this friendly gesture made its way to the beaches of California then across America and then the world.  We’ve seen people give a Shaka sign to a passing Gondola while on a visit to Venice, Italy…what a great way to spread the ‘Aloha’ across the globe?

But who was the first surfer to create this universally recognized hand signal to ‘be cool’ or ‘hello?’  Actually, the Shaka was not created by a surfer at all and it is not a result of Hawaiian culture either.

By all accounts the ‘Shaka’ was created by a Hawaiian fisherman, Hamana Kalili of Laie, who died in 1958.  Hamana Kalili was the victim of a Sugar Mill accident at the Kahuku Sugar Mill.  The accident caused Hamana to lose his 3 middle fingers on his right hand.

Hamana was unable to work at the Sugar Mill and he was given the job of a security guard for the train the traveled from Sunset Beach to Kaawa.

One of Hamana’s duties was to keep the kids off the train who would tend to jump on for a free ride into town.

It is said that the kids would mockingly, and quietly signal one another when Hamana was not looking after the train, by holding up their hand with the three fingers curled down and their thumb and pinky extended.

The stories also include tales of Hamana signaling to the surfers as they walked by the train tracks to the best surf spots on the island. As Hamana would wave his injured hand, he would give a ‘Shaka’ to the boys who would return the gesture with their fingers curled down, and their thumb and pinky extended.

There are other theories for the origin of the Shaka including, the signal was used by whalers visiting the islands who used the Shaka to indicate a catch by making the signal that resembles and ‘tails up’ sign.

We prefer to choose to believe the story of Hamana as the origin of the Shaka.

The Shaka sign has been embraced by surfers, Hawaiians, visitors to the islands and people around the world to signify a universal greeting of, ‘Hello’, ‘Peace’, ‘Hang Loose’, etc.

Someone making the shaka sign
We have all seen the ‘Shaka’ or ‘Hang Loose’ hand signal, which is the hand gesture made by extending the pinky finger and the thumb, while keeping the three other fingers curled in towards the palm of your hand.

Also, the term, ‘Shaka’ does not come from the Hawaiian culture, rather the term was created by a local Oahu man, David ‘Lippy’ Espinda.  David was a locally famous car salesman in the 1960’s would end his television commercials with a ‘Shaka brah!’ while giving the Shaka hand signal.

So spread the Hawaiian spirit of ‘Aloha’, ‘Peace’, ‘Hello’, ‘Hang Loose’, anywhere you may be in the world by giving the ‘Shaka’ sign and know that somewhere, a friendly Hawaiian fisherman, turned security guard will be smiling.

Someone making the shaka sign
Spread the Hawaiian spirit of ‘Aloha’, ‘Peace’, ‘Hello’, ‘Hang Loose’, anywhere you may be in the world by giving the ‘Shaka’ sign and know that somewhere, a friendly Hawaiian fisherman, turned security guard will be smiling.


Be sure to visit our Oahu Travel Blog and Oahu Visitors Guide for more articles on things to do, see and experience during your next visit to the island.

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