Shaka Sign: What’s The Origin of The Surfers Sign?

Whether you are familiar with Stand Up Paddling or not, you are likely to have seen that sign somewhere. The Shaka Sign, also known as “hang-loose” is used everywhere on the globe within the communities of surfers and now of Stand Up Paddlers. Whether they are international SUP athletes or occasional paddlers, SUPers from all over the world are flashing it all the time to salute each other, express their stoke and show they belong. What was once a sign only used by Hawaiian locals is now completely part of the SUP lifestyle.

A collection of shaka, hang loose, surfer sign goodies.

Discover the story behind the Shaka sign in our video:

But where does the Shaka sign come from?  

The hand sign seemingly originated in Hawaii and surfers who visited the islands made then the sign popular outside of Hawaii. They basically took the Shaka far from the volcanic islands and off to their respective countries.


In Hawaii, the Shaka sign is used everywhere by everyone and it carries a lot of different meanings. It can be used to say “Thanks” or “Cool” or “Yeah”, it can also mean “Hello” or “Goodbye”. But when asked to define the sign, Hawaiian people say that it is a sign of Aloha ie appreciation and love and that for them it is something that is part of their daily life.

Most recently the phrase “hang loose” has also been attributed to the gesture.

connor baxter shaka

How do you make a Shaka sign?

shaka sign
It may look easy but there is a specific way to do the surfers’ sign.

First hold your hand in a loose fist.

Then, extend your pinkie and thumb in separate directions.

Finally, Hawaiian locals say that one rule to respect is that the back of the hand should face the recipient of the greeting. The gesture is also often punctuated with a subtle oscillating.



How did Hawaiians come up with the Shaka? The worker who lost 3 fingers

The origin of the Shaka symbol is difficult to pin down. There are in fact many versions to the story but here is the most popular one.

The Shaka sign originated from a man on the East side of Oahu who lost three fingers in a sugar mill accident. The accident only left him with his thumb and his little finger. There are many differents stories on how the worker lost his finger but there is one thing everyone agrees on: the man’s name is Hamana Kalili. The same story also goes that Hamana was put in charge of guarding the sugar train to Sunset Beach after the accident and it is his all-clear gesture indicating that the train was free of unwanted train jumpers that would become today’s Shaka.

Here is a funny video about the origin of the shaka, relating a similar version of that story:

Some other theories on the Shaka origin

Much less plausible explanations include a surfer whose fingers were bitten off by a shark.

Other sources point out that it could also come from Spanish immigrants in Hawaii who would take their thumbs to their lips and fold their middle fingers to symbolize sharing a drink.

Why is it called “Shaka”? 

Most sources agree that the name “Shaka” came from a popular television advertisement. In the 1960’s, Lippy Espinda, a car salesman, used the sign along with the catch phrase “Shaka Bradah!”. It then spread among the locals who reproduced the gesture with Lippy’s sentence.

Whatever its true origin may be, it is pretty amazing to have a sign that only shows positivity and unites paddlers around the world. Two riders who don’t know each other can instantly bond by using the Shaka sign and that is what we love about it!

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The Shaka Collection – by TotalSUP

About the Author

Mathieu Astier

Mathieu is the hyper-active founder of TotalSUP and a multilingual online marketing veteran with more than 20 years of experience working for top international internet companies. His love-at-first-sight for Stand Up Paddling in 2013 led him to build one of the leading online media dedicated to SUP in English and French and to turn his family lifestyle towards the ocean.

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