Baby Shaka Recall

| posted on September 11, 2012

A new breed of shaka. Photo: Gilley

Rob Gilley

Previously in denial about his photographic past, Rob Gilley now rummages through his trove of mediocrity.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty liberal about throwing shakas. With even the slightest excuse, I’ll break one out. If you look even remotely familiar to me and you’re driving by, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and flash you the old extended thumb and pinky.

Examining my behavior, I guess I throw shakas because they seem like safe, friendly gestures—they’re less antiquated than thumbs-up or peace signs, and less dorky than waving. Shakas are my go-to hand gestures because they’re cool.

Or are they?

In a recent interview, Nathan Fletcher said that he was afraid his hand might fall off and spontaneously combust if he tried to toss a shaka—a half-joke belying an entirely different school of thought.

After thinking about it, I’d say about half the non-Hawaiian surfers I know toss shakas on a semi-regular basis. The other half—like Nathan—never throw them. It’s pretty much split down the middle. What’s going on here?

Fathoming shaka abstinence, I realized that—like it or not—an extended thumb and pinky carry an implication. As everyone knows, a shaka means “hang loose,” and so the real question is whether a fast-lane dwelling mainlander with ancestral ties to Captain Cook is really qualified to use a Hawaiian-born gesture.

And deeper still, a mainland shaka smacks of something even more insidious. Like those hideous shirts and Soccer Mom bumper stickers with versions of “I Love Hawaii” plastered all over them, a mainland shaka has a secret, chest-thumping message: “Dude! Look at me! I went to Da Islands and you didn’t!”

So now, with a shaka painted in a different light, I pause to reflect on some inspired thinking from the past. How years ago a group of North San Diego County surfers had stumbled across the perfect solution.

At some point in the 80s, a group that included names like John Glomb, Brad Gerlach, Sonny Miller, and Colin Smith started implementing the Baby Shaka—basically a mini, 50 percent reduced, diminutive shaka. A mainland shaka that had complete respect for the original, but a message all it’s own: Hang Loose as much as you can given the circumstances.

Hang Partially Loose.

So if you see me driving by with what looks from a distance like a palsied fist and barely-perceptible, hook-em-hornsish fingers sticking out, you’ll know that I’m just trying to say Hi.

  • Nathan Petty

    It must be Tuesday! Nice article Gilley. Had a few laughs on that one. I’m definitely one who does not practice ‘shaka abstinence’. Not that anyone cares necessarily, but the shaka is friendly and I like to be friendly.

    So a Papa shaka to all. Take it how you want it, I mean it.

    And I’ll add an Aloha in there too because I lived in Hawaii. Does that count?

  • Mo

    You won’t see me bust any Shakas!
    cos I’m not from Hawaii, didn’t grow up there and haven’t lived there. For me, its part of Hawaiian culture…I don’t go around saying Aloha and Mahalo, just cos I surf… and It particularly irritates me when people in landlocked regions, or some surf beginners at a surf camp suddenly feel as they need to indulge in the use of the shaka because they have spent an accumulated 20 seconds on a surfboard in some commercialized surfcamp in France.


  • G

    I lived in Hawaii in the late 60’s early 70’s and there was this used car dealer guy in Honolulu that would throw a Shaka at the end of his TV ad spots. That was the first time I ever saw one. Does anyone else remember this?

  • Jersey Greg

    Never thought about it too much, but I realize that I only “Shaka” my friends if I happen to drive up and see one of them “pre” surf.

    My gripe is the young white, bearded college kid wearing a “Che” shirt.
    Leaves me too white knuckled to “Shaka”!

  • Dan

    If you are over 30 or 35 years old and you still care what is cool or what people think, shakas are probably the best thing you have going. Similarly, if you aren’t full on pro by the time you are in your late 20’s, take the stickers off your board. .

  • David Alves

    Well-written, entertaining post. Appreciate the background of a sign I’ve noticed used extensively in the surfing footage I’ve been enjoying for the past year or so. I always wondered what it meant and where it came from.

    I love the idea that it’s simply a friendly greeting. We could all use more of those everywhere.

    Thanks for writing.

  • E Lee

    I never did it on the mainland, but I live in the country of Oahu now and they are everywhere – I use them to thank people for letting me in traffic, to acknowledge a look from a friend or even to mean “its all good”. When I lived in Seattle, and worked at Microsoft, I never EVER threw one. Life is better now 🙂

  • Heath

    HA, I’m from South Africa…and live in London now…I still throw it out now and again…but then again I was a surfer and guess I still am, even if my surf boards are a little dusty living in my freezer A.K.A. garage. It feels natural to me, sure, people look at me a little odd but you know what? They just don’t get it…hahaha

  • Garet

    I will continue to throw shakas liberally. The world could use more shakas, not less.

    I also like to give people “the bollocks” when necessary. Far more enjoyable than the merely crude middle finger.

    Consider me multi-gestural.

  • Don Harris

    Do what makes you feel good, like mentioned earlier, the world could use more Shaka’s. I prefer more Shaka’s than people using the devil horns. Thank you to the Hawaiians for the Shaka.

  • Michael crawford

    This friendly jester has pagued me for some time, Born in Miami Florida and then moved inland like a fish out of water I migrated back to the coast through some strange allure to the the water. I can rememeber this wacky looking geasture because it reminded me of breaking waves curling (the three middle fingers) forming a wave like barrel. Its that peace of mind that gets us through life that takes us to the things we love and for me throwing the “shaka” was like being in some club w/ a secret hand shake. I’m not a poser and I’m not from Hawaii but I have great respect for the people and the place where surfing originated from. Its like the kids in the Surf mags that write letters in who look at the photos and being stuck in the middle of some god forsaken place dream of being there and riding the perfect wave. Just try and understand and educate the young groms…. thanks

  • Feral gherkin

    I’ve noticed bikers in South Africa have started throwing Shakas. Kirk Hammett might have something to do with it. It seems to be a cooler version of throwing horns now, (which have been hijacked by everybody and their mother). I personally feel a bit lame when throwing Shakas and getting blank stares / looks of disdain in return, so I just say howzit instead.

  • Matt

    You so haole you don’t even know you haole.

  • Kuna

    It would be pretty douchey of someone to get mad at someone for throwing a shaka. Me an my boys throw shakas at eachother whenever we score waves or say peace out after a good session. Don’t over analyze it man. Its just good vibes being thrown your way. Just watch out for those posers that throw em up like candy on Halloween. Just look away and laugh. Thats my two cents. *throws shaka and walks away*

  • Jr Fites

    Hello, my name is Jr. and I’m addicted to throwing Shakas. I throw Shakas all day, sometimes without even noticing I’m doing it! I don’t think there is a picture of me in the last 10 yrs without one. I flashed one during my official wedding shots and even at my uncle’s funeral. I prob look like a goon, but I gotta admit I love them! Shaka-frama-lama!

  • Mike

    Rock the Shaka or not. As long as you’re not a kook we are all good. It’s more of a mindset and not so much about if you can surf or not. It may have originated in Hawaii, but the shaka has traveled all over the world making it as common as the peace sign and delivering a positive message. With that said, this last swell in HB was great! I’ll be in the water throwing up the Shaka.

  • Mike the kook

    I have no idea what i am talking about

  • mateo

    Yes: “Hang Loose as much as you can given the circumstances.”

    …the circumstances being a) I’m so haole, b) I’m groveling on the mainland, or c) both.

    The circumstances are what they are so, indeed, a 50 percent reduced, diminutive shaka will have to suffice.

  • Mike the Kook

    I still have no idea wtf i am talking about….i can barely spell.

  • Retro

    I was in an adult book store the video booth..and when i looked out the door, everyone was throwing shakas to each other…so cool !!

  • Stuart Johnson

    I still remember the first shaka thrown at me. light blue 66 nova 2 with board racks pulled up next to us on the two lane off ramp of 605 and south street. My brothers and I were all 1st generation surfers and we had our boards stacked clumsily in the 94 isuzu rodeo. I have a vague memory of the event, the heat of the day and the rumbling of V8 as it pulled up next to us. I distinctly remember the olive skin and long, curly, sun streaked brown hair of the surfer goddess behind the wheel. She must have felt my adorning stare from the back seat and she turned her head casually towards the 12 year old. As a surfer from Whittier (30 miles from the ocean) its a struggle to validate ones identity as a surfer. By geography, we cant be as cool and connected as the kids from beach cities. Then all at once, with a simple, one beat gesture, that surfer girl accepted me into the community. My insecurities flew out the window, and though she motored off in the opposite direction, she left with me an important lesson better stated by Bill S. Preston when he said, “be excellent to eachother,” So now when I see some one who will benefit from the Aloha associated with that sign (orgins see “Hamana kalili”) i throw it with out hesitation. Im grateful that the driver of the 66 nova was gracious in throwing the whole thing at me that hot California day.

  • terry bailey

    its quite a common sight… the shaka has been adopted by the gang element here in NZ… Black Power and Mongrel Mob….. naw i dont relate to it anymore

  • West Side Pride

    The shaka satrted from the east side of Oahu. A fisherman who was missing his three middle fingers would always wave his hand up towards friends. Then the trend caught on and slowly became the friendly wave called the shaka !!!

    Rob Giley is a douche bag from the SD who has no right to even blog about stuff he thinks he knows about.

    Hey Rob whats your address Ill come visit you and tell you myself you fat kook.

  • surf4life

    I was throwing shakas in Florida way before I moved to Hawaii. Everyone in Hawaii throws them surfers or not. My friend told me that it originated from an old plantation worker in kahuku who would wave to everyone driving by. He had an accident and lost his 3 middle fingers, he continue to waive to everyone hence the shaka. Use it or not, its all about positive vibes, I just wish the mainland would adapt more of an Aloha mindset.

  • jay

    i like to surf.

  • OQ


    You so haole, you don’t even know you’re haole.

  • Joe

    Having just moved to SoCal after living in Hawaii for the last 7 years, I find it really awkward to want to throw a shaka anywhere outside of Hawaii. It just doesn’t seem right…

  • Alyssa

    I read like the exact same article two weeks before this one was posted. There must be good shaka in the air.

  • matias
  • John Scatcherd

    Funny since i was running around in quicksilvers if you grew up in hawaii the shaka or even the baby shaka is a way of life. Its what makes us different from everyone else. Mahalo

  • Johnny

    This is so beautiful!! I’m sitting in Napili, Maui reading this and laughing my ass off!! I’m headed to the mainland tomorrow for a three week Nor-Cal cold water surf trip and I’m already getting kook anxiety about possibly throwing a way too loose and authentic shaka out at OB and getting vibed!! Not really but how funny is that? I’m a Nor-Cal boy who’s been throwing shaka’s since my uncles returned from the Islands in the 70’s!! When you throw or catch a true “shaka”, you can feel it! You can feel it and it warms your heart. It’s a fellowship reminding eachother to love, layback, listen and learn! Baby shaks or Shaka-laka Shaka-taks, it’s about slowing down and enjoying the moment. Thanks for your words, holmes!! Shoots

  • joseph neves

    The planet is small enough as it is. Let different regions have their own greetings. “When in Rome…” cool… but, “When you go home…”