In the beginning, there was surfing. Hawaiian royalty rode the waves on boards shaped from koa planks. The feat highlighted the athletic prowess of men and women alike and was done for no other reason than it felt good.
Fishing and diving could be delightful, but their main purpose was collecting food. Canoes propelled by paddles or sails were for transportation, even if they could provide a thrilling ride on channel waves or on the way to a beach.
Last weekend, an Oahu waterfest marked the birthdate anniversary of Hawaii's most revered waterman of all time - Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola "Duke" Kahanamoku, born Aug. 24, 1890. There was nothing in the ocean that Duke couldn't do. He swam to five Olympic medals and is credited with being Hawaii's first world ambassador of surfing.
At the turn of the 20th century, one of the best-known authors in the world was Jack London. In his short story "The Kanaka Surf," London, who learned to surf himself, referenced Kahanamoku while describing a roiling ocean.
"There are two surfs at Waikiki: the big, bearded-man surf that roars far out beyond the diving stage; the smaller, gentler, wahine, or woman, surf that breaks upon the shore itself." London wrote "thundering monsters" allowed surfers to "rise out of the foam to stand full length in the air above and with heels winged with the swiftness of horses to fly shoreward."
The popularity of surfing skyrocketed after World War II when the use of lightweight fiberglass boards became widespread. There was a time in recent Hawaii history when reports of good surf was an accepted excuse to skip school or work. A truant employee might even find the boss himself in the lineup.
In the last couple of decades, Maui has seen the rise of variations of surfing. For the most fearless, there is being towed by personal watercraft onto waves that defy the use of arm power. Sails were attached to surfboards. Hookipa became known as a world mecca for windsurfing, revitalizing Paia and Haiku. When the sails were detached from the boards, kitesurfing was born and the parking lots at Kanaha filled up.
The latest innovation is SUP, or stand-up paddling. On any morning off Kihei's Cove Park, there is a phalanx of tourists and locals standing on large, fat surfboards, propelling themselves with a long-handled paddle. It's much easier than lying on a board and paddling with your hands to get on a wave. An adequate sense of balance is handy. As a way to meander around on the ocean, the stand-up paddleboard appears to have supplanted the once ubiquitous kayak as a no-stress ocean activity.
It seems there has always been flying down the face of a wave without a board or any other sort of help except small swim fins. A variation of bodysurfing is bodyboarding, adding a torso-sized slab of Styrofoam to the fins for a ride.
Somewhere along the line, short lengths of plywood became skimboards, most popular with keiki just feeling their way into the water. No waves needed, just an inch or less of water washing across smooth sand. Properly launched, a skimboard will hydroplane enough for the launcher to enjoy a stand-up zip along the beach. That's it for most, but not for Zach Platt when he's working a healthy shore break at Makena State Park.
There's no reef off Oneloa (Big) Beach. When a swell is running, waves pile up just a few feet off the dry sand. This is bodysurfing territory, but only for the akamai athlete. More than one person has been crippled by being slammed headfirst into the bottom.
The potentially deadly conditions are perfect for Zach, who has spent more than a decade mastering his skimboard. The Kula resident has limited use of his arms. On a skimboard, he doesn't need them to shred waves. The proof was right there on the TV screen.
The name of the locally produced show didn't stick. It was only happenstance that it was seen while, ah, channel surfing. What stuck was the sight of Zach ripping into a wave, flipping and carving with all the elegance of a pro surfer in an international competition. And, there's no direction-aiding skeg on a skimboard.
There is no end to the ways the blue ocean connecting Maui to the rest of the world can be used for the sheer joy of living, even for those of us who simply watch from shore or a living room couch.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.