The shaka hand gesture is the symbol made by holding the hand in a loose fist and extending the thumb and pinky finger with the back of the hand facing the recipient. This gesture most commonly being ashed by surfers and Hawaiian natives have a much deeper meaning than saying “hey” or “that’s cool”. It is more than just a mere wave or thumbs up.

The shaka is more than just a simple greeting or gesture of thanks. It is a symbol of the “Aloha spirit,” which is the coordination of the mind and spirit to think and exude good feelings to others. The simple gesture symbolizes reverence, solidarity, compassion, and friendship. It has the core value of mutual respect, affection, and understanding for the recipient. Surfers and more recently scuba divers have adopted this Hawai’ian gesture and brought it across all parts of the world.

The History of the Shaka Sign 

While there is debate over where the shaka originated, legends point to Hamana Kalili of North Shore of Oahu. Early in the twentieth century, Hamana lost his three middle fingers in a machinery accident while working at a local sugar mill. He then became a security guard at a train station, giving his signature wave to all the passengers. Children who were trying to sneak onto the trains began imitating Hamana’s wave to signal to each other that the coast was clear. Little did they know, this would be the wave that has caused a ripple effect in surf communities all around the universe.

A couple of other men are noted for giving rise to the popularity of the shaka sign. David “Lippy” Espinda used a combination of pidgin (the local dialect) and the shaka in local tv commercials in the ’70s, further ingraining the symbol into the culture. Frank Fasi was a local politician who used the shaka throughout his campaigns. He was the person who formally announced Hamana Kalili as the originator of the shaka during his mayorship.

Shaka is Worth a Thousand Words

Wherever the symbol came from, it is important to know its meaning today as you travel to scuba spots across the world. Take the compassion and understanding that comes with the shaka and spread mutual respect wherever your diving travels may take you.

Although all shakas begin with the thumb and pinky out while keeping the three middle fingers bent inward, there is a difference in meaning with how loose or tightly those three middle bad boys are curled. Some of the different variations include Tight Shaka, Shaking Shaka, etc.

Here is a fun video that gives a short history of the modern shaka and some creative variations of the shaka starting at 2min 40 sec

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