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Surfing Debut At Summer Olympics Revisits Issues Over Native Hawaiian Cultural Appropriation

 July 21, 2021 at 11:38 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 For the first time surfing is on the Olympic stage on Friday, the ocean sport beloved by many San Diegans will be underway as the newest event at the summer games in Tokyo. And while fans are rejoicing summer raising concerns that a native Hawaiian cultural practice has been co-opted into the multi-billion dollar industry that it's become joining me now for more on this is Isaiah [inaudible] Walker, a professor at Brigham young university, Hawaii and author of the book waves of resistance. Isaiah. Welcome. Good morning. So can you just start off by telling us a little bit about the history of surfing? What are surfing? Speaker 2: 00:36 So surfing probably originated in other Pacific islands before the first Hawaiians actually came to the islands of Hawaii. They were part of a larger group of people that we call the Oceania or Morna people of the Pacific ocean. And so along with that tradition of comfortability in the ocean came this playfulness of, you know, spending time riding waves. So in Hawaii it was a national pastime practiced by both men, women, commoners chiefs. We sometimes refer to surfing as a sport of Kings, which is partly true. Yeah, because Kings did surf, but so did everyone else Speaker 1: 01:13 Rich history? So how did the sport come to be what it is today, which is a multi-billion dollar industry? That is, Speaker 2: 01:21 I think we can point to, I mean, speaking of Olympics is what we, who we call the father of modern day surfing as a, a Hawaiian man named duke Kahanamoku and duke Kahanamoku when he traveled the world in the Olympics and he ended up winning multiple gold medals in mostly the, his freestyle event. He took surfing with him and he ended up spreading surfing to places like Australia, the east coast of the United States, along with many other Hawaiians, as they came to California and shared the art of riding waves or what we call [inaudible], we're able to kind of start to spread that and eventually, you know, surfing is awesome. It's a great feeling. It's it gives you a real connection to the ocean and it's a healthy pastime and it's attractive. So I think it was just a matter of time before the world got to enjoy what the Hawaiians have been enjoying for centuries inclusion Speaker 1: 02:09 Of surfing. And the Olympic games is seen as somewhat of a double-edged sword for native Hawaiians, who might be happy to see it be included, but are also reminded about Hawaii's complicated history. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? Speaker 2: 02:22 It's an interesting story, and I love the fact that that right now, because of the Olympics and surfing, you know, there is a lot more attention looking at Hawaii and it's in this history, but essentially when Hawaii was occupied, essentially in 18 93, 3 18 98, there was basically an illegal overthrow of our, of our government, which was a monarchy run by a Hawaiian monarchs. And many of those monarchs actually were surfers. But what happens is, as Hawaii becomes occupied by the us military, essentially for Pearl Harbor, the situation on land becomes much more complex and challenging for native Hawaiians, as they're finding themselves increasingly marginalized in political spaces, social spaces, economic spaces, and so surfing remain kind of that really cool space. And interestingly enough, the surfing world recognized that. And for the last, you know, a hundred years, the surfing world has seen Hawaii as an independent entity, as far as surfing goes. Speaker 2: 03:19 So for example, right now we have Krista Moore and John John Florence surfing for the United States team and in all realms of competition from the ISA, which is currently the governing body of the Olympics to the NSA, to the WSL, to all these different competitive entities have respected Hawaii as its own nation. So when the Olympics was announced that it would be having surfing in the Olympics, we knew that it would be a struggle for Hawaiians to have that same designation. We did submit an application to the IOC requesting that the Hawaii be considered its own independent entity. It Speaker 1: 03:58 Is the next step there. Where did you make any gains about potentially having, you know, the Hawaiian flag be represented when these athletes are surfing? Speaker 2: 04:06 The Olympics has a kind of a different way of, of recognizing, uh, you know, a national status, but in their bylaws, they state that if you, if you're a nation has been recognized by the international community as an independent state. So another Hawaiian kingdom government ploy was recognized, actually it was one of the first non European countries recognized as an independent state in the mid 1850s. We had many treaties with, you know, the United States, but also a lot of most European countries entered into treaties with Hawaii, recognizing it as an independent state. So when we applied, we were hoping to use that as part of our distinction, but we have been recognized by the international community as an independent state, not only anciently or in the 1850s, but even more recently in a particular court case in the Hague. So we were hoping that the IOC would consider at least evaluating our application and we haven't had much success yet, but we're hoping for the next Olympics that maybe Hawaii will have a shot Speaker 1: 05:06 All watch on Friday. What do you want people outside of Hawaii to really know about this sport and keep in mind as we watch the athletes. Speaker 2: 05:14 I love the fact that surfing is, you know, a global sport and entity, and it is something that has been shared with Hawaii, uh, with, from Hawaii throughout the world. And it's not necessarily a bad thing. I don't want to get the idea that like, this is a horrible thing and that Hawaiians are upset about that. It's more so just understanding where the roots of surfing are from and respecting it. And I think most surfers, when they come to Hawaii, they have that feeling of respect and also that our athletes, even though, you know, they are surfing for the United States, which I know they're, they're very proud of. They're also carrying the Hawaiian flag in their hearts. Speaker 1: 05:47 I've been speaking to Isaiah heli, CUNY. He Walker a professor at Brigham young university, Hawaii. Thank you so much. Thank you.

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As fans of surfing prepare for the sport's debut in the Olympic Summer Games, issues over how the sport has been appropriated from its Native Hawaiian origins have resurfaced.
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