chapter  10
17 Pages

Surfing ali‘i, kahuna, kupua and akua

Female presence in surfing’s past
ByIan ‘Akahi Masterson

The oral histories of Polynesia reveal that females commanded a significant presence in the surfing set of myths and legends. Surfing women of all ranks – Ali’i (chief/chiefess), Kahuna (priest/priestess), Kupua (shape-shifter) and Akua (god/goddess) were given respect as the most skilled surfers of their time! Surfing women challenged gods and men in the surf, displaying their mastery over both. Bodily speaking, the grace of a female surfer soaring atop the crest of a wave embodied archetypical perfection. As such, many surfing wahine also won over the hearts of their suiters on the waves. Surfing sites were dynamic arenas where women were able to challenge their roles in a bilateral chiefdom that favoured men through a complex kapu (social rank) system, gaining rights and privilege through their own position in a hierarchy of indigeneity. Striving for rank was likened to surfers jockeying for a wave, with aliʻi gaining priority through positioning.