The Alaia was an ancient Hawaiian surfboard that had a round nose and a squared tail.
Unlike modern surfboards, it didn’t have any fins on the underside of the board and as it was often made from koa wood, it was also quite heavy, averaging between 50 and 100 pounds.
The Alaia board was often around 7 to 12 foot in length (similar to modern mid-length boards and longboards) and the fact that it was finless made it hard to control, requiring a skilled surfer to navigate it through the waves.
The History of the Alaia Surfboard
Surfboards have existed in Polynesia for many hundreds and potentially many thousands of years.
We don't have much recorded history from this part of the world, but we do know that boards were used to fish and travel by the ancestors of these beautiful islands.
Naturally, it wouldn't have taken long for these practical activities to turn into sport, and surfboards may have been used on Hawaii since settlers first arrived there from other Polynesian islands.
The act of surfing on an Alaia board was known as "lala", a Hawaiian word that translates to something like "a controlled slide on a wave".
What are the Benefits of Alaia Surfboards?
Fiberglass and epoxy boards produce a lot of environmental toxins and concerns have been raised about the use of these materials.
Alaia boards made from sustainable paulownia have been posed as an environmentally friendly alternative.
Not only are the materials easy to acquire and safe to use, but the same is true for repairing them.
Notable Surfers that Have Used Alaia Boards
You can see the surfboard of Princess Kaʻiulani at Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii. Kaʻiulani, said to be an athletic young woman, had a 7.4ft surfboard made from acacia koa.
She died back in 1899, aged just 23, and her board was passed onto her father's estate and ended up at the museum.
The birth of modern surfboards all but killed off Alaia surfboards, but there was a resurgence during the 2010s.
Donald Takayama and Tom Wegener, two gifted shapers, helped to bring the board back, but acacia koa is rarely used today.
Wegener initially used prototypes made of paulownia, a fast-growing tree that is present throughout China and other eastern countries, and other boards have been made from redwood and balsa.
In 2009, Thomas Campbell directed The Present and showed how these boards were being used in the modern age.
The film featured performances from Rob Machado and Dave Rastovich and displayed all the beauty and difficulty of these ancient boards.
Campbell’s efforts helped to make the boards more popular among skilled surfers, but they are still a very niche product.