Baby Shaka Recall

A new breed of shaka. Photo: Gilley

Rob Gilley

Previously in denial about his photographic past, Rob Gilley now rummages through his trove of mediocrity.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty liberal about throwing shakas. With even the slightest excuse, I’ll break one out. If you look even remotely familiar to me and you’re driving by, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and flash you the old extended thumb and pinky.

Examining my behavior, I guess I throw shakas because they seem like safe, friendly gestures—they’re less antiquated than thumbs-up or peace signs, and less dorky than waving. Shakas are my go-to hand gestures because they’re cool.

Or are they?

In a recent interview, Nathan Fletcher said that he was afraid his hand might fall off and spontaneously combust if he tried to toss a shaka—a half-joke belying an entirely different school of thought.

After thinking about it, I’d say about half the non-Hawaiian surfers I know toss shakas on a semi-regular basis. The other half—like Nathan—never throw them. It’s pretty much split down the middle. What’s going on here?

Fathoming shaka abstinence, I realized that—like it or not—an extended thumb and pinky carry an implication. As everyone knows, a shaka means “hang loose,” and so the real question is whether a fast-lane dwelling mainlander with ancestral ties to Captain Cook is really qualified to use a Hawaiian-born gesture.

And deeper still, a mainland shaka smacks of something even more insidious. Like those hideous shirts and Soccer Mom bumper stickers with versions of “I Love Hawaii” plastered all over them, a mainland shaka has a secret, chest-thumping message: “Dude! Look at me! I went to Da Islands and you didn’t!”

So now, with a shaka painted in a different light, I pause to reflect on some inspired thinking from the past. How years ago a group of North San Diego County surfers had stumbled across the perfect solution.

At some point in the 80s, a group that included names like John Glomb, Brad Gerlach, Sonny Miller, and Colin Smith started implementing the Baby Shaka—basically a mini, 50 percent reduced, diminutive shaka. A mainland shaka that had complete respect for the original, but a message all it’s own: Hang Loose as much as you can given the circumstances.

Hang Partially Loose.

So if you see me driving by with what looks from a distance like a palsied fist and barely-perceptible, hook-em-hornsish fingers sticking out, you’ll know that I’m just trying to say Hi.