“Shaka” or “Shaka, brah!” Maybe you’ve heard this expression. Maybe you’ve uttered those words in earnest salutation or ironically. Maybe you’re a core surfer living on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, and these words are your go-to, standard form of salutation. You use it all time without even really thinking about it. (For example, when you stride into Ono’s in Haleiwa for a pork sandwich, you offer a shaka to staff at the counter.)
In any case, the word “shaka” and its utterance are but only part of the communications protocol here. Those words are said with an accompanying hand gesture that might be more familiar to many readers than the words.
The shaka hand gesture, sometimes referred to as the “hang loose” sign, is similar to the “devil horns” gesture associated with heavy metal music. But with the shaka, the pinky finger and thumb are extended outward from the palm while the index, middle and ring fingers are bent down into the palm.
With fingers configured as such, the hand is then raised or extended and often given a little back and forth wiggle or shake, a motion functioning like a wave of the hand, to emphasize and visibly highlight the message to its intended audience.
The gesture is one of positivity. It’s loved by most surfers but also loathed by some surfers, hence the use of the “ironic shaka.” The shaka is undeniably a part of surf culture and has its modern usage and cultural origins in the birthplace of surfing: Hawaii.
But culture and its symbols evolve. The shaka in the pic above is part of a two-page graphical spread in the zine Can’t Steal Our Vibe that show the gesture altered as a mash-up with the standard “f*ck you!” middle finger gesture.
In this new versions, the extended pinky of the shaka is pulled in, and the middle finger is extended. On first try, it’s not an easy gesture to make with natural fluidity, compared to the shaka.
But no matter. It’s what the gesture means that’s important here. And what does it mean? That’s the beauty of it: For now it’s subject to interpretation. And if the creators have a denotation for it, its esoteric.
We love that the “F-You-Shaka” hybrid brings together the insouciance, anger and insult of the middle finger with the friendly, laidback “everyone’s a bro” vibe of the trad surfer shaka. These are opposing sentiments and may confuse.
The mashup, we think, is more ironic and captures even more accurately the contemporary core of surf culture: Its rebel semiotics and its knowing cues and tribal codes.
Can’t Steal Our Vibe, BTW, is a zine published occasionally by Lone Wolfs (sic), a surf brand and shop and music studio in Venice, Los Angeles, that uses the new “F-You-Shaka” as a kind of logo on stickers. The title of the zine is taken from a graffiti-like, spray-painted message written on a panel that covered a door that had been shattered in an attempted burglary at Lone Wolfs in 2016. The shop has also spray painted the phrase as a tagline on the side of the store.