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A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes
By  Malcolm Gault-Williams

This Chapter Updated:  7 January 2008

The Kaiulani Board

Princess Kaiulani and Her Alaia Surfboard

Wally with his Kaiulani alaia replica

Aloha and welcome to this chapter on the Ka`iulani alaia surfboard and its replication. Here, you will read about one of the few pre-Twentieth Century surfboards in existance, Hawaiian Princess Victoria Ka`iulani who rode it, and the replication of her board by legendary surfers Wally Froiseth and Fran Heath in 2001.


  • Wally, Fran & Board #10400
  • Four Boards of Ancient Hawaii
  • Wood Types, Collection, Shaping and Ritual
  • Surfing in the Late 1800s
  • Princess Ka`iulani (1875-1899)
  • Lekelike’s Death
  • Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Ka`iulani Overseas
  • Lili`uokalani’s Short Reign
  • Ka`iulani in the United States
  • Ka`iulani’s Passing
  • Surfing in the Very Late 1800s
  • Wally’s Ka`iulani Replica
  • A Modern Dedication by Kelli Ann & Fray Heath

    In the late 1880s, young Hawaiian Princess Ka`iulani reportedly rode a 7-and-a-half foot alaia koa surfboard that turned out to be one of the few pre-Twentieth Century Hawaiian watercraft to survive termites and the cultural extermination of Nineteenth Century Hawai`i. This board has been housed at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu since 1922; part of the estate donated by Ka`iulani’s father Archibald Cleghorn.

    The Ka`iulani board, along with others at the Bishop, have been objects of interest for many, a basis for surfboard design by some, and an inspiration for replicas by a select few. The latest copy of the Ka`iulani board was finished in Spring 2001 by master craftsman, surfer, sailor and voyager Wally Froiseth. Teaming up with old friend and Hot Curl stylist Fran Heath and his son Fray and granddaughter Kelli, Wally has reproduced not only a stunning and true-to-the-original design, but also a board of beauty.

    Wally, Fran & Board #10400

    The team of Wally and Fran is as interesting as the board itself and its original owner.

    One of surfing’s pioneer big wave riders, Wallace Froiseth was born on December 21, 1919. He is perhaps the most well-known of the Hot Curl surfers of the 1930s and ‘40s. As such, he played a vital part in the early evolution of today’s big wave guns, beginning in 1937 with the refinement of the fin-less, redwood Hot Curl surfboard.  “We wanted to, you know, improve it, eh?” Wally told me. “And, as we were growing older, we wanted to surf on bigger and bigger waves -- you know, more challenging -- and experiment with all kinds of boards, shapes and everything.”

    By 1960, Wally Froiseth had met the challenge numerous times, becoming one of the most respected surfers in the world and a champion at the Makaha International just the year before. In a “who’s who,” written by Otto Patterson and published in 1960, Wally was described as having “always been more intimate with the young islanders of all races than with the more pretentious surfers. He is a modest and sincere man but we know of no one in the Waikiki area who has been so greatly admired by natives and haoles alike, over such a long period of years.”

    Wally has continued to make contributions even to present day, notably with the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) and the rebirth of Polynesian open ocean canoe voyaging. Much in the same way as Duke Kahanamoku and others revived surfing at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Wally and others in the PVS brought back open ocean voyaging in traditional double-hulled canoes.

    Fran Heath was the oldest of the Hot Curl group, born July 13, 1917.  He started surfing about the age of 12, at the very start of the 1930s. He was a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club early on, beginning his surfing life on an 8-foot redwood board. “The beach was there, the surf was there,” Fran said with a smile when I asked him what had originally attracted him to surfing. Fran was the first of his peers to have a semi-hollow, surfboard, in early 1937. This board would later become the first Hot Curl cut down by John Kelly.

    In keeping with their historical record of curiousity concerning board shapes, Wally and Fran have now come full circle with their latest project: an investigation into the properties of the ancient alaia surfboard. “I just wanna surf it, that’s all,” Wally told me. “See whether it ‘tails’; whether you can really stand up; how fast you have to paddle to get the thing going. You know, that kind of stuff.”

    “On 10400,” admitted Betty Kam of the Bishop Museum, “the recorded information is brief. This is said to be the surfboard of Princess Ka`iulani. This item, as well as many others, came to the Museum from the Estate of Archibald Cleghorn, father of Princess Ka`iulani.”

    When at the museum, Fran and Wally took a look at two boards. Besides the Ka`iulani alaia, they also took a close look at the oldest known North Shore surfboard – a redwood plank, last owned by the late Jack Midkiff. “The museum people are very careful,” Wally told me. “They don’t want to touch the boards as much as possible, because they’re worried about oil getting on them and all that kind of thing. But, I think it (some oil) would be good for them. But, anyway… the women (from the museum) took the boards down. They had rubber gloves, thin… laid the boards down on the paper… and we drew the outline (for both boards).” 

    “I measured the thickness at the center,” Wally described his measurements for his template, taken from the original alaia, “which was 5/8th of an inch and the edge is a half-inch. The tail thickness was 3/8th of an inch. Center of the bow was 1/8th of an inch. So, I made a little template with 1/8th of an inch curve. You know, so that I would come up with a ¼-inch on the edges. A little more than an eighth.” 

    Four Boards of Ancient Hawaii

    The ancient Hawaiian surfboard, or papa he’e nalu (pa-pa HAY-ay NA-lu),  came in four types. Listed in order of length, these were (from longest to shortest): the super-long olo (O-lo), kiko`o (key-CO-oo), alaia (ah-LAI-ah) and paipo (pie-poe) bodyboard. The olo and alaia were both used under different surfing conditions and by different classes of people. According to Abraham Fornander (1812-1887) in Hawaiian Folk Lore, the alaia averaged 9 feet long. It was best suited for kakaha, “a curling wave, terrible, death dealing.” That is, a wave that broke quickly and had a hollow curl section to it. The olo, on the other hand, averaged 18 feet long, and was ideal for opuu, “a non-breaking wave, something like calmness.”  Waves like this are typical at Waikiki on days when the surf is not big.

    In Surfing, The Sport of Hawaiian Kings, academian Ben Finney and writer James Houston, noted that in both the olo and alaia, “the top and bottom were convex and tapered to thin rounded edges, so that either side seems to have been suitable as a riding surface.”

    Historian Ben Finney acknowledged that, “between the biggest surf and the low easy swells of Waikiki, there were not many waves suited to the big olo boards. Consequently, limited maneuverability usually restricted their use to those few suitable areas with ample space for their characteristically long rides. Waikiki is such an area. But Waikiki’s combination of long, low swells and sandy shore is not common in Hawai`i. Along the Kona coast, for example, one finds more often... rocky terrain... with steep walls of water breaking closer to shore. These latter conditions seem to have allowed only the use of the smaller alaia.”

    Compared to the olo and kiko`o, the alaia was shorter, broader, less convex and more plank-like in its thinness. Hot Curl surfer John Kelly pointed out that, “Today’s guns and light short boards have basic features including shapes, contours and breakaway edges handed down from or similar to the ancient alaia boards.”  The largest alaia boards in the Bishop Museum collection – including the Ka`iulani alaia -- range from 7-to-12 feet long, average 18-inches in width, and are from a half-inch to an inch-and-a-half thick. Alaia boards were used by the common people, but the ali’i were also known to ride these shapes. One particularly representative alaia board was collected by J. S. Emerson, in Kailua, Hawai`i, in 1885, and later donated to the Bishop Museum. It is made of koa, is six-and-a-half feet long, and is a little over a half inch thick at its center. The bow end is curved in a convex shape and the stern end is cut off square. Its widest point toward the bow is 14 3/4 inches and the narrower stern end is 10 3/4 inches.

    The alaia board was the preferred shape for steeper, faster-breaking surf. “The board’s thinness and shorter length,” wrote Finney and Houston, “gave it much greater mobility on the sheer faces of fast surf. The technique of sliding at an angle to the moving swell, which alaia surfers had obviously mastered, was called lala.”  The alaia ranged from a child’s board of approximately six feet to about twelve feet long for adults. The adult board was about one-and-a-half inches thick through the center, leveling off on both top and bottom to about one-quarter inch at the edges. The comparatively small size of the alaia board made it easy to handle in waves that wall-up quickly and form tubes or hollow sections in the process.

    “The alaia board,” wrote Nineteenth Century historian John Papa Ii, “which is 9 feet long, is thin and wide in front, tapering toward the back. On a rough wave, this board vibrates against the rider’s abdomen, chest, or hands when they rest flat on it, or when the fingers are gripped into a fist at the time of landing. Because it tends to go downward and cut through a wave it does not rise up with the wave as it begins to curl over. Going into a wave is one way to stop its gliding, and going onto the curl is another. Skilled surfers use it frequently, but the unskilled are afraid of this board, choosing rather to sit on a canoe or to surf on even smaller boards.”

    The alaia shape made it possible for ancient riders to avoid getting worked on close-out sets and kept them from pearling. “It was the board most suitable along the frequent rugged coasts,” wrote Finney and Houston, “and it is no wonder that most of the ancient boards remaining (ten of thirteen in the Bishop Museum collection [in 1965]) are of the alaia type.” As to who rode these boards, Finney and Houston believed that, “whereas the olo was reserved exclusively for the ali’i, it seems obvious that the commoners had no such exclusive rights to the alaia. The greatest number of early reports tell of surfing alaia style, and many legends mention chiefs surfing along rocky shores where an olo board would be difficult to handle. These two board types, then, allowed the separation of chief and commoner if desired, but never to the point of depriving the ali`i of the faster and more hazardous surf.”

    Wood Types, Collection, Shaping and Ritual

    Three different kinds of wood were used for the four types of Hawaiian surfboard. The kiko`o, alaia and paipo boards were made from either koa wood or ulu (breadfruit). The “olo boards,” Duke Kahanamoku noted, “were constructed from the much lighter wood of the wiliwili.” This more preferred lighter type of wood was also used for outrigger canoes.

    Of the three types of wood used to make ancient Hawaiian surfboards --  wiliwili, ulu, and koa  -- commoners were, “denied the use of the lighter, and more satisfactory, wiliwili wood for the making of surfboards,” confirmed Duke Kahanamoku. “They had to settle for the heavier, less buoyant, koa wood. It stood to reason then that the alii became the greatest surfers of those times. They certainly had every advantage. A man’s board became a mark of his standing in society -- sort of a status symbol.”

    “In ancient times,” Duke made a point of saying, “the Polynesians lay great spiritual importance to their surfing. The stages involved in selecting a proper tree, cutting it down, preparing the wood, treating it, and finally launching it as a finished surfboard, added up to a process that was fraught with labor, complexities and ceremonies.”

    “After proper blessings and incantations by the kahuna (priest)," Duke continued, "the tree was brought down and then trimmed of its branches preparatory for the final shaping. With only the assistance of stone or bone tools, the natives painstakingly shaped the wood into the desired proportions, then hauled it to their helau (canoe shed),  where the prolonged, exacting work really began.

    “Days of tedious scraping and cutting followed in order to obtain the wanted shape, depth, width and length. They strove for perfect balance, and sought to make the board fit the individual for whom it was intended. Each board was veritably custom-built and tailored to suit ‘wearer.’”

    “After countless hours of chipping with stone or bone adzes," Duke went on, "the board gradually took on the desired shape, and was then smoothed and polished by hand to the slickness that promised minimum traction and maximum maneuverability. The wood was then rubbed down with rough coral to erase the adze marks, and finally it was polished with ‘oahi stone rubbers, all in the same way that the hulls of canoes were polished."

    “Kukui nuts were then gathered and burned to a soot, and subsequently made into a dark stain. When applied to the wood, it brought out the fine grain and made the board a thing of shining beauty. In some instances the boards were stained a dark color with the root of the ti plant (moke ki). In others the natives resorted to making a stain from the juice of banana buds and charcoal from burnt pandanus leaves. In either case, when the stain became thoroughly dried, a preservative of kukui oil was rubbed in by hand, giving the surface an even glossier finish.”

    Nathaniel Emerson, in a 1892 article entitled “Causes of Decline of Ancient Polynesian Sports,” mentioned the protective finish of the canoe and surfboard. “This Hawaiian paint had almost the quality of lacquer. Its ingredients were the juice of a certain euphorbia, the juice of the inner bark of the root of the kukui tree, the juice of the bud of the banana tree, together with a charcoal made from the leaf of the pandanus. A dressing of oil from the nut of the kukui was finally added to give a finish.”

    Nineteenth Centruy surfboard innovator and the first surfer of the modern period to restore traditional Hawaiian surfboards Tom Blake was told by Ken Cottrell, who witnessed this procedure, that a surfboard made of wiliwili was sometimes, “buried in mud, near a spring, for a certain length of time to give it a high polish... the mud entered the porous surface of the wili wili board acting as a good ‘filler’ for sealing up the surface. When the board was then dried out the mud surface became hard and was polished and oiled to a fine waterproof finish.”

    Modern vs. Ancient Board Consecration

    As evidenced by the care taken in wood selection and preparation, surfing in pre-European Hawaii was significantly more than a popular recreation. In fact, surfing was, “a rather serious affair.”  This was especially true when it combined with other vital elements of Hawaiian culture. “In this sense,” wrote Finney and Houston, surf riding “was connected with the ancient religion of the islands. Although surfing was not specifically a religious observance, it was like other aspects of Hawaiian life, integrally involved with the gods and spirits of the day.”

    Religious importance was bestowed upon all aspect of surfing -- or he’e nalu (Hay-ay NA-lu), as it was called.  For instance, surfboard dedication ceremonies did not end with the production of the finished product. Duke Kahanamoku related that, “With the board ultimately ready for launching, the native kahuna administered more rites, dedicating it with special prayers. By the time the surfer took the board into the water, it had taken on a personality and significance which enlisted reverence from its owner. After use in the surf, the board was always left in the sun until wholly dry, then rubbed well with coconut oil, and hung up inside the hale (house). In fact the more exacting surfer even wrapped the board in tapa cloth to further protect and preserve the wood.”

    No matter how good the board and how auspicious the ceremonies conducted around it, “Once completed, a board is of little use to the surfer unless the surf is running,” wrote Finney and Houston. “When the ocean was flat the Hawaiians took measures to address the return of rideable waves. If a group of surfers wanted to address the ocean, they might gather on the beach, find strands of pohuehue (beach morning glory; Ipomoea pescaprae), swing them around their heads together and lash the surface of the water chanting in unison.”

    One such surf chant was recorded by Thrum, in the Hawaiian Almanac and Annual for 1896:

    Ina`a `ohe nalu, a laila aku i kai,
    penei e hea ai:
    Kumai!  Kumai!  Ka nalu nui mai Kahiki mai,
    Alo po`i pu!  Ku mai ka pohuehue,
    Hu!  Kai ko`o loa.

    If there is no surf,
    invoke seaward in the following manner:
    Arise!  Arise, you great surfs from Kahiki,
    The powerful curling waves.
    Arise with pohuehue.
    Well up, long raging surf.

    “When I was about 15 years old, in the mid-1930s,” Wally Froiseth recalled of his first exposure to surf chanting, “they were going to have a surfing contest at Waikiki. The first day the surf was too small so they brought a Kahuna down to the beach and right in front of the old Outrigger Canoe Club. I watched while he chanted and beat the water with pohuehue vines late in the evening. The next day we had First Break waves and the contest was on and a great success.”

    “I had told this story to my family and others,” Wally continued, “so, one day at Makaha while we were running the Makaha International Surfing Championships and had too small a surf, I decided to try out the same method. Everyone poo-poo’d me about it, but I got some vines and went in the evening to the shore at Makaha, asked that whoever made the surf to please send some for our surfing contest. Honest to God, the next day we had Point Surf at Mahaka and ran the contest.

    “I was asked a few times after that, while running the contest when there wasn’t enough good waves, but I never did it again. But, I’ll always be grateful for that one time; when it really worked for me. All my family still remember that occasion and talk about it once in a while with great respect.” 

    Even though “Some Hawaiians will swear that the ancients could make the surf rise with such a chant and using a vine to whip the water,” Tom Blake attributed successful kahuna surf making more to, “their power of keen observation of the weather signs, which take on certain definite characteristics before the big surf. Such as seeing the iwa, a species of albatross, flying over land. They come in from the sea to escape storms, which often accompany the coming of big surf... Also a powerful surge is given by the small swells before the coming of big waves. Big surf, that is continuous, seems to run in cycles every five or seven years. Undoubtedly, the ancient kahunas who wanted to make big surf had nothing much else to do but study these prophetic signs of coming surf and were, no doubt, far superior to anyone today in interpreting them.”

    Surfing in the Late 1800s

    Like many other Hawaiian cultural activities, surfing drastically declined to the point of near-extinction during the Hawaiian Islands missionary period. As a sport, it enjoyed a slight resurgence three-quarters of the way through the 1800s, during King David Kalakaua’s reign. “It was not until close to the end of the nineteenth century that surfing received anything in the way of a shot in the arm,” told Duke. “After a series of kings had held reign, a new king, David Kalakaua, was voted into power. This was February of 1874. Kalakaua was a fun-loving man, and he did much to lighten the many bans which the missionaries had brought on. In an effort to revive the ancient culture of the Hawaiian people, he encouraged all sports. Kalakaua gave the old songs, the hula dance, and other forms of Hawaiian cultural expression back to his people. He was a particularly strong supporter of surfing, and it enjoyed a renaissance during his reign.” Unfortunately, “Kalakaua died in 1891 and again surfing went into a steep decline...” 

    Before Kalakaua passed on, however, and five years after Ka`iulani’s birth, writer John Dean Caton observed surfers on the Big Island and then described surfing at Hilo, Hawai`i. This volume, published in 1880, “throws light,” emphasized Twentieth Century surfer and innovator Tom Blake, “on the much argued points as to whether the old surfriders rode the waves at an angle, or slid them, and whether they stood upright upon the speeding surfboard.”

    “One instantly dashed in,” wrote Caton in 1880, “in front of, and at the lowest declevity of the advancing wave, and with a few strokes of hands and feet, established his position (on the wave). Then, without further effort, shot along the base of the wave to the eastward with incredible velocity. Naturally, he came towards shore with the body of the wave as he advanced, but his course was along the foot of the wave, and parallel with it, so that we only saw that he was running past with the speed of a swift winged bird. He kept up with the progress of the breaking crest, which moved from west to east, as successive portions of the wave took the ground (broke in shallow water).”

    Caton continued: “As the big seas chased each other in from the open ocean, the west end first reached the rocky bed, and the instant the bottom of the wave met this obstruction, its rotary motion was checked, and immediately, the comb on the top was formed, so that the foamy crest seemed to run along the top of the wave from west to east, as successive portions of it reached the rock bottom.”

    Obviously, the surfriders Caton saw had to “slide the wave,” as Tom Blake called it, to get away from the break and keep away from the rocks. As for standing, “As soon as the bather had secured his position,” wrote Caton, “he gave a spring, and stood upon his knees upon the board, and just as he was passing us, when about four hundred feet from the little peninsula point where we stood, he gave another spring and stood upon his feet, now folding his arms upon his breast, and now swinging them about in wild ecstasy, in his exhilarating flight.”

    Caton described the boards he saw as being about 1 1/2-inches thick, seven feet long, coffin shaped, rounded at the ends, “chamfered” (beveled) at the edges; about fifteen inches wide at the widest point near the forward end, and eleven inches wide at the back end.  Blake mentioned that the natives Caton observed, “were certainly of the old school, as he says they stripped to their breach cloths or malos, before going in the water.”

    Hawaiian Princess Kaiulani

    Princess Ka`iulani (1875-1899)

    Victoria Ka`iulani Kalaninuiahilapalapa Kawekiui Lunalilo -- whose name translates as “royal sacred one” or “the highest point of heaven” -- was born on October 16, 1875 to Miriam Likelike and Archibald Cleghorn, in Honolulu. We do not know exactly to what extent she surfed. All we know is that her board survives to tell a tale of convex surfaces, parabolic curves, and break away rails.

    Ka`iulani’s mother was Miriam Kekauluohi Likelike (pronounced “Lee-keh-lee-keh”), daughter of High Chief Kapaakea and the Chiefess Keohokalole. She was the younger sister of king David Kalakaua and queen Lili`uokalani. Ka`iulani’s father was Archibald Cleghorn, Honolulu merchant and horticulturalist, having come to the Island from Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1850. He would become Governor of O`ahu during Queen Lili`uokalani’s brief reign. Through her mother, Ka`iulani was descended from High Chief Kepookalani, first cousin of Kamehameha I, the first king to unite the Hawaiian Islands.

    Her mother Likelike was a gifted musician and renowned society hostess. Ka`iulani’s mother’s brother was Hawai`i’s then reigning monarch, the brilliant “renaissance man” and cultural visionary David La`amea Kalakaua; of the “Na Lani `Eha” -- the four royal siblings comprising the Kalakaua dynasty. Likelike was the only member to produce a royal child. Thus, this “hapa-haole” (part-non-Hawaiian) infant Ka`iulani was third in line to the throne. Because of this, from the day she was born, Ka`iulani’s life was not her own. Politics and outside forces converged to dictate all aspects of her life. More than once she was used as a political pawn, positioned and maneuvered to the best advantage of others, including her relatives.

    Lekelike’s Death

    When Ka`iulani was just 11 years old, she faced her first real tragedy. Practically overnight, her mother Likelike became withdrawn and oddly quiet. She took to her bed and refused all food. Although the doctors could find nothing physically wrong with her, an unknown illness set in. Archibald Cleghorn could only watch his young wife slowly dying, without knowing the reason why. In February of 1887, Likelike died leaving Ka`iulani without a mother. Ka`iulani turned to her half-sister Annie Cleghorn and her governess for comfort and companionship.

    The Cleghorn family resided at `Ainahau in Waikiki, an estate owned by Princess Ruth Keelikolani, Ka`iulani’s godmother. It was named `Ainahau by Princess Likelike because of the cooling breezes from the Koolau mountains through Manoa Valley. `Ainahau means cool land – literally, hau tree land. Archibald Cleghorn spent many hours planting and landscaping the 10 acre estate, including Ka`iulani’s banyon, which is the mother plant of all of Honolulu’s beautiful banyon trees.

    Fragrant jasmine found throughout the gardens of `Ainahau were a favorite of the princess, as were the peacocks that roamed the estate. One of Ka`iulani’s nicknames was “Princess of the Peacocks” because she loved the pet birds and fed them from her hands. The word for peacock is pikake, which also came to be the name for the flowers that the princess loved. Pikake lei are treasured today, often but not exclusively associated with romance and courtship.

    Ka`iulani loved to ride and her special pony as a child was named Fairy. It was for Fairy that she shed the most tears when leaving Hawai`i for schooling in England at the age of thirteen. Before she left, however, she became good friends with the world famous author Robert Louis Stevenson.

    Robert Louis Stevenson

    Two years after the death of Likelike, Robert Louis Stevenson came to the Islands with his family in January 1889. He soon became acquainted with the king and was introduced to Ka`iulani’s father, a fellow Scot. Stevenson’s stepdaughter, Isobel Strong, was wife to the court painter and had been a friend of Ka`iulani’s mother, Likelike.

    Stevenson spent many hours at the home of Ka`iulani and her family, taking a particular interest in the 13-year-old Princess, who thought his hair too long. Their friendship was destined to be brief, however, as Ka`iulani was preparing to leave for school abroad. Stevenson feared the schooling abroad that the King and her father felt proper for a possible future monarch might affect the child’s health, due to the vast differences in climate between Hawai`i and Europe. In the long run, he was correct, but ironically -- despite her longing to return to Hawai`i – Ka`iulani would become to prefer cool weather and find her native land’s heat uncomfortable when she journeyed home to it later.

    The Stevenson-Ka`iulani friendship was a brief four months before the thirteen year-old princess made her last farewells before sailing to San Francisco en route for Britain. She left Hawai`i on May 10th, 1889, never to see her literary friend again, learning of his death while at school. A memento of the Ka`iulani-Stevenson friendship survives in the collections of Hulihe`e Palace on the Kona coast of the island of Hawai`i. It is a beautiful music box given Ka`iulani by Stevenson. This treasure plays an assortment of tunes, none of which have been identified.

    As a going away gift, Stevenson wrote her a poem. It reads:

    Forth from her land to mine she goes,
    The Island maid, the Island rose,
    Light of heart and bright of face,
    The daughter of a double race.

    Her Islands here in southern sun
    Shall mourn their Ka`iulani gone.
    And I, in her dear banyan’s shade,
    Look vainly for the little maid.

    But our Scots Islands far away
    Shall glitter with unwonted day,
    And cast for once their tempest by
    To smile in Ka`iulani’s eye.

    Ka`iulani Overseas

    Victoria Ka`iulani was named after the reigning monarch of England, Queen Victoria -- long a friend to Hawaiian Royalty. Queen Victoria had been godmother to Prince Albert, the son of King Kamehameha IV, and his consort the part-English Queen Emma. Albert, too, would meet a tragic fate -- if at a younger age than Ka`iulani -- dying of a “brain fever” at age 4.

    From childhood, Ka`iulani was raised with complete awareness of the “double race” complexity of her cultural inheritance, and that unusual demands would be placed upon her in preparing to become Queen of a sovereign Pacific Kingdom. Hawaiian indigenous leaders were determined to demonstrate to a Western world still blinded by racial prejudice that their small Nation was as cultured, dignified, and scientifically aware as any of the so-called “Great Powers”. To help demonstrate this, `Iolani Palace had electricity before the White House, in Washington, D.C. In March of 1888, Ka`iulani herself was given the honor of “throwing the switch” that illuminated Honolulu for the first time.

    Proud of her dual Scottish and Kanaka Maoli ancestry, Ka`iulani became a Victorian royal who could both surf -- she was reputed to be quite skilled in wave riding -- and play croquet. She both ate poi and raw fish and attended as elegant afternoon teas. She played tennis, paddled outrigger canoes, and learned the ballroom dances of Europe. She could sing, play guitar and ukulele, had a love of flowers and gardening, and was an expert equestrian.

    Ka`iulani loved gowns and had a knack for sewing. When Americans had overthrown the monarchy and cut of the Princess’ funds from home, her friends commented that Ka`iulani could wrap a length of any old fabric about herself and look exquisite. The artistic creativity that was a Kalakaua birthright manifested in the Princess’ love of the “Great Masters.” While in Europe, she examined in minute detail many of the great works. Her expressed desire was to become a great painter. Some of her youthful efforts survive to this day, including a Scottish landscape in the collections of the  Bishop Museum.

    “Island Rose,” “Island Flower,” “Pua o Hawai`i” (Hawai`i’s Flower), “Rose of `Ainahau”… Ka`iulani’s memory has evoked the use of all these floral names and her name is linked with one of Hawai`i’s favorite scents -- Chinese jasmine. The Princess loved these delicate blossoms best of all. These flowers were planted all around her home estate. The poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote of Ka`iulani that “…her name has left the fragrance of a flower,” referring to the fact that, to this day, the jasmine is called by the Hawaiianized word for peacock -- “pikake” -- in tribute to the Princess’ attachment to both jasmine and her avian pets.

    Lili`uokalani’s Short Reign

    In January 1891, while Ka`iulani was away at school in England, her aunt Lili`uokalani was proclaimed Queen. With her new position came a multitude of racial and economic problems. By the time Lili`uokalani mounted the throne, the American business establishment and their newspaper allies were boldly promoting annexation to the United States. Such a move would allow Hawaiian sugar access to the vast American market, a profitable situation for the Americans in the islands.

    However, Lili`uokalani, a fervant patriot for her homeland, had different plans. She meant to renew authority in the monarchy. This move was intended to give native Hawaiians more power in their own land. However, this was not to be. In her fourth year of school, Ka`iulani received dramatic news, via three telegrams. The provisional government in Hawai`i had asked her Aunt, the queen, to abdicate. Soon, the provisional government sent a group of commissioners to Washington to discuss immediate annexation to the United States.

    In 1896, William McKinley was voted in as President of the United States. He submitted the annexation treaty to the Senate in June of 1896, bringing all his influence to bear in favor of its passage. In hindsight, historians believe an outburst of imperialist sentiment brought about by the Spanish American War also helped to seal Hawai`i’s fate. Though a few members held out, the bill passed. The Hawaiian Islands would be annexed to the United States five years later.

    The monarchy, which originally united the islands under Kamehameha the Great, had come to an end. It had lasted  88 years. Now, Hawai`i stood on the threshold of a new day. In all likelihood, if not the United States, another nation would have eventually gained control over Hawai`i. But, it should be noted that opposition to the annexation and subsequent statehood has grown over recent years and is not a dead issue to many Hawaiians.

    Ka`iulani in the United States

    Ka`iulani suffered from chronic migraines and increased susceptibility to various ailments. Even so, she was devoted to her people’s interests. She was, by all reports, a woman “leel and true,”as Stevenson put it, in every respect. Demonstrating this, she made her way to North America’s shores, and -- although shy by nature -- and spoke out against the annexation. In one of her speeches, she said:

    “Seventy years ago Christian America sent over Christian men and women to give religion and civilization to Hawai`i. Today, three of the sons of those missionaries are at your capitol asking you to undo their father’s work. Who sent them? Who gave them the authority to break the Constitution which they swore they would uphold? Today, I, a poor weak girl with not one of my people with me and all these ‘Hawaiian’ statesmen against me, have strength to stand up for the rights of my people. Even now I can hear their wail in my heart and it gives me strength and courage and I am strong -- strong in the faith of God, strong in the knowledge that I am right, strong in the strength of seventy million people who in this free land will hear my cry and will refuse to let their flag cover dishonor to mine!”

    The “heathen Princess”, the clownish “Princess Koylani” of pro-Annexation skits and cartoons, the backward “barbarian” and “savage” of anti-Monarchy propaganda did not match the fabricated image. No matter how negatively pro-annexation merchants tried to paint her, Ka`iulani proved quite a surprise as she traveled across the United States. Instead of the caricature cannibal expected, the paparazzi of the day were confronted by an exquisite royal princess wearing the latest Paris gowns and speaking cultured English -- or Hawaiian, French or German, as the occasion demanded.

    As a San Francisco Examiner reporter wrote rhetorically, “A barbarian princess? Not a bit of it. Not even a hemi-semi-demi-barbarian. Rather the very flower -- an exotic -- of civilization. The Princess Kaiulani is charming, fascinating, individual.”

    Another reporter would note: “She is beautiful…there is no portrait that does justice to her expressive, small, proud face. She… holds herself like a Princess, like a Hawaiian --  and I know of no simile more descriptive of grace than this last…Her accent says London, her figure says New York…but her heart says Hawai`i.”

    “It was impossible not to love her,” acknowledged a pro-American Honolulu newspaper.

    “I must have been born under an unlucky star, as I seem to have my life planned out for me in such a way that I cannot alter it...”
      -- Princess Ka`iulani, Rozel, Jersey, Summer of 1897 rgb

    The Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in January, 1893. Five years later, Hawai`i was annexed to the United States on August 12th 1898. Ka`iulani died seven months later.

    Ka`iulani’s Passing

    In December of 1898, some months after the formal annexation, Ka`iulani sailed to the Big Island to attend the wedding for her dear friend Eva Parker. During January, a group from the Parker ranch formed a riding party and ventured out -- Ka`iulani among them. The group was caught in a sudden downpour, locally called the “Waimea rain,” known to be especially, sharp and cold.

    Ka`iulani developed a serious fever and complicating matters, the doctors diagnosed both inflammatory rheumatism and goiter. She improved just enough to be moved from the Big Island back to her home on O`ahu. Once there, her doctors did all they could. Though it’s unclear exactly why, the Princess did not respond to their treatments.

    Tragically, as her family and friends watched, Ka`iulani lingered on until March 6, 1899, when she died at the age of 23. The last hope of the Hawaiian monarchy, Ka`iulani died before marrying and before her destiny had been fulfilled. She was buried at the Royal Mausoleum in Nuuanu, beside her mother and among her other royal ancestors.

    Today, portraits of Princess Ka`iulani can be found all over Hawai`i. Her beauty graces the walls of schools, libraries, museums and hotels.

    Surfing in the Very Late 1800s

    Kamehameha the Great had managed to unite the Hawaiian island chain in the 1790s, ending the constant wars that had taken place for political control. The Kamehameha dynasty continued until shortly before Ka`iulani’s passing. During the time of the royal reign, Hawai`i saw many changes. In the case of surfing, it went from a national past time to a sport engaged in by only a handful.

    “By 1900,” Duke Kahanamoku declared, “surfing had totally disappeared throughout the Islands except for a few isolated spots on Kauai, Maui and O`ahu, and even there only a handful of men took boards into the sea.”  The “handful” were virtually all males. A notable exception was Princess Ka`iulaini who, “was an expert surfrider,” according to early Twentieth Century surfrider Knute Cottrell. “She apparently was the last of the old school at Waikiki.”

    A year before the overthrow, in 1892, author and anthropologist Nathaniel Emerson wrote a death knell for surfing in Hawai`i. “The sport of surf-riding possessed a grand fascination,” noted Emerson, “and for a time it seemed as if it had the vitality of its own as a national pastime. There are those living... who remember the time when almost the entire population of a village would at certain hours resort to the sea-side to indulge in, or to witness, this magnificent accomplishment. We cannot but mourn its decline. But this too has felt the touch of civilization, and today it is hard to find a surfboard outside of our museums and private collections.”

    Two years before the overthrow, in 1891, Bolton wrote of “The sport of surfriding, once so universally popular, and now but little seen.”  Significantly, surfing refused to die like many other Hawaiian pastimes had. As evidence of this, while on the island of Ni`ihau, Bolton observed “Six stalwart men assembled on the beach, bearing with them their precious surfboards. These surfboards, in Hawaiian, ‘papahee-nalu,’ or ‘wave sliding boards,’ are made from the wood of the veri veri or breakfruit tree. They are eight or nine feet long, fifteen to twenty inches wide, rather thin, rounded at each end, and carefully smoothed. The boards are stained black, are frequently rubbed with coconut oil, and are preserved with great solicitude, sometimes wrapped in cloths. Children use similar boards... Just as a high billow was about to break over them, [the surfrider] pushed landward in front of the combers. They drove him forward onto the beach, or into shallow water.”

    Although virtually ceasing to exist in both Tahiti and New Zealand, surfing in Hawai`i, in fact, fared better than all the other traditional Hawaiian sports and games. Most of the others had disappeared early in the period of European contact. Importantly, while even on its death bed, surfriding was still practiced in its darkest hour by the very few.

    Fran Heath with the Kaiulani alaia replica

    Wally’s Ka`iulani Replica

    Back to Princess Ka`iulani's alaia surfboard.

    Once Wally and Fran had the outline and basic measurements of the Ka`iulani alaia, Wally went to work on building its replica. “I had a problem getting the koa wood,” Wally admitted, “cuz the width of the thing is 17 ½-inches wide. So, I got a friend of mine who sells koa wood and he had a piece there that was ten feet long, twenty inches wide and 2 inches thick. So, I had to slab it. You know, cut it edge ways… I got eight feet out of the board cuz there were still some bad parts in it.

    “So, I took it to Papa Gulch. He does a lot of re-sawing of trees and that sort of stuff and has a huge band saw – ‘bout a 4-inch blade, hydraulically operated.” 

    It must have been a scene at the mill, as Wally kept a close eye on the trimming of the koa slab. “Made sure it was gonna come out OK, you know,” he said, “so we wouldn’t have a thick end and a thin end. Then we cut through the whole thing and I took it back to my friend who sold me the wood and he put it through a big sander – one of these wide sanders, a roll sander. He sanded it down to my exact 5/8-inch thickness.

    “I had to make a little curve to it (to conform to the template)… so that I could get a little curve on the bottom… After it was done, it has a little fore and aft curve – very little. It’s not absolutely flat, it has a little curve.” 

    Deck and bottom are similar in curvature.   Summarized specs:

  • Length: 7-foot, 4 ½-inches
  • Middle width: 17 ½-inches
  • Overall thickness: 5/8th-inch
  • Stern width: 13 ¾-inch
  • Stern thickness: 3/8th-inch
  • Bow thickness: 1/8th-inch
  • Rails: ¼-inch

    “When I cut the outline,” Wally continued, “it was 21 pounds. After I used the template (to put in the curvature), it came up 20 pounds. So, that’s the final weight.” 

    “Then, what I did for a finish,” Wally about wrapped it up, “I finished it with kukui nut oil. And, oh God, when you touch it, it feels just like velvet! I was really stoked how the finish turned out. When we use it, that thing is gonna lose some of its finish in the salt water, but then I’ll just wash it good and give it another coat of kukui oil.”

    A Modern Dedication by Kelli Ann & Fray Heath

    A modern dedication of Wally’s Ka`iulani replica was performed in the summer of 2001. It was actually more like a test run of the board.

    “This action took place at Queen’s Beach at Waikiki,” Fran wrote me. “Unfortunately, the surf was way down, and we found a larger and stronger wave was required to bring out the full capabilities of this board. Both Wally and I tried it, but found we were far too heavy.”

    It was a different story for Fran’s granddaughter Kelli Ann Heath. Even so, Kelli wrote, “Riding this board was like trying to surf a snowboard in the water. The board had no buoyancy, so when I laid down on it, the board would sink. It was very challenging to get enough momentum to catch a wave, so I had to be pushed into the waves, which were less than a foot high. The trick was to stand up very quickly, and even then, I could only ride the wave for a short distance before it would sink. It took me several tries just to get to a halfway standing position.”

    Kelli added that “Even though I had some difficulty riding the board, I feel so privileged to have been a part of this project.” 


  • Hawai`i’s Tragic Princess by Aloha Publishing.
  • Ka`iulani, Crown Princess of Hawai`i - by Nancy Webb & Jean Francis Webb.
  • Princess Ka`iulani of Hawai`i: The Monarchy’s Last Hope - by Kristin Zambucka.
  • Women of Old Hawai`i - by Maxine Mrantz. Condensed history of several women: Queen Kaahumanu; Chiefess Kapiolani; Kinau; Kekauluohi; Victoria Kamamalu; Queen Emma; Bernice Pauahi Bishop; Princess Ka`iulani; and Queen Lili`uokalani.

    Special appreciations go to Mindi Reid and her works on Princess Ka`iulani. These can be found at:


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