I first had the opportunity to engage with Tom Pohaku Stone five years ago when I called on him at his home in Oahu, Hawaii. Tom is a softly spoken practitioner of customary surfing and a Kahuna Kālai Papa he’e nalu – an expert in surfboard construction. He described his observations on surfing and traditional techniques of working with endemic wood and I recognised his deep passion for the cultural practices of his Hawaiian homeland. Years later, the AM Pasifika team was very pleased to commission four of his Papa he’e nalu for our collection.

Hawaiian surfboard by Tom Pohaku Stone
Hawaiian surfboard Papa he'e nalu made by Tom Pohaku Stone. Image: Abram Powell
© Australian Museum

Handmade from Redwood and Ulu (breadfruit tree) with immense skill and care, the Papa he’e nalu display the diversity of form and purpose of Hawaiian surfboards and the unique cultural practices of the island. In Hawaii, surfing has a direct link with Ali’i (high chiefs). More of a cultural practice than a sport as it is in western nations, there is an inherent spirituality attached to surfing, and an association with flying like birds over the ocean.

The Australian Museum holds approximately 160 objects associated with the Hawaiian Islands including the Kalani’ ōpu’u’s cape and Mahiole helmet replicas, canoes, fishing hooks and trumpet shells. The surfboards complement these highly valued items that relate to life in the Pacific.

This acquisition provides the opportunity to create a dialogue and enhance interest around surfing, and a unique way to contextualise Australian surfing culture and history. Logan Metcalfe, Pasifika Collection Officer, Australian Museum.

By juxtaposing traditional and contemporary themes, we seek to invite the audience to reflect upon the power and gravitas inherent in the objects, and the way in which that power continues to resonate in contemporary communities.

This acquisition was made possible by the Patricia Porritt Collection Acquisition Fund and the Australian Museum Foundation. The Papa he’e nalu are currently on display in Sharks.