Native Americans are using the Toyko Games to expose the cultural appropriation of surfing.
For the Hawaiian Indigenous community, surfing was a spiritual pastime that connected them to the land and sea. Surfing has been a significant part of Hawaiian culture for hundreds of years until Captain Cook arrived in the 1770s.
The Indigenous people were enslaved by the European colonizers. They were forced to work on plantations and attend church, gradually distancing them from their traditional practices and turning their noses up at the ancient custom.
With them, colonizers brought common cold, STDs, and even alcohol-related illnesses, which drastically reduced the number of Hawaiians left by the late 1800s. In the 1900s, Duke Kahanamoku became an Olympic swimmer which changed the perception of the sport for European descendants.
Hawaiians now say their sport has been hijacked.
“You had Native Hawaiians in the background being a part of the development of it and just not being really recognized,” Isaiah Helekunihi Walker, a Hawaii historian and activist, said per ABC News. “There’s an element of them taking over. That’s when there’s no more aloha.”
“When surfing started to become really popular, that triggered money and that triggered business people and things we’d never thought we’d have to deal with as people who surf in Hawaii,” said Walter Ritte, a longtime Native Hawaiian activist. “There’s no doubt that the control is not here in Hawaii.”
Activists applied for a Hawaii Kingdom national team to compete at the Olympics, but a statement from the International Olympic Committee ignored the request but did say that applicants must be an “independent state recognized by the international community.”
Fernando Aguerre, president of the International Surfing Association, the Olympic governing body for surfing, promised to honor Hawaii and Duke Kahanamoku.
“Everything we do has a connection to Hawaii. I think it’s impossible to detach Hawaiianness from surfing,” Aguerre said. “The ocean doesn’t really care about hate, war or governments. Surfing is that way, too.”