Mahalo x Aloha
The Words That Shape Our Business
Words by Kim Feldmann de Britto
Every surfer has heard of and/or dreamed about going to Hawaii. If not for the wide array of quality waves, these islands in the north Pacific lure visitors for their quintessential islandish features – this peculiar spirit, the Aloha Spirit, that despite intangibility seems to be engrained in every inch of organic matter. When trying to substantiate and externalise this aura in their daily lives, Hawaiians often refer to two words – Mahalo and Aloha.
Captain James Cook’s landing in Hawaii back in 1778 not only built a bridge between the islands and the rest of the world but also allowed for the cross-fertilisation of culture, which, among other things, laid the foundations for what we understand today as surf culture. Although many cultural elements have been overridden or transformed with the passing of time and commercialization/globalization of this lifestyle-turned-sport, some have remained almost untouched, upholding the spiritual essence bestowed upon them by islanders many generations ago. Among them, language is probably the most persistent and pertinent when it comes to illustrating the vestiges of Hawaiian ancient traditions and the values of he’e nalu in modern surfing.
As a branch of the Polynesian family, the Hawaiian language had always been solely oral. It wasn’t until the first American missionaries came to the islands at around 1820 and began translating the Bible into the local language that a written structure emerged. After a period of cultural oppression – mainly due to the annexation of Hawaii to U.S. territory and the introduction of English as the main language – that lasted until the end of the 20th century, a grassroots movement sparked to reinstitute Hawaiian language in schools, granting it an official status in 1978.
A distinctive trait between Hawaiian and, for instance, English, is the idea that words have mana – a spiritual power. It is as if the weight of centuries of heartfelt usage accompanied their utterance, giving continuity to something pure and powerful, understood only when experienced. In the case of Aloha and Mahalo – two of the most heard words in line-ups across the globe – their ineffability is associated with acknowledging the Divinity within and around oneself and attempting to extend it to the next person.
Aloha and Mahalo are commonly translated as love/affection/greeting and thanks/gratitude, respectively. But more than two interjections that are often narrowed down to a “greet” and a “thanks”, there are inherent significances to these words that can’t be grasped by a linguistic eye.
In modern-day Hawaii, besides a way of saying “thank you”, Mahalo is also used to convey respect or express praise for someone or something. So you can essentially use it as a manifestation of deep appreciation, even if for little things such as a beautiful sunrise or a kind gesture. But one thing is crucial: Mahalo should be used with humility and intention. If you happen to be in Hawaii, a simple “Mahalo” can be extended to “Mahalo nui loa”, or “thank you very much”. But regardless of how or when to use it, Mahalo means a sense of appreciation from the bottom of the heart. And although nowadays it is possible to see the word Mahalo written on trash cans around the islands, it is not a homonym meaning “trash” – they are simply thanking you for not littering.
Slightly more versatile, Aloha has multiple uses, from a way of saying “hello” and “goodbye” to a more philosophical meaning in sentences like “Where’s the Aloha?” or “Spread the Aloha”. In many ways, it feels like a positive energy that you pass on. After the first contact with Europeans, variations such as Aloha Ahiahi (Good Evening) and Aloha Kakahiaka (Good Morning) emerged. But in its essence, Aloha is an extension of love; it is something you embody, and for many Hawaiians, it becomes a lifestyle. So in that sense, there are no rules or timing for using the word Aloha; you can add it on to any sentence in order to bring forth and spreading a good vibe.
Historically, both words intersect with surfing through the holistic, philosophical meaning they embody – a way of perceiving and living life, the Aloha Spirit. Moreover, surfers and the development of a Hawaiian-induced surf culture were one of the main exporters of the Aloha Spirit and all concepts and cognates that come with it. One could go as far as saying that if it wasn’t for the aesthetics of Hawaiian culture and language surfing would probably not be associated with such camaraderie and wholeness as it has always been.
“I believe these words are embedded in our daily lives, one as a form of appreciation, a salutation, and the other as a sincere and hearty gratification. And in the act of surfing all these elements and feelings intertwine.”
Felippe Dal Piero, Creator & Founder of Mahalo Surf Experience
Despite having been translated for communication purposes, both definitions of Mahalo and Aloha belong more to the individual and the meaning he/she confers to it from a visceral understanding than what is written in a dictionary or even understood on a societal level.
Here, at Mahalo Surf Experience, it is no different. As founder Felippe Dal Piero describes, the ineffability and sincerity of these words are ingrained in our lifestyle and business philosophy.
“To me, Aloha means a way of greeting another person with intention and love, something you hand over more than a mere word. The word ‘Mahalo’ has always followed me due to the great interest I had in living in Hawaii – hence naming the company Mahalo Surf Experiences. I’m always thankful for the elements which transform our lives – the sea, nature, surfing, the simplicity of a sunset – and thus Mahalo becomes a deeper way of saying thanks which comes from the soul. I hope that the name transmits a sensation of gratitude and serenity when partaking in one of our Mahalo trips.”