Paddle Out: What It Is And Its Origins 

Paddle out is a spiritual ritual wherein surfers congregate in the ocean to honor their dead members. In a way, it is considered a memorial, an emotional farewell that allows surfers to honor and pay tribute to their deceased member.

While the main purpose of paddle out is to share stories, offer prayers, and generally look back at the life of the deceased person, it is also being performed by some groups of surfers to voice out their protests on national issues such as water pollution. 

Where Did Paddle Out Originate? 

No one can accurately pinpoint the origins of paddle out, but it is thought to have started in pre-historical Polynesia. However, this theory is being disputed by some historians. They argue that paddling out only became a ritual during the modern era in Hawaii and not during the pre-historical Polynesia. 

So why do historians not believe that paddle out is an ancient burial tradition of the Hawaiians? It’s because some anthropological researchers have discovered that the burial rites of the native Hawaiians or those belonging to the pre-historical Polynesia were mostly done on land and not in the ocean. It was either they cremated their dead or buried them in caves. 

These burial rites of the ancient Hawaiians are why historians believe that paddle out can only be traced back to the early part of the 20th century in Hawaii. Here’s how the story goes:

The paddle out may have started from the Waikiki beach boys. These are watermen from Waikiki who worked as surfing and canoeing instructors to tourists. Three of the prominent Waikiki beachboys were Turkey Love, Chick Daniels, and Rabbit Kekai. 

The story has it that Duke Kahanomuku was one of the famous Waikiki beach boys who was paddled out. During the ceremony, the officiating reverend said that “he was a man of aloha and that God gave him to us as a gift from the sea.” 

In his interview at the New York Times, Wally Froiseth said that he witnessed his first paddle-out ceremony in Waikiki, saying, “ I don’t know of any place that did it before Waikiki.” 

As surfing continues to become popular in Hawaii, certain rituals or traditions were introduced, one of which is to honor the dead through a water memorial service known as paddle out. Eventually, the paddle-out ritual was exported to the mainland USA which became common in California in the 1950s.

Each time a special person died in the community, the surfers would perform the paddle-out ceremony to give honor to the deceased person. 

What Is The Significance Of Paddle Out Ceremonies? 

Paddle-out ceremonies are performed by surfers not only to pay tribute to the dead but also to help the survivors of the deceased cope with death. Paddle out helps in the healing process by reducing grief and by making the family feel like they are not alone and are part of an inner circle. 

Moreover, depending on the culture, paddle-out promotes the idea of an afterlife. And lastly, paddling out promotes camaraderie among the living and strengthens the importance of surf culture. 

What Do You Expect During Paddle Out Ceremonies?

All the activities that can transpire during the duration of the paddle-out ceremony are done in the ocean. All the guests may hold hands and then form a circle near the shoreline. In almost all cases, everyone uses a paddle board to sit on. 

Why do surfers form themselves into a circle in the ocean? It’s because a circle is the symbol of eternity. Plus, a circle is also a symbol of unity and equality. 

To honor their dearly departed, they would sing songs of praise, offer some prayers, or say some meaningful chants or poems. If the deceased person is cremated, the ashes can be scattered onto the ocean. Otherwise, flowers are offered by scattering these into the sea. Then, the participants splash water to signify the oneness with the ocean of the deceased person. 

Some paddle-outs are held every year. One of these is the annual paddle-out memorial for Eddie Aiku. He was a lifeguard and surfer who saved thousands of swimmers on Onahu’s north shore. He died while rescuing the crew members of a sailboat that got stuck in the ocean. His body was never found, but every spring, his kindness is remembered through a paddle-out ceremony. 

What Should You Wear During Paddle Out Ceremonies?  

Since the activities will be done in the ocean, all the participants are expected to come in their swimming outfits, such as surfing wetsuits. For those who are not good at swimming, it is recommended to wear life vests. 

Moreover, since a paddle out is a memorial service, it is a good idea to come in with fresh flowers, candles, or any object that will honor the deceased person. 

Can You Organize a Paddle Out Ceremony? 

Yes, a paddle-out ceremony can be organized, but there are certain factors to consider, such as the following:

1. Weather 

Be sure that there is no reported weather disturbance on the date you’ve chosen. The safety of all the participants is the number one consideration.

2. Location 

Ideally, it is more fitting to hold the paddle out in the place where the deceased often surfed. Otherwise, it can be held in a place where it will be more accessible and easier for the guests to converge.

3. Invitations 

Send out invitations as early as possible. You can tell the guests to bring some safety gear like Lifevest. You can also say that they are welcome to bring flowers and candles or perhaps prepare something to say during the paddle out. 

Final Thoughts 

A paddle-out ceremony is a great way to show love and respect to the dearly departed. It is a way to say your final farewell to a person who had a significant impact on your life. This ritual may probably have started in Hawaii, and it is now being practiced by surfers all around the globe. 

Oliver Jones

Written by Oliver Jones

I'm a dedicated surfer and writer, and my heart truly belongs to the ocean. Surfing is not just a sport but a way of life for me. I ride the waves in the water and on paper, pouring my passion into every word I write.

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