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Shaka Surf

Pierson X


Behind the Shot

Curl your three middle fingers to your palm, and extend your baby finger and thumb. According to the International Society for Gesture Studies, you have just formed a “friendly gesture,” which, depending on where you make this gesture, has meanings ranging from an invitation to share a drink, to smoke marijuana or to “call me.”

The gestural linguistic experts at Hawaiian Airlines, though, are firm in their definition of the ubiquitous gesture. It’s the “shaka” sign, and it means “hang loose,” “right on,” “thank you,” “take it easy” and about 1,000 other terms and phrases. If you’ve got reason to celebrate, you have a reason to extend the shaka sign high above your head. It’s even more effective when the hand is twisted repeatedly at the wrist.

Pierson was photographing a surfer friend at Venice Beach in Southern California late one November afternoon. Venice turns out decent waves at its breakwater and by its fishing pier. Pierson picked the normally tame spot, which is near his house, as the first location to test his underwater housing. “It was cold, but I really wanted to practice with the housing. Shooting with a housing is complicated. It’s awkward. It’s heavy and unwieldy. I knew I would need to get some practice, so we came here so I could get the hang of it. As frustrated as I was, my buddy was having a great time. When he reached out with the shaka, everything just kind of slipped into place. The light was beautiful. We were on the water. Life was good. Everything lined up so perfectly. This shot really captures the feel of a great surf day. It’s become one of my favorite photos.”