This was news to me: in the World Surf League and in international surfing competitions generally, surfers from Hawaii can represent island, or the United States. If they represent Hawaii, they are not regarded as representing the U.S.
Surfing will be an event in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and the option of just representing Hawaii will disappear. Hawaiian surfers will represent the United States, since, after all, Hawaii is a state. This, believe it or not, is causing outrage and consternation in the Aloha State. Two of the four Americans on the team, John John Florence (above) and the four-time world champion Carissa Moore, were born and raised in Hawaii and are accustomed to competing under the state flag. Moore is doing so again this month as the global tour holds major events in Australia.
Across the islands, on cars and on porches, Hawaii flags fly upside down, signifying distress. “Hawaii has had so much erased history,” said Duane DeSoto, the 2010 longboard world champion, told the New York Times. “Surfing prevailed against the possible suppression into oblivion. It endured the challenge of being exterminated at one time. And now it needs to be a source of Hawaiian pride.” Another surfer said, “In surfing culture worldwide, everybody looks at Hawaiian surfing as different. Even California surfers look at Hawaii different. But the Olympics see us as the same.”
Yes, that’s because Hawaii is the same an the other 49 states. Alabama, Virginia and Louisiana don’t compete under their state flags because they are nostalgic for the land of cotton where old times were not forgotten, and there is no more justification for Hawaii pretending it is still independent. Why are athletes from that state allowed to operate under a special exemption anywhere?
Many Hawaiians view the United States as an illegitimate occupier. While the U.S. recognized Hawaiian independence,9 0% percent of Native Hawaiians had been wiped out by disease the end of the 19th century, and the Hawaiians were soon outnumbered by Asian immigrants who came to work on the growing sugar cane plantations, largely owned by Americans. The US protected Hawaii from being taken over by other nations, and it also controlled island politics. It established Pearl Harbor as a naval base in 1887, and in 1893, the U.S. used the Marines to back plantation owners in overthowing Queen Liliuokalani. Full annexation by the U.S. came in 1898, and Hawaii became a state in 1959.
With a different culture and located far away in the South Pacific, Hawaii has never quite accepted reality, and pandering to native grudges by some misguided politicians hasn’t helped. In 1993, the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution, signed by President Bill Clinton, formally apologizing for “the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893 with the participation of agents and citizens of the United States, and the deprivation of the rights of Native Hawaiians to self-determination.” Like all such official apologies, this one just tore open an old wound rather than healing it. Is Hawaii worse off now, as part of the U.S., than it would have been if it had been conquered by Japan, which is what almost certainly would have happened? Do Hawaiians really believe that?
Fine: put it to a vote. If Hawaiians want their independence back, let’s give it to them. But if the vote is to stay a state, let that be the end of the special treatment, nationally and internationally, that allows Hawaii to pretend that it is different from, or better than any other state.