It's perfectly fine to make fun of a rich white kid riding an Alaia—or "penis plank" as I've heard them called—but check out this article about SoCal surf shop owner Ernie Higgins' encounter with a small tribe on a tiny island in Papua New Guinea who rip the only break on their island on hand-shaped alaia's. The odd part is that once they get to a certain age they stop surfing and start working. For a split second it made me feel guilty about surfing at age 35…


Papua New Guinea alaia rider showing some mad skills. Photo courtesy Ernie Higgins.

As reported on

For the past few years, surf culture has seen a resurgence of old surfboard models, ranging from California 60's style to ancient Hawaiian alaia's. But while modern shapers attempt to travel the timelines of surf history, there is a remote island off the coast of Papua New Guinea that has never stopped practicing the art of riding carefully carved planks, much in the vein of the ancient Hawaiian surfboards. In Feb. 2009, Ernie Higgins, a Southern California shaper and owner of Waterlines Unlimited, stumbled upon this fascinating group of surfers when embarking on a mission trip sponsored by his church.

any knowledge of the surfing activities on the island, Higgins signed up to join a group of missionaries with the objective of building houses for a native people in the Southwestern Pacific, miles off the coast of Papua New Guinea. After five airplane connections and a five-hour trip on an 18ft. boat, he stepped onto a small, volcanic island, with a population of 2,000 and a people speaking its own dialect. While focused on the mission at hand, Higgins suddenly noticed a little boy, in his pre-puberty years, holding a plank, awfully similar to a surfboard. Upon close scrutiny, he was surprised to learn that not only was the lad holding a surfboard, but also that he was participating in a longstanding tradition of riding waves on the island. When Higgins asked for how long they’ve been riding waves, a native said, “For as long as the oldest person in the tribe can remember.”