Hawaiian Sledding

Sledding was a popular but dangerous sport of the Hawaiian ali'i. (Ali'i were members of the ruling class in pre-contact Hawai'i.)

Holua, an aristocratic game developed in Hawai'i, required a highly specialized sled and a carefully constructed runway. The papa, or sled, consists of two narrow runners, between seven and eighteen feet long and rounded on the lower edge for smooth running. The sled runners taper from about two inches at the front to five or six inches across the back. The woods commonly used for the runners were mamane and uhiuhi. Matting is placed on the cross bars, providing a platform for the chest.

The sled track (kahua holua) was made on the side of a hill by building up rocks for a foundation, then covering the rocks with soil which was beaten down to create a level sloping surface. When in use, the surface was covered with ti leaves and grass to facilitate smooth running of the sled. The tracks were usually built for one sled at a time and were too narrow to permit racing side by side or to allow one sled to pass another. At the base of the slide, the sled would run out onto the plain or into the ocean.

The person about to slide gripped the sled by the right hand grip, ran a few yard to the starting place, grasped the other hand grip with the left hand, threw himself forward with all his strength, fell flat on the sled and slid down the hill. His hands held the hand grips and the feet were braced against the last cross piece on the rear portion of the sled.

The sport was extremely dangerous as the sleds attained high speed running down hill. Much skill was necessary to keep an even balance and to keep from running off the slide or overturning the sled. In competitions, the sled that went the farthest, won.

There are a few modern-day participants in this sport and they report reaching speeds of 40 miles per hour. Do not attempt this at home.