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Collaboration and creativity make instant talker out of Hawaii’s video-led ‘shaka sign’ story

Keli’inowelo Makainai-Matsuda, great-great-great-granddaughter of Hamana Kalili who is known as the father of shaka, flashes a shaka, March 6, 2024, in Kaneohe, Hawaii. AP PHOTO / MENGSHIN LIN

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Creative, visual storytelling by reporter Jennifer Kelleher, video journalist Manuel Valdes and digital producer Akira Kumamoto made an instant talker out of the Hawaii Legislature’s effort to claim the universal “hang loose” sign an official state gesture — and in the process, captured Hawaii residents’ deep connection to the so-called “shaka.”

Hawaii legislative reporter Audrey McAvoy noticed two bills to make the distinctive shaka — otherwise known universally as the surfers’ “hang loose” sign — the official state gesture. Kelleher, who was born and raised in Hawaii, quickly saw the bills as an opportunity to delve into something so ingrained in daily life that Hawaiians don’t even think about it. From a lifetime of using the gesture, Kelleher knew that the use of the shaka was extremely nuanced, and that those variations perfectly encapsulated Hawaii’s unique and complex culture.

Over several weeks, Kelleher, Kumamoto and Valdes collected and curated short iPhone clips, vertical and horizontal for TV and digital formats, of Hawaii residents of all backgrounds showing how they shaka. The story was an instant talker in all formats.

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