Gate at the entrance to Portland's New Chinatown and a New Chinatown streetscape
Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage

Keauhou Holua Slide
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Aerial view of a lava rock slide path going up a mountain Aerial view of the Keauhou Holua Slide looking north
Photograph by Peter T. Young, Flickr

The hōlua slide at Keauhou in Kailua-Kona, on the Island of Hawai'i, is the largest and best preserved slide in the State of Hawaii. He'e hōlua, "sled surfing, or "land sledding," was a popular sport in Hawaii. A hōlua slide was made of rocks that were covered in fresh dirt and reeds making a slick, sloping surface which was then lubricated with kukui (candlenut) oil. Individual riders rode down the slide on a papa hōlua (sled) made from local trees, often reaching speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. The Keauhou Holua Slide snakes downward for 1,300 feet, from the top of a hill onto the edge of a modern street. Although the slide now ends at Kaleiopapa Street, archeologists estimate it once spanned 4,000 feet and probably deposited the riders into Keauhou Bay.

He'e hōlua was a prestigious sport in the Hawaiian Islands. It was played mostly during Makahiki, the four-month winter New Year's celebration in honor of the agricultural, rain, and fertility god Lono. During this time, Hawaiians would gather at Keauhou Bay to watch the He'e hōlua races. Only the Hawaiian ali'i (chiefs) were allowed to compete in the races. An ali'i's papa hōlua, which was carved from wood by hand and took several weeks to produce, was treated with pride. A papa hōlua was long and narrow with two runners held apart by crosspieces. Two smaller rails sat on top of the crosspieces and acted as a platform and the whole sled was lashed together with coconut fiber. The sled could be as long as 14 feet and weigh as much as 50 pounds.

man standing on the slope of a mountain looking back out at the valley below while carrying holua sled on his shoulder Modern hōlua rider with a papa hōlua
Photograph by A. Stone, Flickr

The papa hōlua's design allowed riders a choice of different riding techniques on their journey to the bottom of the slide, with two techniques being the most popular. Riders using the first technique would stand sideways on the papa hōlua, kick with one foot to launch themselves, and then put both feet on the sled and extend their arms for balance – much like a modern snowboard rider. Sliders using the second technique would jump onto the papa hōlua chest-down, face forward, and grip the narrow sled tightly for control. Both techniques allowed skilled sliders to steer the papa hōlua by shifting their body weight. Control of the papa hōlua was essential because many he'e hōlua courses, like the one at Keauhou, featured a curving track. A mistake or loss of control meant injury or possible death.

The risk of death only added to the excitement of the sacred sport. Spectators gambled passionately on the races, and the racers themselves would sometimes bet against each other. Ali'i frequently wagered their own papa hōlua. When some ali'i lost they would voluntarily offer "double or nothing" wagers. In their excitement, they sometimes gambled themselves into slavery.

Whatever the outcome, every he'e hōlua race was an intense display of physical fitness and spiritual devotion. According to the reports of Christian missionaries, unmarried racers and spectators often erupted into spontaneous celebration after particularly exciting races. Historians attribute the decline of hōlua sliding, as well as other traditional Hawaiian sports and customs, to Christian missionaries and the replacement of local traditions with European culture. The he'e hōlua slide at Keauhou gradually fell into disuse during the 19th century as interest in traditional sports waned, but today the sport is being rediscovered and reintroduced to the islands. Besides the Keauhou Holua Slide other surviving hōlua slides can be found at Kaloko Honokohau National Historical Park and Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.

Plan your visit

Keauhou Holua Slide, a National Historic Landmark, is located in Kailua-Kona on the Island of Hawai'i, HI. Click here for the National Historic Landmark file: text and photos . The slide is surrounded by private property and is protected by an enclosure of trees, but can be seen from Ali'i Highway, just past the 6-mile marker, directly across from the entrance to the Kona Country Club parking lot. Visitors are not permitted to walk within the protective tree enclosure or on the slide. The Keauhou Kahalu'u Heritage Center, located in the nearby Keauhou Shopping Center, has a small unstaffed interpretive display and is open daily from 10am to 5pm. For more information, visit the Keauhou Kahalu'u Heritage Center website.

<<< Previous            Next >>>