Hawaii is renowned for its surf culture, from its famed surf breaks such as the North Shore to its pervasive spirit of Aloha. As a result, flip flops have become firmly embedded in the Hawaiian culture, so much so that some of the locals rarely wear shoes. Depending on where you come from, there are different words used for the term “flip flops” – in New Zealand, they are referred to as jandals, in South Africa they are known as slip slops, and in Japan, they are called zoris. So what term do Hawaiians use to refer to flip flops?
What do Hawaiians call flip flops? Hawaiians refer to flip flops as slippers or slippahs. Other than being worn to the beach or by the pool, slippers are worn to a variety of occasions, whether to head to a grocery store that is around the corner or even to a fancy dinner.
Flip flops first gained popularity in the United States after World War II when soldiers brought back zoris from Japan. On the other hand, the beginning of World War II resulted in many changes in the Hawaiian flip flop industry, especially when materials came in short supply. This made it necessary to transition to casual footwear styles, including flip flops. There are several reasons why flip flops, or slippers, are popular in Hawaii – they are breathable, lightweight, and some varieties are even waterproof. However, it is also worth noting that wearing slippers for extended periods can lead to a variety of health implications due to the lack of support in a majority of designs.
Flip flops, or slippahs as they are popularly known in Hawaii, are very popular, and it is not uncommon to come across several as you walk down the street. Here is a look at the various aspects of the flip flop in Hawaiian culture.
The history of flip flops in Hawaii
Thong style or Y-strapped sandals are believed to date back to 4000 BC, where ancient Egyptians wore varieties that were made of palm leaves and papyrus. In other parts of the ancient world, they were made of rice straw (China and Japan), rawhide (Africa), yucca plan (Mexico) sisal plant leaves (South America), and wood (India).
While flip flops were seen once in a while in the mainland of the United States, it wasn’t until after the Second World War that they became more common when the soldiers making their return from Japan came back wearing zoris. The beach culture in California in the 1960s helped to popularize flip flops even further, making them a staple casual footwear.
The history of the flip flop is slightly different in Hawaii. In 1932, Elmer and Jean Scott, who initially came to Hawaii on a vacation, were struck by the beauty of the island and decided to make a life for themselves by making boots for laborers who worked in sugar and pineapple plantations that were common during that period.
However, as World War II began, the business and industrial environment in Hawaii changed drastically, with the supply of materials used to make the boots dwindling. To keep the company going, Scott chose to channel his focus into making more casual footwear designs such as open-toes casual footwear and sandals for submariners that utilized a lot less material. After the war came to an end, Scott continued to make slippers, opening a shoe shop that is still in business today and is known as Scott Hawaii.
Rubber slippers by Scott Hawaii are some of the most popular in Hawaii. Although there are still some discrepancies on whether Scott was the first manufacturer of rubber flip flops in Hawaii, he was without a doubt one of the first. Today, slippahs come in a variety of colors, shapes, and price points.
The meaning and varied uses of the slippah
The rubber slippah is one of the most iconic pieces of the Hawaiian culture, and it effectively symbolizes the laid-back and chill atmosphere that Hawaii is typically associated with. Additionally, the slippah also represents the simplicity and practicality of Hawaiian residents. The importance of the slippah is epitomized in the form of tattoo designs, paintings, metal pendants, and earrings which you will find in almost all jewelry shops that you visit.
Other than being convenient footwear, the slippah is also used for other purposes by the locals. Hawaiians use the slipper to stabilize rocky tables, for kickball bases, and to kill cockroaches. They are even used for bodysurfing, where bodysurfers utilizes the slipper by holding it in their extended hand to allow them to plane against the breaking wave when either there is no board they can use or the surfer simply decides that the slipper is a better option.
Pros of wearing flip flops (or slippahs in this case)
- Breathable – Slippahs are simple in design, basically comprising of a base and a Y-shaped strap. As a result, most of your foot is out in the open when you wear one as opposed to being enclosed. This is especially beneficial when the weather is warmer than usual as it allows your feet to breathe, effectively reducing the possibility of your feet overheating and sweating.
- Lightweight – Another reason why slippahs are popular is due to how lightweight they are. The lightweight quality of this footwear type is as a result of the simple design utilized. When you wear slippahs, you won’t have to worry about dragging your feet and getting leg cramps due to putting extra effort into lifting your feet.
- Easy to wear and take off – Slippahs are very easy to wear – just slip your feet under the straps when putting them on and withdraw them when taking them off. You won’t have to worry about tying several straps or dealing with a complex buckle system when it comes to wearing the slippah.
Cons of wearing slippahs
Despite their benefits, there are a couple of downsides associated with slippahs that you should be aware of:
- Overexposure of feet – Your feet are very exposed when you wear flip flops as the thong design does not provide a lot of coverage. When you wear them in public, your feet are highly likely to get filthy due to the minimal protection offered. This makes it very easy to contract bacteria and viruses that may be present on the surfaces where you are stepping, potentially leading to infections.
The overexposure of your feet also increases their susceptibility to getting poked by sharp objects that you may come in contact with on your path. This could result in nail injuries, bruised toes, and general injury to the parts of your foot that are hanging out.
Since the skin on the upper part of your foot is not covered, it will be inevitably exposed to the sun. If you overlook taking the precaution of lathering the exposed areas in sunscreen, you will be inadvertently increasing your risk of developing skin cancer caused by exposure to harmful UV rays from the sun.
- They slow you down – It is no secret that you are usually forced to take shorter strides when you wear flip flops as compared to standard shoes. This is because your body is automatically forced to make adjustments to increase stability when walking in flip flops. This halted and pressured style of walking puts you at risk of tripping and falling, which could result in serious injuries whether you are within your home or in a crowded street.
- Little to no support to the feet – Many slippah designs don’t provide much support to your feet. If you occasionally wear slippahs to the beach or to run errands, then the lack of support should not be a major cause of worry. However, if you are like most Hawaiians and they are an integral part of your style, slippahs could be a cause of concern. Some of the most common conditions associated with slippahs include:
- Plantar fasciitis – This is a condition that develops when the plantar fascia is excessively strained, which leads to painful inflammation at the heel. One of the main causes of plantar fasciitis is wearing slippahs that don’t have shock-absorbing properties. When plantar fasciitis keeps recurring, you could develop a heel spur, which is a painful bony protrusion that develops at the back of the heel.
- Back, knee, and hip pain – When you shorten your strides as you walk, you end up straining your lower back, hips, and knees, consequently resulting pain in these areas.
- Achilles tendinitis – Achilles tendinitis is another condition that is associated with wearing flimsy slippahs. It causes a mild ache at the back of the leg or above the heel.
- Bunions – Bunions tend to develop when the feet over grip the slippahs as you walk. Bunions manifest themselves as a painful protrusion on the joint of the big toe.
- Hammertoe – A hammertoe is a deformity that alters the appearance of the affected toes by making them look claw-like. It tends to develop due to the need to hold on to slippahs with your toes as you walk to keep them on your feet.
Slippahs are arguably one of the most beloved footwear types in Hawaii. They have a long history and an important meaning that is symbolized through a variety of items. Other than serving as footwear, they have found a variety of other uses as well, and they also have several benefits. However, it is important to keep in mind that low-quality slippahs can harm your feet, so it is best to only wear them casually or go for varieties that offer adequate support and cushioning.