"Hanging Ten" has been shorthand for surfing for over 50 years. The phrase is still recognized today in popular culture, even among people who have never surfed before. But the term is widely misunderstood and given much more significance than necessary. Surfing is an athletic, innovative sport. Hanging Ten is just one stance a surfer might choose to use.

What is Hanging Ten?

Hanging Ten is a stance taken on a surfboard in the water. The surfer walks to the front of his or her board and hangs all ten toes off the nose of the board. In popular culture, people often say "Hang Ten" while pretending they are surfing. They bend their knees with one foot forward and one back and rock their bodies back and forth. They might hold their arms out, bent at the elbows, as if they are balancing. The phrase is akin to other phrases like "Rock 'N' Roll!" and "Hell Yeah!" The exuberant and sometimes dated phrases are said with enthusiasm about an activity that happened or is about to happen. It is also said in approval of another person's opinion or story. The term "Hang Ten" is also used to caricature surfers or people who seem like surfers, especially ones who emulate surfers from the 1960s. The subtext is that the amount of time the surfers spend in the salt water under the hot sun affects their intellects and makes them somewhat ditzy.

What's So Special about Hanging Ten?

Hanging Ten is not the most common surfing stance. It is not a stance that surfers typically work up to doing. Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessarily the most difficult move to perform. Among surfers, the stance is considered vintage, back when surfing re-emerged as a sport in the first half of the 20th Century. Back then, surfing was considered athletic, but wasn't considered an "extreme" sport. Still, the Hang Ten stance is hard to master in a sport that takes practice just to do the basics. One of the main requirements of surfing is balance. While Hanging Ten, the surfer must approach the front of his board while riding on top of a steady wave. At the nose, the surfer then needs to extend his toes over the front of the board, one foot at a time. Hanging just one foot over the nose is called Hanging Five. Once the toes are over the edge of the board, the surfer needs to balance by leaning his upper body backward, with the knees straight and arms dropped behind or over the head.

The stance is also difficult because it requires a surfer to lift their center of gravity up. Usually, surfers balance on their boards by bending their knees. To execute Hanging Ten correctly, a surfer has to look calm and in control and should hold the position for a few seconds before stepping back to the middle of the board.

Where did Surfing Originate?

In the late 18th Century, when Europeans made contact with Hawaii, native Hawaiians were surfing. Women and men surfed on large boards made of wood. In the first quarter of the 19th Century, missionaries arrived in Hawaii and gained influence over the people. Surfing was discouraged by the missionaries and the sport became much less practiced. Later, in the late 19th to the early 20th Century, surfing in Hawaii had a re-emergence. Surfers taught visitors how to surf and enjoyed showing off and doing stunts. This probably included Hanging Ten, though it may not have been called that at first. The sport has gained popularity steadily since then.

Who Came Up with the Term "Hanging Ten"?

No one knows who came up with the term exactly, but it was almost certainly a surfer, sometime in the 1960s or 1970s. As surfing spread throughout the world, the men and women involved in the sport emulated other surfers while creating their own tricks and approaches to surfing. Along with that came an innovation of language. Just as surfboard technology and methods evolved, surfers were creating new words and naming their moves. The result has been the transformation of the sport into a sub-culture.
Perhaps Hanging Ten will always be part of the English language in popular culture. It is fascinating that one term could come to represent a whole sport. Possibly, the endurance of the term is simply a testament to surfing, a sport with ancient roots and modern presence. If you speak to surfers, you'll find that their approaches to the ocean and to riding waves are varied and diverse, innovative and exciting, much more than a trick involving the toes at the front of the board.