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A man spearfishing with a hawaiian sling

Hawaiian Sling vs. Pole Spear

Aug 18, 2022

Austin Ball

Hawaiian Sling vs Pole Spear: An Overview

Underwater fishing tools range from basic handheld spears to powerful guns that can take down even the biggest of fish. Although they might make it difficult to take down large numbers of fish, the more primitive methods of underwater fishing offer a truly unique and fun experience.

Those who want to take this primitive approach have a wide choice of equipment and tools. But most tend to take either a pole spear or a Hawaiian sling on their underwater excursions.

Both are good choices for anyone who wants to challenge their underwater fishing skills. Both trade the mechanical nature of modern fishing equipment, such as spear guns, for an approach that dates to paleolithic times. 

All that aside, the most common reason someone would use either a pole spear or Hawaiian sling is that they are spear fishing in a location where spearguns are not allowed. These include the Bahamas, the Netherlands, and parts of Japan.

There are many pros and cons to using the Hawaiian sling vs the pole spear, but in general we believe the Hawaiian sling to be better overall. 

While the pole spear is effective for those closer shots and spearing fish that are covered by hiding places such as ledges or rocks, the Hawaiian sling offers far more versatility. Because it can cover a substantially longer shot distance, the Hawaiian sling can readily reach free-swimming fish as they move.

What is a Hawaiian Sling?

A traditional fishing tool on the islands of Hawaii, the Hawaiian sling most likely dates back well over a century. Anthropologists and historians have found records of this tool as early as 1917. However, the Hawaiian sling rose to international popularity in the mid-1950s as fishing equipment manufacturers began mass-producing a highly refined, modern version of the Hawaiian sling.

Powered by simple arm movement and the laws of basic physics alone, the Hawaiian sling operates on principles that are like those of an archer’s bow. While the archer stores energy in the bow when he pulls back the string, the fisherman with a Hawaiian sling stores energy in an attached segment of elastic tubing. The results of this stored energy, however, are virtually the same: the shooting of a projectile with a long spear shaft and a sharpened spear tip.

Traditionally made of wood, the Hawaiian sling is a thick tube with an elastic loop at one end. Fishers insert a spear through the hollow middle of the sling and then draw it back using the elastic loop. The wooden tube (otherwise known as the “shooter”) serves as both a handle and a launchpad for the spear. Most elastic loops on Hawaiian slings feature a holder that keeps the shaft of the spear in place as fishers prepare to shoot. As fishers pull back on the spear and stretch the loop, they get ready for a powerful strike forward. 

What is a Pole Spear?

While the two devices work according to essentially the same principles, the shooter of the Hawaiian sling sets it apart from the pole spear. Because the pole spear has no shooter, its elastic loop is directly attached to the shaft of the pole spear itself.

Positioned at the opposite end of the shaft from the spearhead, the elastic loop fits around the hand to of the fisher. To prepare for a strike, the fisher just pulls the pole spear backward to stretch the loop taut.

In addition to its extremely simple operating mechanism, the lightweight nature of the pole spear is among its greatest attributes. It also has fewer component parts than other forms of spearfishing gear.

However, the Hawaiian sling offers many advantages while adding minimal physical weight and functional operational parts to the underwater fishing experience. In addition to its longer shot distance, the Hawaiian sling is substantially easier to swim in open water with and faster to reload.


An infographic comparing a Pole Spear and a Hawaiian Sling, both which are commonly used in underwater excursions, especially spearfishing in places where spearguns are prohibited (Bahamas, Netherlands, some parts of Japan.) 

Why would you use a Hawaiian Sling vs a Spear Gun?

While listening to underwater fishers debate the advantages of pole spear versus Hawaiian sling, anyone with a spear gun might easily wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, the capabilities of a modern spear gun with its exceptional finger-triggered power far exceed those of any rubber band based underwater fishing gear.

But, as we have already discussed, many people appreciate the increased sporting challenge, higher degree of difficulty, and extraordinary primitive simplicity that both pole spear and Hawaiian sling fishing offer. In addition to making things considerably easier for newcomers or even first-time underwater fishers, the lack of moving parts on a Hawaiian sling makes it far safer than a spear gun because it won’t simply “go off” unexpectedly.

Another powerful draw of the Hawaiian sling is its global regulatory acceptance. To limit catch numbers, many extremely popular underwater fishing destinations do not allow any type of spearfishing equipment with a trigger. In fact, the use of spear guns is illegal in countries such as the Bahamas and the Netherlands as well as island territories such as Okinawa, Japan.

Even experienced fishers in spear gun-friendly waters often choose to take a Hawaiian sling on their underwater excursions. It makes a great supplementary device to pull out when spear gun use is unwarranted or a spear gun suddenly malfunctions.


Different types of Hawaiian Slings

Despite the relatively simple structure of the Hawaiian sling, there are several different styles of the device on the market today. While the traditional Hawaiian sling has elastic bands that run from the back of the shooter, others attach bands at the shooter’s front and allow them run along its sides. Others still have bands that come from both above and below the shooter.

Some Hawaiian slings might incorporate hand braces, wrist braces, and/or thumb braces. Consumers can also choose between Hawaiian slings with traditional grips and those with pistol grips.

Beyond these design differences, Hawaiian slings differ in terms of material composition. Although they were traditionally carved from wood, they are now made from a wide range of substances that may be lighter and/or more durable. Stainless steel and plastic are just two of many popular options on the market today.

Developed in Maui, the I'A Hawaiian Sling is composed of heavy-duty but lightweight plastic for exceptional ease of transport and use. Its refined traditional grip is exceptionally sturdy and grooved for maximum stability and precision. By optimizing the indigenous sling of the Hawaiian people, I'A has designed the most powerful Hawaiian Sling that is currently available.

Hawaiian Sling Modifications

Many underwater fishers choose to modify their Hawaiian slings to meet their specific preferences and needs. These modifications might range from attaching different elastic bands to employing different arm braces.

Hawaiian slings can also be used with a range of different spears that have interchangeable shafts and spearheads. The I'A Hawaiian Sling, for example, can accommodate any shaft up to 3/8 inches in diameter. 

Different types of Pole Spears

Like the spears used with Hawaiian slings, poles spears come in a variety of sizes and can be tipped with an even wider variety of spearheads that often incorporate one or more barbs. Some pole spears are even multi-pronged to increase the chances of a kill shot and allowing fishers to spear more than one fish at the same time. 

Pole Spear Modifications

To make their pole spears safer, more effective, and easier to use, people tend to modify them with accoutrements that include protective spearhead covers, re-gripped handles, and elastic tube alterations. By applying reflective tape to their gear, both pole spear and Hawaiian sling users can more easily find dropped devices in murky water or low-light situations.