Jun 18, 2018
Ala Moana's Salty Surf Scene
It's a Thursday afternoon in Honolulu and a new south swell is washing up on the reefs of Ala Moana.
Surfers across the island buzz about as the first major swell of summer creeps into the city. The parking lots are full and the lineups are overflowing with zealous surfers, chomping at the bit to hunt down a wave of their own. While it may seem ridiculous to the outsider not steeped in surf lore, when the waves turns on, surfers turn out in spades. In fact, that's the way it's always been in Hawai'i. Dating back to the times of chiefs, surfing was an undeniable part of island life. It's true, certain breaks were only privy to upper-echelon slides—like Queen's Surf in Waikiki—but for all intents and purposes, surfing has always been, and always will be, enjoyed by the people of Hawai'i.
As early as the 1960s Ala Moana was a hotbed for performance surfing. At the time, longboards were the craft of the day and ten toes on the nose was the pinnacle of skill and style. By the 1970s, some of the hottest surfing in the world was happening right at Ala Moana, under the feet of Larry Bertlemann, Buttons Kaluhiokalani, and Gerry Lopez. Shorter surfboards and dynamic outlines allowed the best surfers to carve up and down the steep wave faces and ride inside the barrel. The blazing '80s and the shortboard revolution arrived in a flash of neon colors and saw surfers take to the air for the first time. Thanks to a crew of supremely talented surfers and shapers, as well as the invention of the modern-era thruster, Ala Moana's iconic stature in the surf world as an incubator of progressive surfing was firmly set in stone.
With all of this history in mind, we tapped the shoulders of three inspiring board builders—Arthur Toots Anchinges, Glenn Pang of Town and Country Surfboards, and Bret Marumoto—and tasked them to cut a few boards as an homage to each of Town's golden eras of surfing. The results, as you'll see, are nothing short of inspiring. As much an art piece as a surfboard, the nine boards currently on display at the IBM building represent the iconic designs of each storied decade.
Swing by the Summer Slide exhibit from June 28 through July 25 to see these classic boards and a dreamy, salt-washed photo series to immerse yourself in a cherished chapter of surf history.
Bruce Brown's 1966 surf film, Endless Summer, followed two young professional surfers as they traveled the world in search of waves, adventure, and fun. The film leaves a lasting impression that the surfers of the '60s were easy going, carefree, and downright mellow. At Ala Moana, this was far from the case. Competition in the water was fierce along Ala Moana reefs. Surfing was defining itself as a legitimate professional sport, and riding the nose of the cumbersome longboards of the time, better known as hanging ten, was the mark of a master.
The tool of the trade in the 1960s was the longboard, usually between 9.5- to 10-feet long and weighing about 25 pounds. These longboards had a straight outline with a wide, rounded nose, making them extremely challenging to ride in steep waves. They featured a single keel fin that allowed the surfer to keep the board moving forward without sliding from side to side. Leashes had not yet been invented, and surfers pushing the limits faced swimming to shore in dangerous ocean conditions if they lost their board.
Arthur Toots Anchinges, a surfer, shaper, and ambassador for Salvage Public, seamlessly coexists between the modern world of surfing and the classic longboard era of the 1960s. His iconic longboard surf style is well known and revered in the packed lineup at Queen's in Waikiki, where he glides up and down his hand-shaped longboard, dripping with panache. Toots takes that same style and poise into the shaping bay at fiberglass and resin company Dust and Fumes, where he cranks out high-performance longboards modeled after the wooden beasts from decades past. "When you're shaping, you just keep at it, take your time and enjoy your process," Toots says. "When I'm working, I'm thinking about surfing, and when I'm surfing, I'm thinking about shaping. My life revolves around it now."
In the late '60s and early '70s, surfboard design rapidly evolved, changing the collective surf culture as well. Once again, Ala Moana reefs played a leading role in this changing of the guard throughout the 1970s. As surfboards got shorter, featuring narrower noses and two fins on the bottom, surfers were able to draw new lines across the face of waves, introducing the bottom turn and top turn. Pulling into barrels replaced riding the nose and the fast, steep waves at Ala Moana was the perfect proving ground for this new way to surf. The local heroes of the decade brought an element of power and aggression to the sport that remains today.
Twin fins were all the rage in the '70s and local shaper Ben Aipa rose to international stardom with his signature Stinger model. Many shapers were watching Ala Moana surfers closely, how they surfed the waves and where they made their turns, and adjusted their shapes to unlock the potential of these young professional surfers. Most of the twin fin boards of the decade featured a swallowtail and two large fins. About one-third of the length of the board up from the tail, shapers would place a wing or hip, creating a narrower tail that allowed the surfers to quickly pivot the surfboard and change direction. The invention of the leash meant surfers could spend more time surfing and less time swimming.
Town & Country Surfboards shaper Glenn Pang has been shaping surfboards for over 40 years and was heavily influenced by pioneering Hawai'i shapers like Ben Aipa. Mentored by local shaping legends in his youth, Pang has been at the forefront of shaping and surfboard design throughout his career. While there might be a popular board for an era, like the twin fin of the 1970s, Pang recognizes that everyone surfs differently and that the most popular board might not be the best board for everyone. This logic has kept Pang at the top of his game, constantly striving to push the limits of surfboard design and performance, and secured his place as one of the best shapers in the Aloha State.
By the 1980s, professional surfing was a mainstream sport and a handful of international clothing and apparel companies outfitted their brand ambassadors in neon colors and spastic, angular prints. Surfboards became even shorter and the thruster—a surfboard with three-fins—became the go-to board for most surfers. The shortboard revolution was in full swing. Colorful boards and even more colorful boardshorts dotted the lineups at Ala Moana, as local surfers were able to take their ability to the next level with these high-performance shortboards, putting their boards vertically into the lip and free falling onto the steep open wave face.
Surf fans around the world were privy to one of the first international rivalries in the sport of professional surfing, thanks to the '80s-era shortboard. Californian Tom Curren, championing a smooth and effortless style, squared off with Australian Mark Occhilupo, a powerful surfer from Sydney, throughout the decade as young surfed fans took notes on style and surfboard shape. Both surfers utilized the shortboard to enhance their surfing. With pulled in tails, knife-like noses, and the speed-creating three-fin setup, Curren drew clean lines with precise turns, while Occhilupo could compress and gouge the wave face in the most steep and critical part of the breaking wave. Their surfing styles and the boards they rode became the cornerstone of style and foundation of power that surfers still base their surfing on today.
A resident of O'ahu's fabled North Shore and shaper for 25 years, Bret Marumoto is a product of the shortboard revolution. With a fresh eye for progressive design and the ability to utilize cutting edge technology, Bret has made a name for himself as one of the top shapers on the North Shore, one of the most competitive shaping arenas in the world. Known locally simply as Bret, he's mastered the design elements and shaping techniques necessary to produce the most responsive surfboards for the best surfers in the world. He's also been able to translate the feel and performance of a shortboard to the longer, step-up boards used along the North Shore when the waves jump above head high.
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