Hawaii Snapshots

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The Father of Modern Surfing Duke Kahanamoku 1890-1968

and the legendary water photographer Clarence "Mac" Maki 1924-2010

A story told by Clarence Maki after showing Tom Takao how to throw a fish net. Which is an art that takes hand-eye coordination and the knowledge of the reef and its fishes. After half an hour I wasn't able to do it very well, so we went back inside. While I was sitting on his living room couch, he got out his box of photos. He showed me a picture of the Duke riding a wave at Canoe's and explained how it came to be.

"It was August 24th, 1954 at Canoes, with 2 frames left on my film after taking water surf photos during a session of being out there. I was just about to get out of the water. Grabbing my water-housing that I had built from the deck of my surfboard, I hears a distinct voice from shore. "Hey Mac, howzit." Looking up, I see my good friend Duke Kahanamoku. We had met before and when I worked for the City of Honolulu in the Public Works Department. He was the Sheriff of Honolulu. At times we would sit next to each other at the City Council meetings" Mac said and continued.

"Oh, Hi Duke" I replied. "It's my birthday today, how about taking a picture of me," Duke said. "Sure Duke," I said as I turned my board around and paddled back out with Duke. Duke would continue out to the lineup while I waited in the area where Duke would be surfing by. The Duke takes off on a small wave and surfs toward where I was, I prepared for the window of opportunity. In the blink of an eye, I captured the moment. I was confident of my one shot and told Duke I will have the film developed in a few days and so I paddled in while he caught a few more waves" Mac said. But after developing the picture, it was in an article in the Honolulu Advertiser and became world-famous.


George Downing Makaha photo LeRoy Grannis


George Downing 

George Downing 1930-2018

Georgre Downing Story

By Mindy Pennybacker

Star Advertiser

Hawaii waterman and environmentalist George Downing, celebrated big-wave pioneer, surfboard designer, trusted mentor to generations of surfers and creator of the Quiksilver Invitational in Memory of Eddie Aikau at Waimea Bay, died peacefully in his sleep early Monday morning, his son Keone Downing said. He was 87 years old.

“To us that were close to him, George was the greatest surfer that ever lived” said Gerry Lopez, a friend, confidant and champion surfer from a younger generation. “He was really the only one left that spanned pretty much the whole of modern surfing from riding solid wood boards to the foam shortboard”.

Born May 2, 1930, Downing began surfing at age 9 on a solid redwood plank at Waikiki. A paper boy, he bought his first surfboard from a homeowner along his route for $5, agreeing to pay installments of 10 cents a week. “He made it to $4.80 and he still has that board” said Lopez. At age 11, Downing became a beachboy at Waikiki, where he eventually ran beach concessions.

He attended Washington Intermediate and for a time, McKinley High School, but his education came through constant observation of the ocean and asking questions, Keone Downing said. “He learned economics and how to read people from the tourists coming at the time, because beachboys’ survival depended on tips”.

As a teenager George Downing became one of the first to ride Makaha, along with older surfers as Wally Froiseth and Woody Brown; he later won the Makaha International and competed in surf championships in Peru.”I was really fond of him” said famed Makaha waterman and lifelong Downing friend Buffalo Keaulana. As a youngster who didn’t have a surfboard, he would “hang around and caddy the boards” for Downing, Froiseth and Brown. He would body-surf, retrieving their boards when they wiped out and catching a wave or two before giving them back. “I’m gonna miss him”.

In 1985 Downing created the one-day, big wave Quiksilver Invitational. Keone Downing said his father founded the now world famous event “because he didn’t want to do just a surf contest; he wanted something special, and he wanted to do it a certain way”. He served as director of the event and was solely responsible for calling it on or off, for 30 years. Due to his exacting criteria, the contest has been held only nine times.

Downing an innovative board shaper whose Downing Hawaii Surf Shop in Kaimuki has been in business for decades, was also an early member of Save Our Surf, the local grassroots environmental organization and continued to lead its advocacy and educational work after founder John Kelly’s death. “It was Duke Kahanamoku who shared with him that Waikiki is our most precious resource and told him “Keoki, I leave you to take care of Mamala Bay, for she will take care of all of Hawaii” Keone Downing said, noting that his father devoted much of his later life to protecting Waikiki and Mamala Bay as well as other beaches and surf sites throughout the islands.

George grew up with the Duke as one his great mentors, and we and a number of my generation were so fortunate to grow up with George” Lopez said. Downing also will be missed as a father. He taught me how to paddle a canoe. He taught me to surf” Keone Downing said. “He had so much humility and aloha” Lopez said. “The world ‘s gonna be lesser place without his wisdom, his great stories, the love he had not only for surfing, but for all of us, too. A very sweet and generous man”.


George Downing  and Wally Froiseth, two legendary Hawaiian watermen. George with surfing and boardbuilding and Wally with surfing and the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

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Mickey Lake and Joe Kuala at the Inter Island shop

photo courtesy Inter-Island Surfboards

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Joe Kuala right side standing Inter-Island Surfboards

JOE KUALA "The Road to Old Koloa Town"


by Thomas Takao


 It was a typical spring day on the Island of Kauai with a breeze flowing through the landscape of palms, trees, and shrubs. A south swell of 4 to 6 feet was breaking along the south shore. As the waves were tubing along the reefs, I was inside the showroom of the Progressive Expressions Surf Shop in Old Koloa Town. Viewing the wide selection of merchandise and surfboards, I was there to talk to the Hawaiian shaper/glasser whose boards are in the racks.


Joe Kuala walks in from the morning sun, standing in the doorway for a brief moment until he notices me by his longboard that frames the ceiling wall above my head. “How are you Joe,” I said and he replied “Good” with a distinguished smile and a handshake that said welcome. It was good to see Joe again too. The last time we met was at his first shop at 404 Piikoi Street on Oahu many years back. We had talked a couple of times on the phone since. It was around noon so we had lunch and talked about his shop in Old Koloa Town.


​And the Hurricane’s Iwa and Iniki, Iwa was nothing to sneeze at, but Iniki was a knockout, she could sweep you off your feet. To have been there when her winds were screaming all around you at 140 mph would be something else. Iniki was the most powerful hurricane to hit the Hawaiian Islands in recorded history. Joe was there and the experience of an hour before, the hour of the eye, and the hour after the hurricane is an experience Joe will never forget.


Something else Joe hasn’t forgotten was his surfing. I asked Joe about his surfing and when he started. It was back in 1957 when he was going to Washington Intermediate School that he took up surfing with his friends. Joe would go surf with Donald Takayama, Raymond Patterson, George “Boogie” Kalama, and Jay Manago to name a few. They would go out at Ala Moana the surf break at the entrance of the newly built Ala Wai Yacht Harbor. Joe enjoyed those days when his friends were the crowd​

Being around surfboards is what Joe wanted to do. His board building history spans the beginning of the foam surfboard designs in Hawaii into the 21st century. To clarify over 40 years in a sentence, let's go back to those days when Joe and a couple of friends were surfing.In 1959 Joe was surfing with Raymond Patterson and Jay Manago at Ala Moana. Ray and Jay were working for George Downing patching boards at the Outrigger Canoe Club.


Raymond mentioned to Joe that he had decided to go to the mainland to work for Hobie Surfboards and George would be in need of someone to take his place. George hired Joe and taught him how to patch boards with fiberglass and resin. The Outrigger Canoe Club was like a magnet attracting locals, tourists, and celebrities. If they were going surfing and needed a surfboard George would let them ride his. The bottom line with that many people out in the water at Waikiki meant dings.


​With each repair job in 1960, Joe learned the properties of resin and fiberglass. One day in February 1961 there was an ad in the paper for a surfboard glasser. Joe applied for the job and got it. Joe told George that he got a job glassing surfboards and would be starting soon. George wished Joe well in his new position. Afterward, Joe found out that no one had applied for the job. Back then no one knew what a glasser was. There was only a couple of commercial shop on the island at the time, George Downing’s shop, Velzy’s shop, and the new Inter-island’s shop. Joe walked into the Inter-Island surf shop at 620 Kaka’ako St. in Honolulu and began glassing for Mickey Lake. Mickey was doing the shaping and Joe was doing the glassing in the beginning. The boards had a double layer of 10 oz. on the top and bottom, talk about getting hit in the head with one of those boards.


Those boards were heavy. It took a year or so before they realized that the boards didn’t have to be that heavy and found the lighter the board was the better it performed. The surf spot Kaka’ako on Oahu was near the west end of Kaka ako Waterfront Park. The park is built on a former landfill which when it was active and was the home to many aggressive black flies that bit the surfers and fishermen. It was named in the 1960s by Joe Kuala who worked nearby in the Inter-Island surf shop. “Flies” was the closest surf site to the shop. In 1963 Joe met Marty who would become his wife and the mother of their 2 girls. Mickey hired her to do the office work. Joe was laminating, Mike Diffenderfer was shaping, Dan Haut and Jim Campbell were glossing and Doug Haut was sanding. There would be others working at Inter-Island like John Kelly Jr., Sparky, Jack Shipley, and others.


​​Marty remembers when the surf came up she was told to tell so and so that they ran out of resin and tell so and so we didn’t have any sandpaper and tell so and so he had the flu. After telling Marty the excuses everyone would walk out and go surf. Marty says she wanted to go surf too. But she stayed to tell the customer who wanted their boards that Joe ran out of resin, Doug ran out of sandpaper and so and so had the flu. Another well-known shaper first learned to glass by watching Joe.


He would watch for hours through the window that separated the outside sidewalk from the glassing room. The shaper was Craig Sugihara who would later glass for Charlie Galento and would go on to start Town and Country Surf Shop. On another occasion Joe remembers making a surfboard for his friend’s son who was a very young Michael Ho. Inter-Island Surfboards was well known with the locals. Whether you were going or coming back from the surf, the shop was a place to stop by and talk story.


​A shaper who didn’t get the recognition that others were receiving was John Kelly Jr. His ideas were ahead of his time. John shaped at Inter-Island and filed a patent on a board design describing the Hydro-plane. A design that had a modified tail and bottom section, where there was an inner and outer outline with the outer tail outline being dished out and blending with the rail contour, approximately 30” inches up the rail line from the tail.


There was a severe change from the inner outline bottom much like a plateau. The tail section had a very pronounced kick. The prototype for tail rockers to come. Joe did all the glassing on those hybrid designs. The tail section was very complicated to glass. The fin design had a heavy rake (curve) and glassing a halo or bead around the Koa fin was difficult. Placed the nose almost on the floor and the tail on the glassing rack, but Joe’s skills proved more than ample for the task.


​Joe and Marty were married in 1964. Joe borrowed Mickey’s wedding ring for the ceremony (Mickey had recently been divorced and a young Joe was making ends meet and couldn’t afford to buy a ring). Through the rough times and good times, they have been together. One fond memory Joe has is a signed picture of Duke Kahanamoku that was given to him by the Duke two days before Christmas 1964.

​Besides glassing Joe learned how to shape from Mickey Lake and Mike Diffenderfer, Joe is still shaping on the same shaping racks that were at Inter-Island Surf Shop when he started. Then at his shop across the street from Ala Moana Shopping Center. There have been many shapers through the years that have shaped on those racks. Beginning with Mickey Lake, then Mike Diffenderfer, John Kelly, Sparky, Ken Tilton, Dick Catri, and Ben Aipa at Inter-Island. Then those at his other shop on Piikoi St. were Donald Takayama (when he was home for a visit), Wayne Santos, Reno Abellira, Gerry Lopez, Bobby Skalak, and many others.


​Mickey Lake sold his shop in 1965 and John Kelly Jr. took over as manager for the new owner. The new owner was paying the payroll but wasn’t paying the bills. One day a representative of Walker Foam showed up on the doorstep demanding payment or he would have the authorities close the door to the shop. All of the employees were dumbfounded by the thought that they were out of a job.​ Joe and Marty went to work for a company called Surfboards Makaha. Things were busy and need some additional help Joe went over to his friend Ben Aipa to see if he wanted to shape. After which Ben welcomed his friend’s offer. Joe showed Ben the fundamentals of shaping and Ben took to shaping like an eagle to flight. Glassing on the other hand was not for Ben.


​After two years the owner of the company didn’t honor the agreement he had made with Joe. So Joe left that company and Ben would also leave and go on to work for Greg Noll’s shop. The next shop Joe worked for was Surfline. Dick Brewer was shaping and Joe was glassing. That lasted for about 6 months when Joe decided to start his own surfboard shop. In 1970 Joe started Progressive Expressions. Mike Hahn a friend of Joe’s came up with the name. The boards were becoming shorter and the kids were doing radical maneuvers. He was making his boards and glassing a few of Lightning Bolts Surfboards. Bobby Skalak was working for Joe in Honolulu.

​In 1972 Joe made the move to Kauai. When Joe started his first shop on Kauai, He had enough materials to make six boards and a case of wax. Marty was making board shorts, walking shorts, swim shorts, and shirts, while Joe made surfboards. Things improved and Joe would continue making the entire board from start to finish until the mid-’80s. Since then Joe had Bruce Pleas do more of the glassing.


Joe and Bruce have been working together for 20 years. The first shop in Old Koloa Town was located a couple doors down from the current shop. After Iniki the occupants of the current shop moved back to the mainland. The shop was vacant for a while before Joe and Marty moved in. The shop had grown through the years and is one of Kauai's better-known surf shops. Joe and Marty sold the shop and Joe would shape and surf at a leisure pace before passing away in July of 2011.  


Joe Kuala at Old Koloa Town


Joe Kuala explaining his balsa shape with