I was 18 years old when I became a part of the (ASP) or the Association for Surfing Professionals founded in 1976 by Hawaii residents Fred Hemmings and Randy Rarick. The ASP would culminate and end its world tour in Hawaii on the North Shore of Oahu. During the fall and winter months, the surf would consistently be contest worthy. This would create an arena where the best of the best can compete. I remember in the winter of 1976, a huge storm in the north Pacific generated waves 50 – 60 feet high! Eddie Rothman, Reno Abellira, James Jones, Barry Kanaiaupuni, Clyde and Eddie Aikau were the ones I can remember that surfed these epic waves at Waimea Bay. Many professional surfers showed up that day, but didn’t go surfing because it was dangerous!
Back in 1976, I joined a popular surf club known as the Hui O Hee Nalu located on the North Shore of Oahu. Eddie Rothman was the president of the surf club, competing for a professional surfer, and a big brother. He hired me for water patrol and lifeguard duties at all the professional surf meet and introduced Hawaiian legendary surfing icons Dane Kealoha, Michael Ho, Gerry Lopez, Rory Russell, and Marvin Foster. They were awesome surfers, good friends, and humble mentors. I remember surfing at Pipeline when it was 10 – 15 feet. It was a perfect day because no one was surfing except for Michael, Rory, Marvin, and me.
Professional surfing in the 1970’s through the 1980’s was difficult. Back in the day, the top 10 professional surfers worldwide could make a decent living through sponsorships and contest winnings. Sponsors during this period wanted surfers who could at least place and win money in the contests. If a professional surfer didn’t meet with certain expectations from a sponsor, they would lose their backing. Most of the professional surfers had to use their own money to support their careers, and many would go broke and fade into obscurity. Younger and talented surfers wanted a chance to compete in the world of Professional surfing. Marvin Foster, Tony Moniz, Mark Liddell, and Buttons Kaluhiokalani were a few of my friends struggling in the world of professional surfing. This is one of the reasons I didn’t want to become a professional surfer.
Professional surfing can be callous, and the harsh reality of the sport is that a minute percentage succeed. Some become prosperous but fail because of losing surfing competitions and sponsors. Professional world champion surfers get lucrative multi-million-dollar endorsements and sponsorships. Add their winnings to the acquired sponsorships, and they will be comfortable for the rest of their lives.
Competitive surfing is one of many ways to make money. Many professional surfers make surfboards and do business in surfing venues. George Downing is a good example. He has been surfing in Hawaii for many years, and as a professional surfer won the Makaha Surfing Classic. Currently, he runs the Eddie Aikau Memorial Big Wave Surfing Contest and owns a surfing shop located at Kaimuki on Waialae Avenue. I bought my first brand-new surfing board from Uncle back in 1979. It was a standard 8-foot gun, 22 inches wide, and three and a half inches thick. Other professional surfers make money traveling and making movies. Hawaii Professional surfers Shane Dorian, Brian Keaulana, and Uncle Buffalo Keaulana acted in a movie called “In God’s Hands.” Gerry Lopez and Eddie Rothman acted in the movie “North Shore.” All these surfers made good money with free round-trip airfare, room, and board, and all meals paid.