George Downing: he rode his first wave on a surfboard in 1939

Hawaiian surf legend, waterman, and environmentalist George Downing passed away peacefully in Oahu. He was one of the last Waikiki Beach Boys mentored by Duke Kahanamoku.

It's hard to forget his infectious smile. George Downing is widely seen as one of the original big wave surfers.

Downing mastered the art of riding giants in the Hawaiian islands and went on to win the prestigious Makaha International Surfing Championships three times in 1954, 1961, and 1965.

Later he became the legendary director of the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau, deciding when to call it on or off for three decades.

Downing was one of the most influential people to the birth of surfing. The regular-footer from Honolulu helped boost the sport forward into modernity.

George Downing was born in 1930 in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, and by the age of nine, he was already catching his first waves.

Learning Is For Life

As a teenager, and as World War II came to a close, Downing learned to build a surfboard. His mentor Wally Froiseth taught him the basic shaping techniques but also introduced him to the huge waves of Makaha, Laniakea, and Honolua Bay.

"I knew my destination when I was 12 years old, and I never doubted what my purpose was," Downing once enigmatically told.

In 1948, George, Froiseth and Russ Tataki explored the Southern California coast and surfed nearly every break. In Los Angeles, George accidentally met Bob Simmons and learned to fiberglass boards.

But he never stopped acquiring knowledge. The Hawaiian studied the fundamental theory of surf forecasting and improved his comprehension of the weather, the waves, the winds, the ocean, and the bathymetric variables.

November 29, 1960: George Downing, Rabbit Kekai, Conrad Canha, Jamma Kekai, Peter Cole and Wally Froiseth | Photo: Clarence Maki

In 1950, George Downing created the "Rocker," a 10-foot beauty made from balsa, fiberglass, and resin that impressed everyone with its narrow tails, and removable fin system.

He wanted to surf bigger waves with better gear, and "Rocket" opened new doors to his limits. Downing explored the potential of big wave riding like few others.

While everyone was heading toward Waimea Bay, Downing stuck to his love - Makaha - and always stayed out of the limelight doing his thing.

George Downing was often named "The Teacher" and "The Guru." Because he cared about surfing, and profoundly believed in the development of the sport through knowledge, innovation, experimentation, and understanding.

George remained a humble, laid-back, and cheerful individual throughout his life. He worked as a beach boy in Waikiki between the 1940s and 1970s and made sure his contributions were not seen and considered relevant to the history of surfing.

Downing loved to compete in surf contests. At the age of 40, and on his last event, he finished fourth. But he never stopped promoting surfing and surfers.

The surf pioneer coached the Hawaiian team to victory at the 1968 World Surfing Championships, set paddling records, opened surf shops, created Downing Surfboards, and appeared in several iconic surf movies.

Downing fought to protect coastlines from development and erosion and supported Save Our Surf.

In 2011, George Downing was inducted into the Surfers' Hall of Fame. He is survived by his sons Kainoa and Keone, daughter Kaiulu, grandchildren, and great-grandsons.

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