Legendary surfer and shaper Ben Aipa passes away

January 17, 2021 | Surfing
Ben Aipa: a legendary Hawaiian surfer and surfboard shaper | Photo: Aipa Family

Iconic Hawaiian surf legend Ben Aipa has passed away at the age of 78.

Aipa was an accomplished surfer, an innovative surfboard shaper, and a tenacious coach who influenced several generations of wave riders.

As one of the standout figures of 1970s surfing, he introduced the swallowtail and the "stinger" in surfboard design.

Ben Aipa was born in 1942 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

He was the son of a sugar plantation worker and initially embraced a semi-professional football career. However, an ankle injury put an end to his linebacker dreams.

Aipa rode his first waves in his early 20s and quickly started training hard to excel in the water sport.

In 1965, the Hawaiian reached the finals of the Duke Kahanamoku Classic at Sunset Beach. Two years later, he finished fourth at the legendary Makaha International Surfing Championships.

With a strong build and focused mindset, Ben Aipa was always the silent killer in the most crowded lineups - he would get any wave he wanted.

"When you see Ben coming, don't think - just get out of the way," Gerry Lopez once said.

Ben weighed 250 pounds and scared many people with his signature serious expression.

At the age of 24, Aipa started shaping his first surfboards.

Fred Hemmings used one of his creations to win the 1968 World Surfing Championships in Rincón, Puerto Rico.

Ben Aipa: he introduced the swallowtail and the stinger design | Photo: Aipa Surf

Shaping and Coaching

Two years later, Ben founded Aipa Surfboards, a brand that still exists.

As a prolific shaper, the Hawaiian invented the double-point swallowtail (1972) and the split-rail stinger (1974).

"The swallowtail allowed the board to pivot more freely," notes Matt Warshaw in "The History of Surfing."

"With the stinger, the added width in the center allowed the board to sit higher in the water than a conventional board, which increased the planing speed."

His surfboards were used by some of Hawaii's finest athletes, including Larry Bertlemann, Mark Liddell, Michael Ho, and Montgomery Kaluhiokalani.

Aipa coached the early professional world tour surfers and continued working with the next generation, including Andy Irons, Brad Gerlach, Bruce Irons, Kalani Robb, and Sunny Garcia.

As a competitor, the Hawaiian won the grandmasters (1989) and legends (2000) division of the United States Surfing Championships.

In the 1980s, Ben Aipa started shaping longboards for "the guys who are getting married and have less time to surf and aren't in the best of shape."

The Hawaiian surfing innovator was inducted into the Surfing Hall of Fame in 1992.

In recent times, Ben Aipa was struggling with Alzheimer's disease, heart problems, and diabetes.

"He was the greatest man I've ever known - a boy from a poor sugar cane plantation family whose determination was unmeasurable," expressed Ben's son, Duke Aipa.

"He was a man from the simplest of backgrounds who changed the face of surfing one board at a time, and whose impact echoed through the decades."