Hawaii Surfers Surfing Past 60
Silver Surfers: Meet five surf legends who, in their 60s and 70s, still hit the beach.
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The winter surfing season has arrived, and with it crowds of fresh-faced young wave riders eager to challenge themselves in the famous Hawaiian surf. Surfing will always be a sport for the young, but it’s no longer a sport only for the young. Look closely at the scene these days and you will see more gray heads speckling the water, more age lines beneath the sunscreen and more potbellied grandparents pulling longboards off their roof racks. As Baby Boomers start finding Social Security checks in the mail, the Age of the Senior Surfer has dawned. Not surprisingly, their numbers include legendary surfers, people who, in their prime, made the sport what it is today. Laura Blears. Randy Rarick. Jock Sutherland. Joey Cabell. Gerry Lopez. We found them still surfing, still contributing to the sport. If anything, their relationship with the waves has only deepened and improved.
Laura Blears was so excited about jumping into the ocean when her family moved from Los Angeles to Waikiki in the mid-1950s that she boarded the airplane wearing her bathing suit beneath her dress so she wouldn’t waste any time changing upon arrival.
Before she finished kindergarten, she had become a regular at Waikiki Beach, riding waves on the shoulders of the beach boys at Queens, standing up on waves by herself at Baby Queens and befriending luminaries such as Sandy the surfing dog. At the age of 12 she was entering surf contests, and, by the time she hit her mid-20s, she had become one of the first professional women surfers.
Today, at 60, her enthusiasm for jumping into the water hardly seems to have diminished. At night she works as a hostess at Kimo’s restaurant in Lahaina, but by day she leads aquasize classes, trains for rough-water swimming races such as the Maui Channel Swim, and—yep—she surfs. Sometimes she even competes, most recently representing Kimo’s at the 2011 Duke’s Fest surf contest, held at Waikiki Beach, her old stomping grounds.
“I just love surfing, period,” Blears says. “Luckily for me, I never stopped.”
Of course, surfing today is not quite like surfing in the old days, when she would paddle out anywhere without regard for crowd conditions. If there’s a lineup where the kids will let auntie take a wave on account of she’s the auntie, it’s not Honolua Bay on a good day, with 50 guys leaching testosterone into the water. Thirty years ago, Blears would happily go head to head with the boys there. Now she seeks less crowded spots, even if they’re less than perfect.
“I’m soul surfing,” she says. “I just want to have a good time. If I’ve got an hour-and-a-half in the water, I want to catch 10 waves, not two.”
Blears comes from a surfing family. Both of her brothers, her sister and even her parents surfed. Her well-known father, Lord “Tally Ho” Blears, also wrestled, playing the villain in the theatrical wrestling melodramas that were big in Hawaii in the 1950s and 1960s.
In the 1970s, Laura Blears achieved a level of pop-culture stardom of her own. For three television seasons she competed in the ABC Wide World of Sports series The Superstars, which pitted top athletes from different sports against each other. She also posed in her bikini holding San Miguel beer for promotional posters that turned up in liquor stores and bars around the country. And she posed without the bikini for a 1975 issue of Playboy, which featured photos of her surfing at Yokohama Bay in the buff. “I think everybody’s either surfed or swam naked at least once, right?” she asks.