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A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes
By  Malcolm Gault-Williams

This Chapter Updated:  22 May 2008
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Fred Hemmings

Hemmings image courtesy of LeRoy Grannis
Image courtesy of LeRoy Grannis

Aloha! And welcome to another chapter of LEGENDARY SURFERS.

“When I first ventured out to Canoes surf, I lived in mortal fear of getting in the way of the old-timers," wrote Fred Hemmings.

“I would sit inside, near the edge of the break.  The old-timers would catch the bigger waves outside, turn their boards, and remain frozen in a stance as they rode across the face of the wave.  They stood like car hood ornaments, poised on their boards.  They would yell, ‘coming down,’ if they suspected one of the kids inside wanted to take off in front of them.  I never did translate ‘coming down’ exactly, but I knew what it meant.  Back then, ‘coming down’ meant ‘don’t you take off in front of me, small kid, or I run your sorry little okole over with my big old balsa board.’”

This is a modest attempt to highlight the life of Fred Hemmings -- Hawaiian surfer, canoe paddler, contest  entrepreneur, state legislator, director and recipient of numerous awards for his prowess both in the water and on land.  Appreciations go out to Fred for writing much of the material herein.  Thanks go out, also, to Drew Kampion for his perspective and writing.

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  • 1953-64

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    The Hemmings Resume

    Football - Punahou School

  • 1961 - Jr. Varsity-team co-captain - Interscholastic league champions - Edward Beggs Award - Most inspirational player
  • 1964 - Varsity - co-captain - Interscholastic league champions - Harrison Halsted Award - Most inspirational player
  • 1964 - Interscholastic League All Star team, Honolulu Star Bulletin

  • Surfing competition performance in International events, 1958-1969

  • 1958 - Makaha International Surfing Championships - Jr. men 3rd. place
  • 1961 - Makaha International Surfing Championships - Jr. men 1st. place
  • 1963 - Makaha International Surfing Championships - Jr. men 1st. place
  • 1964 - Makaha International Surfing Championships - Senior men 1st. place
  • 1964 - Peruvian International Championships, Lima, Peru - 1st. place
  • 1965 - Makaha International Surfing Championships - 1st. place
  • 1965 - World Surfing Championships - 5th. place
  • 1966 - Makaha International Surfing Championships - 1st. place
  • 1967 - Makaha International Surfing Championships - 2nd. Place
  • 1967 - Duke Kahanamoku Surfing Classic - 3rd. place
  • 1967 - Peruvian International Championships - 2nd. place
  • 1968 - Makaha International Surfing Championships - 2nd. place
  • 1968 - WORLD SURFING CHAMPIONSHIPS, Puerto Rico - 1st. place
  • 1969 - Peruvian International Championships - 2nd. place
  • 1969 - Duke Kahanamoku Surfing Classic- 1st.professional - 5th. Place
  • 1969 - Makaha International Surfing Championships - 2nd. place
  • 1969 - Haleiwa Sea Spree - 1st. place

  • Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Racing

  • 1967  1968  1975* - 1st. to finish - paddler and steersman
  • 1984 - Masters 1st. to finish, 3rd.  place over all record times
  • 1988 Outrigger Canoe Club and Hui Nalu Canoe Club Molokai to Oahu Canoe Race - considered the world championships of distance Hawaiian canoe racing.

  • Marathon Running

  • 1974-1979, 1983, 1987, 1991 - Honolulu Marathon
  • 1981 - Edmonton Marathon, Canada
  • 1983 - Hilo Marathon-personal best - 3 Hr. 13 Min. 23 Sec.
  • 1983-1984 - Volcano Marathon
  • Annual participant in Hana Relays and other Hawaiian events.

  • Sports Entrepreneur - Founder, owner and/or producer:

  • 1969-1974 producer, Smirnoff World Pro-Am Surfing Championships
  • 1971-1988 founder, owner, producer, Pipeline Masters Surfing Classic
  • 1975-1988 founder, owner, producer, World Cup of Surfing
  • 1976-1980 founder, owner, producer, World Team Surfing
  • International Professional Surfing World Tour, Founder, producer - 1st. world pro organization and circuit of events
  • 1983-1988 founder, producer, owner, Triple crown of Surfing

  • Directorships

  • 1975-1976 - Outrigger Canoe Club
  • 1975 - Outrigger Canoe Club - “Club Captain” in charge of athletics
  • 1976-1979 - Hui Nalu Canoe Club
  • 1985 - Association of Surfing Professionals, Honorary Life Director
  • 1987 - United States Surfing Federation - Amateur surfing, Honorary Life Director
  • 1984-present - Denver Broncos - National Football League

  • National Television Commentator - surfing, canoe racing

  • 1970-1975, 1978 - ABC Wide World of Sports
  • 1976-1977 - CBS Sports Spectacular
  • 1979-1983 - NBC Sports World

  • Awards and Honors

  • 1964 - Honolulu Quarterback Club Athlete of the Year
  • 1969 - Duke Kahanamoku Sportsman Award
  • 1989 - Association of Surfing Professionals, Service to the Sports of Surfing award
  • 1991 - Inducted-International Surfing Hall of Fame
  • 1994 - Inducted- Punahou School Athletic Hall of Fame, Legends of Surfing award- Biarritz, France
  • 1999 - Inducted-Hawaii Sports Hawaii of Fame

  • Fred Hemmings, Jr. was born in Honolulu, O`ahu, on January 9, 1946.  “I was the third of six children,” Fred wrote in The Soul of Surfing is Hawaiian.  Fred Sr. was a tough English-Irish-French-Indian kid who came to Hawai`i from New York City in 1922. Mother Lillian was fourth-generation Portuguese.  “My mother’s family came to Hawai`i from Portugal in 1883 to work on a sugar plantation,” Fred wrote.  “My father came in 1922 from New York.  My mother was a very devout Catholic, which did have an influence on me.  Dad took up surfing and canoe paddling…”

    Fred grew up in modest circumstances near Waikiki, learned to surf, survived polio, paddled and steered outriggers, attended Punahou School on a financial-aid scholarship, starred in football (playing offensive center and defensive linebacker, while co-captaining both his junior varsity and varsity interscholastic league-champion teams) and won slews of awards including Most Inspirational Player. He was named to the league All-Star Team by the Honolulu Star Bulletin.

    “I grew up in a home of modest means (heck, we were poor).  Dad sometimes worked two jobs to make ends meet.  Mom bought some of our clothes from thrift shops.  In 1951, I, along with three of my siblings, had polio.  We were lucky, because the disease had no long-term effects.  I had a rather sickly childhood, which I believe is what led to a life in the ocean.” 

    “All the children in the family went to Catholic schools when young,” Fred continued, “and then we transferred to one of the finest schools in the nation, Punahou.  It was expensive.  We obtained financial aid scholarships.  As a fifth grader in what was perceived to be a rich kid’s school, I learned how crazy racial prejudice is.  Being a somewhat loquacious young boy of part-Portuguese ancestry (it means I talked a lot), I was sometimes ‘da Portagee’ at Punahou.  I caught the express bus home after school and was the only kid to get off the Punahou bus in Kaimuki.  Sometimes a few tough, local kids hanging around the bus stop would immediately hassle me as the f…. Punahou haole (Caucasian).  I was not shy about responding.  This occasionally led to a ‘beef‘ (fight) behind the Kaimuki theater.  I learned to abhor people who promote class or racial strife.” 


    “Imagination is one of children’s greatest toys,” wrote Fred.  “Most kids have imaginary friends and make imaginary forts or doll houses to play with.  I bet many surfers, when they were small kids, spent hours imagining the ultimate surf paradise.  The great thing about being a kid growing up in a playground called Waikiki was that I lived in a surfing paradise.  I used to draw maps of the surf sites in Waikiki, putting in detail every coral head, sand bar, and current.”

    “ My earliest recollections of surfing,” Fred went on, “come from the shores of Waikiki at the Outrigger Canoe Club.  The Outrigger was the first truly modern day surf club.  It was founded in 1908 on the banks of Apuakehau stream.  The rustic setting was on the beach between what is now the Royal Hawaiian and the Moana Hotel.  The first club house was a grass shack.  The club was dedicated to surfing, outrigger canoe surfing, canoe racing and social intercourse… Soon after the founding of the Outrigger in 1911, the Hui Nalu was started.  These two clubs have produced some of Hawai`i’s most notable ocean athletes.

    The Outrigger Canoe Club is where I spent the days of my youth from about 1953 till the club moved to its new site at Diamond Head in 1964.  Those years were magical.  At the old Outrigger, there were about 150 vertical wood lockers, where every imaginable type of surfboard was stored.

    “… I can vividly recall a wide variety of surfboards in the lockers, including a swallow tail, a concave, various balsa designs, wooden removable fins pounded into a wooden box, even hollows and boards so old they were varnished.  Some of the old-timers thought the new invention – fiberglass – was ‘waste time,’ meaning humbug.” 

    “Small-kid time is also when I learned the etiquette of surfing.  Now, 40 years later, it seems chivalry and surfing etiquette have disappeared.

    “When I first ventured out to Canoes surf, I lived in mortal fear of getting in the way of the old-timers.

    “I would sit inside, near the edge of the break.  The old-timers would catch the bigger waves outside, turn their boards, and remain frozen in a stance as they rode across the face of the wave.  They stood like car hood ornaments, poised on their boards.  They would yell, ‘coming down,’ if they suspected one of the kids inside wanted to take off in front of them.  I never did translate ‘coming down’ exactly, but I knew what it meant.  Back then, ‘coming down’ meant ‘don’t you take off in front of me, small kid, or I run your sorry little okole over with my big old balsa board.’” 

    Fred gave an insight into the kinds of food Hawaiian surfers ate in those times:

    “Surfers are notorious chow hounds,” he acknowledged.  “We would surf for countless hours and then find as much food as possible for the least amount of money.  Near Ala Moana was an eatery named Kapiolani Drive-In.  This was in the days before fast foods.  Kapiolani Drive-In had a special – five hamburgers for a dollar.  The hamburgers would not win culinary awards.  All they consisted of was a thin patty of hamburger and a bun and nothing else, not even butter… we would add catsup and each of us would eat five.  That was our $1 lunch.  The hamburgers would sit in our stomachs like cannonballs, forcing us into a semi-state of hibernation.” 

    “There were no exotic energy foods or high-performance drinks,” Fred went on.  “Our energy food in Hawai`i was rice – still is.  Primo beer was the high-energy beverage.  Primo seemed to work better in the evening.  Maruzens in Moili`ili served a pipi (beef) stew (mostly gravy) with a bucket of rice.  If you wanted, you could get refills of rice till you were full.  We did.  Another favorite spot was a greasy spoon plate lunch stand named Yanai’s.  Yanai’s had a few ‘specials,’ like fried bologna and rice, side of macaroni salad, or the island staple – fried spam, rice, side ‘mac’ salad.  Haleiwa featured Jerry’s Sweet Shop as a pit stop (double entendre intended) for hungry surfers.  Jerry’s was torn down in 1978.  Just as well – it would have fallen down.  All plate lunches served with rice had a side scoop or two of macaroni salad that included enough mayonnaise to clog an elephant’s arteries.  Cholesterol was not in the vocabulary.  The three major food groups in the Hawaiian diet are rice, macaroni salad, and bread.” 

    “M’s Ranch House was a family dining establishment,” Fred wrote.  “They staged a promotion that went like this.  They would serve a 64-ounce steak (4 pounds), soup, a salad, vegetable, a whole baked potato, fruit punch or iced tea, and a dessert.  You would get the meal for free if you could eat it all in an hour or less.  Buzzy Trent was the record holder.  When M’s Ranch House discontinued the wager, they said it was because surfers were wiping them out.

    “The Waikiki gang ate at the Sea View Inn or Joe’s.  Joe’s was an interesting place, as it opened real early in the morning.  Often there were beachboys on the way home from nocturnal maneuvers and beachboys up early to go surfing in the restaurant at the same time.  The beachboys also frequented the Sands, an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord.  It was conveniently right next to the Merry Go Round Bar.  Incidentally, I observed at the Merry Go Round Bar that you don’t ever want to drink at a bar that already is going around in a circle.” 

    As for Fred’s regular “Breakfast of Champions,” it consisted of “two eggs over easy on top of two scoops of rice and a double side of Portuguese sausage, all covered with catsup and… a side of two scoops ‘mac’ salad, of course.”  Fred added, “Now, similar gourmet delights are called ‘loco moco.’” 

    “I worked every summer and kept 10 percent of my salary.  The rest went to my family to help pay the bills.  I did everything from being a surveyor’s helper, or stacking heavy boxes of pineapples at the cannery, to being a beachboy.  When I was 16, I got the all-time summer job – being a beachboy.  My ‘boss’ was the late James Koko.  The entire beach services were run by Harry Robello, a handsome gentleman surfer of Portuguese ancestry.” 

    “Buzzy Trent, Fred Van Dyke, and even Marge Calhoun and Marge Phillips lived in ‘surf’ vans.  This was way before anyone ever dreamed of recreation vehicles.  When I was very young and infected with the surf fever, I planned my whole life.  I drew a very detailed layout of my fantasy van that could accommodate two surfboards, a bed, and a storage area.  I made a detailed monthly budget.  The way I had it planned, I could live the rest of my life surfing and living in the van for about $400 a month…”

    Hemmings the Surfer

    “The career of 1968 World Surfing Champion Fred Hemmings was built on a solid footing of athleticism and perseverance,” wrote surf writer Drew Kampion in a bio on Fred. “One of the most successful competitive surfers of all time, Hemmings became a prime mover in the establishment of professional surfing in the late '60s and '70s, then parlayed his credentials and name recognition into a republican seat in the Hawaii state legislature. An iconoclastic presence in the surfing world, Hemmings has always been known for moving against the cultural currents; he's never been shy about saying what's on his mind. 

    “He also won surf contests – the Makaha International (juniors in 1961 and 1963, mens in 1964 and 1966), the 1964 Peruvian International Championships, the Haleiwa Sea Spree in 1969 and, of course, the World Championship in Puerto Rico in 1968. There were many close finishes, too: seconds at Makaha 1965-'69, fifth in the first official World Contest in Peru in 1965, third in the 1967 Duke Kahanamoku Surfing Classic, second in Peru in 1967 and 1969 Peruvian International Championships and fifth in the 1969 Duke Kahanamoku Surfing Classic.” 

    “Hemmings has also been an outstanding canoe paddler, participating in the Outrigger Canoe Club and Hui Nalu Canoe Club Molokai-to-Oahu race from 1956 to 1988.  Considered the world championships of distance Hawaiian canoe racing, Hemmings was "first to finish paddler and steersman" in 1967, 1968, and 1975 (in record time). In 1984, he was first to finish in the Masters, again in record time, placing third overall.” 

    Besides all this, after his surfing career started to wane, Hemmings trained hard and started to enter long-distance foot races. He competed in (and completed) the Honolulu Marathon in 1974-'79, 1983, 1987 and 1991, the Edmonton Marathon (Canada) in 1981, the Volcano Marathon in 1983 and 1984 and set his personal best time (3:13:23) in the 1983 Hilo Marathon.

    World Contest 1968

    The highlight of Fred Hemmings’ competitive sports career was the World Contest win in 1968, when he was pitted against the best surfers in the world in the final -- defending champ Nat Young, Mike Doyle, Midget Farrelly, Reno Abellira and Russell Hughes. The surf was Puerto Rican 8-foot-plus, with glassy emerald walls.  “Hemmings rode a conventional longboard and played the game perfectly,” wrote Drew Kampion, “picking up the biggest and best waves, staying close to the curl and riding a long way.  With a majority of judges honoring the traditional ‘biggest wave, longest ride, most critical part of the wave’ criteria, Hemmings was a controversial winner over the more spectacular surfers on their shortboards (Wayne Lynch, Abellira, Young).  A self-styled iconoclast and rebel, Hemmings made the most of his notoriety, quickly embarking on the politically incorrect mission of establishing surfing as a viable professional sport. He did this by assuming the mantle of pro surfing entrepreneur.” 

    “Selecting the team members for the World Contest from Hawaii resulted in some controversy,” Hemmings recalled.  “Surfer magazine did an interview with me called ‘Hemmings is Hot.’  In the interview, I was outspoken and said what was on my mind… I upset some in the Hawaiian Surfing Association by saying that I did not play the game of surfing in the local contests… I surfed with a fair amount of success in the big international events, but did not compete in the H.S.A. local events and, hence, I was not ‘rated.’  There were a few in the H.S.A. who felt, as a result of not being rated, that I had not ‘qualified’ to be on the Hawaiian team.  Fortunately, an independent committee was formed to select the most well-rounded team possible.

    “I was honored to be selected.” 

    “I trained earnestly for the 1968 World contest,” Hemmings wrote.  “I did not indulge in alcohol, never did drugs.  My mind was clear and focused.   I ran and paddled every day to get in ‘top shape.’  Actually, I was the oddball.  When in Puerto Rico for the championships, one of the contest directors, Rudy Huber, came up to me and asked if there was something ‘wrong’ with me because I did not drink and party like the others.  With a straight face, I said to him, ‘I will party after I win.’  He laughed.  After the contest, he delivered a bottle of Chivas Regal to me so I could make good on my commitment.  Rudy and I became great friends.  Some of the surfing crowd, including a few in the surfing media, were caught up in the ‘cultism’ of the time.  Many of the surfers had a distinctive look.  The uniform was Nehru jackets, psychedelic flowered shirts and beads.  I wore aloha shirts, polo-style knits and jeans or shorts, and my hair was short.  Even the speech of many surfers was novel, ‘Like, wow, man, heavy, get the vibes?’  I spoke regular, with a smattering of pidgin terms.  I pondered the blue smoke from thin cigarettes hovering around the heads of some… I felt out of place with some of the surfers, because I was.” 

    “To make a long story short, I ended up in the men’s finals at Rincon Point.  It was late in the afternoon.  The waves were 6 feet, with bigger sets.  The finalists were Russell Hughes, Midget Farrelly, and Nat Young of Australia, Mike Doyle of California, Reno Abellira, and myself from Hawaii.  I felt my assets were conditioning and strategy.  I looked at the judges and asked myself, ‘What do these guys appreciate in surfng?’

    >“I was not surfing for myself, I was surfing for the judges.  My board, shaped by Ben Aipa, was a little longer and thicker than the popular style.  It paddled well.  My strategy was to go out, be patient and wait for the big sets.  The lineup was a considerable distance from the shore, which worked in my favor.  I surfed, carving long incisive lines, trying to climb and drop with a certain rhythm.  My competitors’ assets seemed to be the slash and tear technique of surfing, which was more difficult to appreciate from the distant shore.” 

    Contest Organizer

    “Working behind the scenes with the Duke event,” Fred Hemmings wrote, “I gained an interest in the ‘business’ of surfing competition.  Selling a product that did not exist – pro surfing events – was a challenge.  I figured that clothing companies, magazines, and other surf-related businesses built a market – so could I… the first couple of years were lean for the surfers and contest entrepreneurs.” 

    “One of the signatories to the unsuccessful International Professional Surfers Organization in December of 1968, Hemmings was soon running most of the North Shore surfing events. He produced the Smirnoff World Pro-Am 1969 to 1974, then founded and produced the Pipeline Masters (1971-1988), the World Cup of Surfing (1975-1988), World Team Surfing (1976-1980) and the Triple Crown of Surfing (1983-1988). By coanchoring TV coverage of many of these events, he acquired some degree of national celebrity.” 

    “Contemporary sports – football, basketball, tennis and golf – have a history of roughly 100 years.  [In contrast] The legends of surfing were part of ancient Hawaii’s mythology when Captain Cook sailed to Hawaii over 200 years ago.  Kalehuawehe, known now as Castles surf, and Paumalu, now called Sunset Beach, are the mystical surfing sites chanted in the ancient oral history of these islands we call Hawaii.

    “Professional surfing,” wrote Hemmings, “gained stature and prominence in the wide world of sports with the development of pro events on the North Shore.  The Smirnoff, Duke, Pipeline Masters, and World Cup events are the pioneer competitions of modern-day pro surfing.  These events, through television coverage, popularized the sport of surfing to the masses.  The worldwide pro surfing circuit was conceived and inaugurated in Hawaii.”

    In 1976, with Randy Rarick, Hemmings founded the International Professional Surfing (IPS) organization, the first world pro org with a circuit of events.  He ran these until 1983.  “This made possible the lifestyles that top surfers enjoy today,” underscored Drew Kampion. 

    Hawaiian State Legislator

    Fred Hemmings was inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Hawaii State Sports Hall of Fame in 1998. A member of the Hawaii state legislature in the 1980s, Hemmings gained a reputation as an effective and vigorous leader with expertise as a political economist.  He's been a radio talk show host, a contributing editor for Honolulu Magazine and a director of the Denver Broncos Football team.  He is also the author of three books including The Soul of Surfing is Hawaiian

    Fred still surfs, but outrigger paddles more than he surfs.  Divorced (in the late 1990’s) and father of two, he lives in Lanikai with his two dogs. 

    Hemmings Outrigging

    The Wealth of Hawaii

    As a final statement to his 1997 book The Soul of Surfing Is Hawaiian, Fred Hemmings summed up his life in one-page reflection he titled “The Wealth of Hawaii.”  Fred wrote:

    “Wealth can be measured in many ways.
    I consider myself blessed and a wealthy person.
    I have a vigorous and dynamic family, and enjoy good health.
    Men and women of diverse backgrounds enrich my life.
    I have lived in and loved Hawaii all my life.
    From the crest of Mauna Kea the cold of the snow goddess Poliahu has chilled my soul.
    My heart has pounded the rhythm of a chanting drum while running across the blistering lava fields of Kona.
    Upon the peak of Haleakala I have felt the golden rays of the dawn’s sun caress these Islands.
    In the dark loneliness of Papalaua valley on Molokai I have heard the wind whisper of ancient Hawaii.
    My back has ached from countless strokes while racing a koa canoe across the Kaiwi channel.
    In the shadow of Konahuanui I have felt the warrior’s ghosts.
    I have danced with the waves in the soft light of a full moon night.
    I have glided across the face of azure walls of water while surfing the mystical waves of these islands of Hawaii.
    I am a child of the waves.
    I am a surfer.
    All of this is my wealth.” 

    Sources Used In This Chapter:

    Drew Kampion ~ Fred Hemmings ~ ~ The Soul of Surfing is Hawaiian

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