Donald Takayama 1944 - 2012
Legendary Hawaiian surfer/shaper Donald Takayama has passed away at the age 68 of a heart attack. He will be remembered as one of the most accomplished and enduring surfers and surfboard designers of our time.
Takayama shaped influential boards for a cavalcade of great surfers from Lance Carson, Miki Dora, and David Nuuhiwa in the ‘60s to Joel Tudor and Kassia Meador in the modern era. He was a topline competitor in his own right, finished runner-up in the US championships in 1966 and ‘67 and won the masters division of the US Championships for three years running, in 1971, ’72 and ‘73.
In his Encyclopedia of Surfing ,Matt Warshaw writes: “He’s often cited as the sport’s original, and perhaps greatest, child phenomenon.”
Takayama grew up in Waikiki surfing on whatever he could get his hands on, inspired by the legendary beach boys of the day. “Surfing was really exciting. We would watch the Waikiki Beach Boys ride the waves in, so naturally we wanted to do the same. But we couldn’t afford it,” he told Glenn Sakamoto in an interview for Liquid Salt. “If you wanted to go surfing you’d have to become innovative, create something – like building your own surfboard. It wasn’t like it is today … Materials were simply not available. You really had to scrape the bottom or beat the alleyways to get anything. We made paipos out of plywood, just so we could ride a wave.”
In 1957, Takayama left his home in Waikiki at the age of 12 to fly to California with money he saved from a paper at the invitation of pioneer surfboard manufacturer Dale Velzy. “Dale Velzy invited him to California to shape when he saw a board that Takayama had made in Waikiki,” recalled Steve Pezman at the Surfers Journal.
Donald worked for Velzy-Jacobs Surfboards in Venice Beach then, when that famous partnership split, he worked with Jacobs. In 1965, they produced the Takayama model which Longboard magazine called: “one of the most functional and aesthetically appealing boards ever made.” He was also responsible for influential designs like the David Nuuhiwa noserider and the Bing Performer.
Takayama was at the forefront of the longboard revival in the ‘80s and he teamed up with young protégé Joel Tudor in the ‘90s to explore the boundaries of modern hybrid designs. Donald was one of the first to sign up to the Surf Tech program to have his models mass-produced in the early 2000s. His shapes enjoyed a new popularity as the retro movement spread, but his boards always remained rooted in pure function and clean aesthetics. His original models remain hugely prized by collectors.
In 1991 he was inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame.
When news of his passing broke, Joel Tudor posted on Facebook:
“My heart is broken!!!--surfing has lost a major piece of its foundation today!!!!-RIP UNCLE DONALD TAKAYAMA!!--i love you so much!!!!”
Cyrus Sutton from Korduroy TV tweeted: “RIP Donald. Your designs inspired a new generation to glide. Aloha.”
“Donald was the Dick Brewer of the early 60s while working for Jacobs and Bing,” Mike Purpus told Eddie Solt Jnr. “He was the innovator and best shaper of the three stringer, a design that would be picked up on later by Mike Hynson and Skip Frye.”
Bulletin boards and forums also lit up with the sad news, with many surfers posting tributes and thanks for the boards they will now treasure even more ardently.
In a touching tribute, Pezman wrote: “He experienced his travails, many in plain view for us all, yet he was universally loved and respected—a sweet, sweet man who was Hawaiian-style, generous to a fault, giving to those he felt worthy, and, finally, a teacher—the highest attainment of the human condition.”
In an interview with Glenn Sakamoto two years ago Takayama reflected:
“For me, it’s really nice to be able to turn someone on to surfing – like the feeling I got when I was surfing. I can just pass it on to somebody else. And I will be able to enjoy the same thrill and joy that I got out of surfing. Sharing surfing with other people is such an awesome feeling. I get turned on by it. It keeps the stoke going.”
Asked what he was most proud of Donald said simply: “I’m just proud to be here – the surfing environment, this lifestyle. I’ve had a lot of friends come and go. But I don’t take life for granted. There is only one life to live and if I had to live it all over again – I would do it all the same way.”
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