6 Famous Surfers From Hawaii You Should Know About

Hawaii has a long, rich history of amazing beaches, stunning views, and waves unlike anything seen elsewhere. There is a good reason it has earned the nickname of “the surfing capital.”

Accounts written by the first Europeans to see what would become known as the Hawaiian Islands in the late 18th century made note of the surfing tradition locals enjoyed. The royalty that ruled over the Hawaiian islands enjoyed special treatment, even on the waves.

Many surfed and had beautiful longboards that were much nicer than the board's commoners used. Additionally, if a commoner ‘stole a wave’ from a royal while surfing, it was seen as an offense punishable by death!

Given this long history as well as the ample opportunity to catch a wave, it is little wonder surfing and Hawaii have become synonymous. Here are some of the most well-known and widely talked about surfers to come from the Hawaii islands:

1. Duke Kahanamoku

Born: Honolulu, Oahu

Having earned the name of “the father of modern surfing,” Duke Kahanamoku is perhaps the most famous Hawaiian native to be known for his surfing prowess. He first came to gain worldwide attention at the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games when he won gold and silver medals in various water events.

With his fame, he traveled the world, showing off the art of surfing, teaching others, and introducing the world outside the islands to the sport of surfing.

Kahanamoku held many different roles during his lifetime: known waterman and surfer on the islands, the sheriff of Honolulu, a fairly well-received Hollywood actor, and also Hawaii’s Ambassador of Aloha. There is a large statue honoring the Duke in Waikiki today, which is often covered in fresh leis people have left.

2. Rell Sunn

Born: Makaha, Oahu

Anyone who knows surfing and who doesn't recognize this name is missing a key part of surfing history! Sunn was a pioneering female surfer who was among the first female surfers to strive to be included in the competitions in Oahu in the ’50s, which were predominately male-dominated at the time.

The male-centric nature of surfing at the time was a stark contrast to history as women, including Queen Kaahumanu, wife of Kamehameha the Great, were skilled surfers as well.

Sunn fought for equality among female surfers and helped pass and change laws that made it so women could enjoy surfing without persecution or ridicule. Sunn passed away in 1998, but she is still fondly remembered and talked about among surfers today, male and female alike.

3. Eddie Aikau

Born: Kahului, Maui

Eddie Aikau’s passion and skill on the waves started early as he was the first lifeguard to patrol the North Shore of Oahu. With waves that could exceed 20 feet at times, many surfers had lost their lives to the waters before Aikau began patrolling them.

He rescued over 500 people by riding through monster waves others would shy away from, and he became a local hero. Word of his skills and abilities in the water spread.

In 1978, Eddie was recruited by the Polynesian Voyaging Society to help them with their expedition; however, during a swim to shore after a boating accident, he was lost to the sea and never found. Hawaii’s “big wave surfer” was lost at sea at just 31 years old, but his legacy lives on, and many surfers today mention his name respectfully.

4. Gerry Lopez

Born: Honolulu, HI

Gerry Lopez has earned himself the unofficial title of “Mr. Pipeline” and has been idolized as one of the best Hawaiian surfers of all time. Lopez perfected the unique flare and style he became famous for at Ala Moana Bowls before moving to the North Shore area.

Once on the North Shore, Lopez soon made a name for himself for the one-of-a-kind style and pipeline moves he made while on the waves. He pushed boundaries and tried things no one else had ever dared to do on a surfboard before.

Gerry won two Pipe Masters in 1972 and 1973 and pioneered moves and styles that are still used today. To this day, Gerry Lopez remains one of surfing’s most beloved figures and still inspires older and newer surfers to push the boundaries and try new things.

5. Bethany Hamilton

Born: Lihue, Kauai

When you ask people about inspirational and influential female surfers, Bethany Hamilton has proven to reign supreme in many people’s eyes. Born into a family that was passionate about surfing, she started officially competing in surfing competitions when she was just eight years old.

Unfortunately, in 2003 when she was just 13 years old, Hamilton was doing what she loved, being out in the water riding the waves, when she was attacked by an aggressive tiger shark.

She survived the attack but lost nearly all of her left arm in the attack, causing many to say her surfing career was over far too soon. But Bethany hardly missed a step, and within months of the attack, she was back on a board, relearning how to surf again and inspiring people everywhere.

6. Andy Irons

Born: Lihue, Kauai 

A native of the islands and a love of the water from a young age, Andy Irons was known by friends and family as someone with a big heart.

His big public rival, Kelly Slater, spoke of Iron’s character, and some of their biggest competitions against each other were noted for the obvious respect they had for each other. In his action-packed and impressive surfing career, Andy won three world titles and more than two dozen international victories in surfing and water sports.

However, he struggled with substance abuse and possible mental health issues as well, which ended when he died in 2010, leaving the surfing community shocked and grieving. Andy’s amazing impact and legacy have been documented in a movie called Andy Irons: Kissed by God.

Final Thoughts

Hawaii is known for its extensive, vibrant culture and the land that is teeming with incredible coastlines, breathtaking panoramas, and waves that defy comparison. It's no surprise it has been dubbed "the surfing capital," considering its extensive legacy and the abundant chances to ride those waves. From these names to countless others, the right and vibrant history of Hawaii’s surfing culture continues to thrive and inspire the next generation of wave chasers.

James Davis

Written by James Davis

I'm a true California local, and I've spent my life riding the waves along our stunning coastline. Surfing has always been my greatest love, and in my writing, I try to capture its genuine essence. My words aim to transport you into the heart of the surf culture, where the ocean and surfers come together in perfect harmony.

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