The Coast News Group
Fins Unlimited co-founder Bob Bahne died in December. Courtesy photo

Remembering recent losses in the world of surfing

Bob Bahne, Bob Sakoda and Pat Curren kicked out recently, leaving the lineup and the surfing world poorer in their absence.

Bahne and his brother Bill were the founders of Fins Unlimited, which is obviously a surfboard fin making company, but also where the Bahne fin box came to prominence as the industry standard for removable fins.

If you made boards in North County, you doubtless visited “the hill,” as it is affectionately known, to purchase a fin or a fin box, and were greeted by one of the Bahne family, whose endless knowledge is invaluable for anyone building boards.

If you didn’t get a fin there at one time or another, that was where you had a board built by star shapers like Bill Bahne, Mike Hynson or Steve Moret, any one of whom could stoke you with at the latest water rocket on the market before it was glassed by Wayne Hosaki, sanded by Willie McLeary and airbrushed by legendary surf artists Peter Saint Pierre or John Breeden, or some other craftsman who would go on to become an industry legend.

It was in that factory that the snowboard was inches from being born when Bahne and company teamed up with the late, great Mike Doyle to build the first monoski. I never owned one of those skis but bought many beautiful fins and functional fin boxes from the Bahne shop. Thanks Bob.

Bob Sakoda was one of the few surfboard shapers worthy of carving foam under Donald Takayama’s Hawaii Pro Designs label. Unlike many surfers, Sakoda was quiet and humble, often sneaking down to Mexico to test ride his own products.

I never knew Pat Curren well, but am familiar with his legend, how he would wait outside for hours to catch the biggest set wave at Waimea Bay, while his peers scratched for the horizon. Through the 1950s and ’60s, a Curren gun was the gold standard of big-wave guns, something that held in when the wave jacked up and steepened to the point where most other boards were being washed to shore. By the 1990s, Curren’s boards again took center stage as collectors purchased them for up to $25,000.

There are, however, other aspects to Curren that set him apart from the rest of us. For one, he fathered world-class surfers, most notably three-time world champion Tom Curren. What many value most, however, was Pat’s ability to turn even the most tragic circumstance into a joke.

It’s been over a decade since I climbed the Swami’s stairs to be greeted by a man, cap pulled low over his face. “Chris,” he said, before lifting his cap and identifying himself, unnecessarily adding, “It’s Pat.”

We chatted for a while before I asked how his house in Baja faired during the latest hurricane. Turning to his wife, Mary, he looked back at me to say, “Aw, the place needed work anyway.”

In the same way he would wait for the biggest wave at Waimea, he could wait decades, once 40 years to apologize to Phil Edwards after leaving him in Makaha back when they were both kids.

Bahne, Sakoda and Curren will be missed by all of us. Check this column for news of their memorials.