The Coast News Group
Donald Takayama, who died at age 68 in 2012, is the subject of an exhibit currently showing at the California Surf Museum in Oceanside. Photo by Kevin Kinear

Surf community gathers to honor Takayama

It seemed that three quarters of surf history was in one room on April 24.

There, at the California Surf Museum, mixed in with hundreds of us mere mortals, were Linda Benson, L.J. Richards, Ilima Kalama, Joey Buran, Joey Cabell and other wave riders who had helped shape our sport.

We were gathered to celebrate the life of Donald Moke Takayama. Donald was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Nov. 16, 1943, and left us on Oct. 22, 2012.

What he did between those two dates is what separates him from everybody else.

As a gremmie, I had photos of Donald stapled to my bedroom wall. He was the king of goofy-footed (right foot forward) surfers, and his left-go-right fade to bottom turn was a ballet built around power and beauty.

Donald began making his own surfboards in his early teens. By his mid 20s, his model was one of the most sought-after boards of the ’60s.

In 1968 he started the short-lived brand, Donald Takayama Surfboards. This venture was followed by his moving from Hermosa Beach to Encinitas where he was part owner of a small board company called MTB (Mulhern, Takayama, Brummet.)

Next up for him was SNI (Surfing’s New Image) located on Cedros next to the Belly Up. His final and perhaps greatest board company was Hawaiian Pro Designs, which continues making beautiful surfboards.

While his surfing and board building are the stuff of legends, it was the man himself who made the biggest impact on anyone who ever knew him.

I first saw Donald surf in person in Huntington Beach in the 1962 U.S. Championships. I had never seen anyone so fast and agile, and he seemed to move wherever he wanted to on a wave.

The next time I saw him surf was during a big south swell at Malibu when he more than held his own against the best surfers of the time, a crew that included Lance Carson, Miki Dora, Dewey Weber and Johnny Fain.

It was in the summer of 1971, I first met him. I was walking down to surf Stone Steps when he greeted me, still wet after a surf session and drying himself at the top of the stairs.

Unlike many of the surfers of the day, he seemed unaffected by his fame.

He nodded and said, “Let me see that board.” I handed him my garage-built surfboard, he checked it closely and said, “Come up to the shop; I want to make you a board.”

I floated down those stairs, to the water’s edge, paddled out, rode a few waves, climbed the stairs again, and peeled up to “the hill,” that big, corrugated tin building off Westlake Avenue in Encinitas, where some of the finest boards in the world are still made.

I walked into the shop and Donald, who was shaping a board, shut off his planer, approached me and said he had seen me surf. “You’re putting too much weight on your front foot, and you could carve deeper on your turns.”

Changing the subject from the flaws in my surf style, he asked my height and weight, wrote them down on a card and told me to return in a week.

Seven days later I returned to pick up a beautiful 6-foot 10-inch that I wish I still owned.

Over the years I would get to know Donald as more than just a great surfer/shaper. He was a close friend, someone who would call me at 4 in the morning and could make me laugh even at that hour. He would occasionally float me a new board.

I know that many of you reading this have the same stories about our dearly departed brother and friend. He meant so much to so many.

To learn more about Donald Takayama and his surfboards, check out the Donald Takayama exhibit at the California Surf Museum at 312 Pier View Way, Oceanside.