World-renown surfer talks about his love of sport
In this historical photo, Fred Hemmings, champion surfer, rides the waves at Waimea, on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- Fred Hemmings, a world-renown surfer, spoke about "Hee Nalu (Surfing): Hawaii's Gift to the World," at the "Aha Aina," or banquet, lecture series, here, Aug. 26.

Hemmings, winner of numerous international surfing championships, helped establish professional surfing in Hawaii in the 1960s.

An all-around athlete, he's competed in Hawaiian canoe racing and the Honolulu Marathon. He's been a national TV sports commentator for surfing and canoe racing. His awards and recognitions include induction into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame in 1991.

He's also served as a state senator.

Hemmings started surfing when he was 8, much to the dismay of his parents. Recalling his youth, he joked that Waylon Jennings' and Willie Nelson's iconic song should've been called, "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Surfers."

"I'm the luckiest guy in the world; I was born in the Hawaiian Islands," he said. "My blessings came from the Hawaiians. Think about how many cultures through the thousands of years have populated seashores on the world's great oceans. Only the ancient Hawaiians saw pleasure in the surf; other cultures saw terror.

"Hawaiians developed the sport, the pleasure (and) the art of riding a wave," he said. "That is testimony to that culture that the Hawaiians nurtured."

British Lt. James King, a member of Capt. James Cook's voyage, observed Hawaiians surfing off the coast of Kealakekua, Hawaii, in 1779. However, Hawaiian "alii," or royalty, already had been catching the perfect wave for centuries, riding on heavy, 15-foot-plus boards fashioned from local wood, such as koa.

Other than a period of time when Hawaiians briefly stopped surfing after the missionaries arrived, the sport has been an integral part of Hawaiian culture.

World War II-era American GIs stationed in Hawaii or passing through the islands caught surf fever and brought it back to the West Coast after the war. Surf clubs soon sprung up along the Southern California coastline.

Hemmings caught a wave of his own, as the surfer culture -- with its laid-back fashions, dark tans, sun-streaked hair and surf guitar fueled instrumentals -- entered mainstream. He started entering competitions and won, including the Makaha International Surfing Championships four times in the 1960s, the Peruvian International Surfing Championships in 1964, and the World Surfing Championship title in 1968 in Puerto Rico.

Hemmings suggests that Soldiers who want to surf should take lessons and "learn the personality of the waves and breaks."

"Don't learn the hard way," he said.

His presentation is the latest in the quarterly lecture series sponsored by the U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii's Native Hawaiian Liaison Office. Formerly known as the Distinguished Lecture Series, the Aha Aina features eminent lecturers who share their cultural knowledge with the USAG-HI community.

--Catch a wave

Outdoor Recreation offers surfing lessons; visit www.himwr.com or call (808) 655-0143. Wounded warriors can surf on specially adapted surfboards during a free, monthly Wounded Warrior program; visit www.AcesSurf.org.

The next "Wounded Warrior Day at the Beach" is Sept. 21.

If catching the perfect wave is not your thing, check with the Native Hawaiian Liaison Office for upcoming workshops. Join your community in learning the hula, making lei or playing the ukulele. Email nhliaison@gmail.com or call (808) 655-9694.

Page last updated Mon September 12th, 2011 at 00:00