Keeping Score

By Cindy Luis

Monday, December 15, 1997

Hemmings gets to
the soul of surfing

FRED Hemmings has caught enough waves to last five lifetimes. And more than an equal number of careers.

A surfer, a waterman, TV commentator, surf meet producer, businessman and politician, Hemmings returns to book writing after a 20-year break. His latest offering is "The Soul of Surfing is Hawaiian."

It's a diary of sorts, a personal journal interspersed with poetry and priceless photos. And sprinkled with social commentary that hints at Hemmings' philosophies from his unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 1990.

But it's an entertaining read, meandering through the former world champion's life much like a surfer cuts across the face of a wave. Sometimes the cutbacks are a little too quick and too sharp, but even the unexpected segues into politics, anti-drug messages and rice as energy food add to the "talk story" narrative.

If nothing else, Hemmings is a good storyteller. He allows readers rare glimpses into private moments with surfing legends and those who even transcend the sport, such as Duke Kahanamoku.

THERE are tales of the surfing safaris to California with the Duke Surfing Team in the '60s and the inaugural Pipeline Masters in 1971, a meet currently being held on the North Shore.

"I wanted to, within the surfing world, set the record straight on some of the things that have happened in Hawaii," said Hemmings. "Hence the title. I truly believe that, not only did the Hawaiians have the genius to first ride waves for pleasure, that major events in surfing history happened here.

"First and foremost is Duke Kahanamoku being the patriarch of the modern sport, developing it internationally. The epicenter of the sport is Hawaii and more of us should be cognizant of that."

Hemmings published the book himself, with a first printing of 7,500 books, 5,000 of those in soft cover. It's being sold locally as well as in surf shops in California, with a second printing planned sooner than he expected.

"For some reason, there's a huge trade now in surf memorabilia," said Hemmings. "There seems to be a tremendous interest in surf nostalgia, especially those big old boards that are now selling for thousands of dollars.

"The only thing I can think of is that the Baby Boomers are trying to hang on to their surfing roots. Boards are now art pieces."

HEMMINGS is enjoying the book-signing circuit, which may lead to another book.

"Surfing has touched the lives of so many people in Hawaii," he said. "Everyone has a surf story. This little old Filipina lady came up to me at Pearlridge and we had a great time, talking and laughing. She obviously wasn't a surfer but she had two nephews and wanted to get them the book.

"What I'd really like to do is a 'Who's Who of Surfing' documenting all the great surfers. Surfing is so full of characters. The original big wave riders were such eccentric group. There's a lot of stories out there."

Hemmings is as passionate about his sport as his politics. One of his pet projects is trying to restore Hawaiian names to top surf spots, such as calling it Paumalu instead of Sunset Beach.

He'd also like to see Haleiwa promote itself as more than 'Historic Haleiwa.'

"When you think about it, every town in Hawaii can be called 'historic' but there's only one town that can be called the surfing capital of the world," he said. "That's Haleiwa."

The epilogue of the book is profoundly personal but speaks to everyone lucky to call Hawaii home.

"After writing this book, I figured out what the real wealth in my life is," he said. "It's growing up in Hawaii. That's why I wrote the epilogue. Hopefully, the book is a testimony to how blessed we are to be living here and enjoying its beauty and its people."

Cindy Luis is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter.
Her column appears weekly.

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