Surfing pioneer and environmentalist George Downing dies at 87

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - One of Hawaii's greatest surfing legends and environmentalist George Downing died Monday morning at his home in east Oahu.

He was 87 years old.

Born and raised on the island of Oahu, Downing was one of the last of the old-time Waikiki beach boys mentored by Duke Kahanamoku.

He later became a mentor himself to generations of watermen and fought to protect coastlines from erosion and development.

"He was influential in what was happening with Waikiki beach and the Waikiki Beach Boys and what was happening with the sand and don't build the rock wall here and don't build the rock wall there," said Clyde Aikau, Eddie Aikau's brother.

Downing was also one of the first surf explorers, finding unridden spots in Hawaii and California.

He won international surf contests including the Makaha International surfing competition in 1954, 1961 and 1965. He also coached the Hawaiian team in its 1968 World Surfing Championship victory.

In 1951, Downing became known for changing the game when he created the world's first surfboard with a removable fin.

He founded his family surf shop in Kaimuki in the 1960s and in 2016, the Hawaii Tourism Authority presented Downing and Makaha waterman Buffalo Keaulana with Legacy Awards for all they had done to promote the sport of kings worldwide.

"A lot of guys really respected him because he was a pioneer of shaping the boards," said Keaulana. "I love that guy."

Also since 1985, Downing was the man who decided whether The Eddie Big Wave Contest would go at Waimea Bay.

"It's not easy calling the big waves when they come," said Aikau. "Even with all the satellites and everything, George always did a great job for us."

Aikau recalled dedicating his last run to Downing.

"Just before I went out to surf the Eddie in 2016, I walked up to George with my surfboard and I called George down and I told him 'George I love you, I'm going to go out and catch a big one for you' and the whole beach went crazy," said Aikau.

Tributes from around the world have been pouring in for Downing, who will be remembered as a surfing pioneer and environmentalist.

While close family and friends say he will be dearly missed, his influence will live on.

"He'll be up there with Eddie and everyone else riding that eternal wave," said Aikau. "God bless you."

Downing is survived by his sons Keone and Kainoa, daughter Kaiulu, grandchildren Kaohi, Kirra, Kainoa, Keola and Nalei, and two great-grandsons. His wife Gildea Lauwe Downing died before him.

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