Vale Ben Aipa

Stu Nettle
Swellnet Dispatch

After a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease, plus heart problems and diabetes, Hawaiian Ben Aipa died on 15th January, aged 78.

In a career that spanned decades Aipa was influential as a surfer, shaper, and coach, but also as a figurehead for Hawaiian pride.

In stature and comportment, Aipa was a perfect specimen of the Polynesian surfer - heavyset, resolute, and quietly menacing - yet suprisingly he didn't start surfing till his early-twenties after an ankle injury ended his football career. Aipa's 125 kilo frame proved no hindrance and within years of catching his first wave he'd he won the Hawaiian Inter-Island Championships, was a finalist in the Duke Kahanamoku Classic at Sunset Beach, and also finished fourth in the 1967 Makaha International.

Aipa had also begun shaping and in 1968 he made the board that fellow Hawaiian Fred Hemmings used to win the World Championship. Shortly afterwards, the Shorboard Revolution began and, with his competitive career winding down, Aipa became an in demand shaper of performance shortboards.

Ben Aipa wasn't the first person to put a swallowtail on a surfboard - it's unknown who was, but Tom Blake, Bob Simmons, and the Mirandon brothers all toyed with the design - yet like Mark Richards and the twin fin, Aipa refined the design, proved it's worth under the feet of top surfers, and in turn popularised it to the point of becoming a Hawaiian standard for much of the '70s.

Aipa's success with swallowtails was the precursor to further experimentation with removing volume from the tail of a board. Along with peers such as Australian shaper Terry Fitzgerald he introduced flyers to reduce tail volume, and in 1974 Aipa took that notion one step further with his split-rail Sting.

The thinking behind the Sting - or Da Sting as it was first called - was to create a short board without comproming rail line. Aipa retained a gun planshape but ostensibly removed a foot or so of length from the board, taken from the 3/4 point leaving a sharp flyer - the 'sting' - and a step across the bottom.

The design, according to Matt Warshaw from the Encyclopedia of Surfing, was "ridden to electrifying effect by a group of Aipa-led Hawaiian test pilots including Larry Bertlemann, Michael Ho, Buttons Kaluhiokalani, and Mark Liddell."

Aipa served as coach and mentor to all those surfers, a role he continued in for other Hawaiians including Sunny Garcia, Kalani Robb, and the Irons brothers.

In the early '80s, Aipa began producing a slightly smaller updated version of the longboards he and the rest of the sport had left behind 15 years earlier. "I was targeting the guys who were getting married and had less time to surf and weren't in the best of shape," Aipa told Longboard magazine in 1999.

Among the many memories recalled upon Aipa's passing is this by Mark Richards, writing on Instagram:

One of the highlights of going to Hawaii when I was competing in the late 1970's / early 80's was to surf and spend time with Ben. So many fun sessions with him at Haleiwa, Lanis, and Chuns are stamped in my memory banks. He was so generous with me, [providing] North Shore line up advice, and contest support.

He used to let me hang out in his shaping room watching him work. I learnt so much from him just by watching. Especially his unique way in his words of "milling a blank" sideways with an electric planer. I think of him nearly every time I shape a board.

I surfed a heat during the Billabong Pro at Waimea Bay in the mid 80's where Ben was sitting in the channel doing water patrol safety. I wanted to win the heat but mostly I wanted to make him proud by having a dig and not pulling back on anything. I got one really memorable wave and 35 years later I can vividly remember the look on his face and the reaction from Ben as I paddled past him heading back out.

He had a huge impact on my life and, I along with so many, will miss him.

Ben Aipa is survived by wife Lenore and son's Akila and Duke.

Comments

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Monday, 18 Jan 2021 at 5:27pm

Looks like he had a nice style. Fully planted .

Imagine how much Stoke surfing gave throughout this fella’s life. We should all be so blessed .

Good luck in the next go round mate.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Tuesday, 19 Jan 2021 at 7:38am

Ben was the creator of Swallowtail surfboard.

larry.lynch's picture
larry.lynch's picture
larry.lynch commented Tuesday, 19 Jan 2021 at 11:10am

I know photography is not really valued anymore...but Steve Wilkings took the photo with Buttons way back in 1976, on 35mm film. RIP BEN, what a beautiful surfer and significant contribution to surfboard design.

Panman's picture
Panman's picture
Panman commented Tuesday, 19 Jan 2021 at 5:06pm

Lost another giant

dangerouskook2000's picture
dangerouskook2000's picture
dangerouskook2000 commented Tuesday, 19 Jan 2021 at 7:32pm

RIP Ben. You're an inspiration and a bloody legend and a character. check this video out of Ben shaping a board. His insights are wonderful. I wish I met ya. Vale brother

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIAx-u283Qw

theolderIgetthebetterIwas's picture
theolderIgetthebetterIwas's picture
theolderIgetthe... commented Wednesday, 20 Jan 2021 at 9:45am

I'm glad you posted that one dk2000...
that's my favourite of any YouTube shaping clips... so calm...

mjh's picture
mjh's picture
mjh commented Tuesday, 19 Jan 2021 at 9:15pm

I was taken to his workshop in Honolulu a number of years ago to meet him but his workshop was shut. I was disappointed not meeting him at the time, now even more so. R.I.P Ben Aipa.
The stinger is one oif the more recognisable design styles in surfing history. Vale

greg-n.williams's picture
greg-n.williams's picture
greg-n.williams commented Wednesday, 20 Jan 2021 at 7:41am

R.I.P. to a true Hawaiian King of the surfing lifestyle. M.R.'s comments give an insight into the loss of a real gentleman in surfing.

muffsic's picture
muffsic's picture
muffsic commented Wednesday, 20 Jan 2021 at 6:49pm

I was fortunate to meet him in the water and shared some great waves at Lennox Head 10 odd years ago. Super nice guy, really friendly and open - had a long chat about the stinger boards ( I had used an ex Mark Lidell board from the Surfabout in the late 70's, which was waaaay ahead of it's time) shaping, Buttons and all my heroes from that era that rode for him. A memorable day. Ben was a very stylish surfer and true master craftsman with foam. A sad day for surfing.

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Thursday, 21 Jan 2021 at 3:45pm

A sad loss.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Monday, 25 Jan 2021 at 6:42pm