Monday, August 09, 2010

Donald Takayama

Born in 1944, Donald Takayama passed away in October, 2012.

Here's Pez's obit:

Back in 2010, Glenn Sakamoto interviewed Donald for Liquid Salt:

Donald Takayama

Don­ald Takayama is a leg­endary surfer/shaper born in Hawaii. After work­ing with Dale Velzy at the age of 11, Don­ald quickly became a world-renowned shaper as well as a top ranked surf­ing com­peti­tor. Over the last six decades, he has men­tored such surf­ing greats as David Nuuhiwa, Joel Tudor, and Kas­sia Meador. We spoke with Don­ald to learn more about his amaz­ing life.

What was it like grow­ing up?

We lived in Hon­olulu sur­rounded by the Pacific Ocean. Grow­ing up in Hawaii back in the day – it was nice and mel­low. The ocean was where we found our recre­ation. We would go fish­ing or find shells. Then we got into rid­ing waves.

Tell us about what attracted you to surf­ing

Surf­ing was really excit­ing. We would watch the Waikiki Beach Boys ride the waves in, so nat­u­rally we wanted to do the same. But we couldn’t afford it. If you wanted to go surf­ing you’d have to become inno­v­a­tive, cre­ate some­thing – like build­ing your own surf­board. It wasn’t like it is today where – mate­ri­als were sim­ply not avail­able. You really had to scrape the bot­tom or beat the alley­ways to get any­thing. We made paipos out of ply­wood, just so we could ride a wave.

Do you remem­ber the first time you stood up on a board?

Yes. It was on a paipo board. And it was a rush! I said to myself, my God that was fun! I just wanted to catch another one. It was so addict­ing. And you know, it never ceases to end – you are always learn­ing some­thing new.

What does surf­ing mean to you?

Surf­ing has been my life. It’s all I’ve done. It really doesn’t mat­ter how big or small the waves are. When you are out there surf­ing you are really com­pet­ing with your­self. Let’s say you are in a bad mood and you go out surf­ing, you catch one good wave and it makes your whole day – heck, it makes your whole week.

Also you are com­pet­ing with the ele­ments. There are no two waves are alike. So it becomes really chal­leng­ing. And it sim­ply puts a smile on your face when you get that ride. You get one good ride and nat­u­rally you want to try to bet­ter it.

Surf­ing is just there for total enjoy­ment. It gives you peace of mind. Phys­i­cally it’s good and men­tally it keeps you focused. For exam­ple, if you are both­ered by some­thing and you go surf­ing – it’s a release. You can for­get about every­thing. It’s just very, very enjoyable.

What about shap­ing?

Surf­ing is also a design thing. Since I cre­ate things, it’s about the equip­ment I am rid­ing. For dif­fer­ent styles of waves you design dif­fer­ent kinds of boards. You can change the length and make it longer. Or you can change the out­lines, the bot­toms and every­thing else. I design boards for dif­fer­ent types of peo­ple and their surf styles. To be able to build a board that com­ple­ments their rid­ing is very exciting.

When I think about design­ing a board for some­one, it’s a real chal­lenge. Where will they be surf­ing at? What are the con­di­tions? To me, shap­ing is a feat in itself. And I love the feed­back I get from my rid­ers! It’s a real accom­plish­ment and it just keeps going on and on. Luck­ily I’ve been able to make a liv­ing at shap­ing boards. It’s not a money-making thing by any means, but it is very rewarding.

What was Dale Velzy like?

Dale was a haole – but he was alright (laughs). When I started my busi­ness in San Diego, he would always look after me.

He would call me up and ask “Hey small kid, what’s up? How’s every­thing? – okay, good!” and he would hang up the phone. He was just really good peo­ple. I would give the shirt off my back for him. He gave me my first job when I was 13 years old. I would sleep in his fac­tory in a card­board box. He would also come to Hawaii and say “Hey small kid! Let’s go surfing!”

In return, when a cus­tomer would come into my shop and piss me off, I would call up Dale. I would say “Hey, Dale. It’s all your fault!” I would blame him because he started this whole surf­ing indus­try (laughs). He was just a really good per­son. I loved the guy and I miss him.

You were a shaper that was also an accom­plished surfer. Tell us about your com­pe­ti­tion days

Well, I sort of got turned off to com­pet­ing. It got to a point where it didn’t really prove any­thing. I could go into more detail, but I am sav­ing it for a book.

Tell us about your expe­ri­ence with Joel Tudor

Joel took surf­ing a new level. His abil­ity and skills are just phe­nom­e­nal. And he was a really good kid. When he was lit­tle, he used to pull on my trunks and say to me, “Hey, can you make me a board?” I would look at him and say some­thing like, “Oh piss off, kid!” As time went on, I would watch him and he would bring out his log and God, could he ride a long­board well.

Later, when we cre­ated the Ocean­side Long­board Club, it brought together all the old peo­ple back. We would gather and do bar­be­cue and all that. That’s when the long­board resur­gence started. And Joel and his abil­ity, opened the door to what long­board­ing is today. To this day, I wish we could have stuck it out. But then again, everybody’s gotta do their own thing.

What is your rela­tion­ship with Linda Ben­son?

Linda has always been my dear­est friend. I couldn’t have done much with­out her. Over the years she has given me moral sup­port and treated me as a good friend. I just love her to death.

Tell us a lit­tle about some of the peo­ple that ride for you

Well, there is Noah Shimabukuro. He’s like my hanai (adopted son). He really helps me with the design of my boards and he is just a won­der­ful, hum­ble per­son. I wouldn’t trade him for anything.

Kas­sia Meador is one-of-a-kind. She’s not a dreamer. She fol­lows through with her thoughts. And she is very ambi­tious. She doesn’t just sit around and think of things and wait to for it to fall into her lap – she works hard for it. Diane and I are very proud of what she has accomplished.

And then there is also Leah Daw­son, Cori Schu­macher, Kai Sal­las, Melissa Combo, and Chelsea Williams, too. All of these young peo­ple are build­ing futures for them­selves, which I admire. I really look for­ward to see­ing their future.

What’s your most mem­o­rable wave?

That’s really hard to say. You have your good days and bad days. Just like every wave is dif­fer­ent so is every day, so I really can’t say. There might be a day where I do a nice maneu­ver so I’d want to recre­ate it or bet­ter it. It never ceases to stop. I just always want to progress my surfing.

There has been a lot of good waves. And you know, I just want to get another one. But the age thing is creep­ing up. I’m start­ing to slow down. I’m not as agile and quick as when I was 20. But surf­ing still is a lot of fun. Just rid­ing a wave is such a thrill – it’s just bitchin’… it’s fab­u­lous! (laughs)

What are you most proud of?

It’s hard to say. I’m just proud to be here – the surf­ing envi­ron­ment, this lifestyle. I’ve had a lot of friends come and go. But I don’t take life for granted. There is only one life to live and if I had to live it all over again – I would do it all the same way.

What is the most mem­o­rable place you’ve been?

Through surf­ing I’ve got­ten to travel a lot. I’ve been to Europe, the East Coast, South Amer­ica, Aus­tralia, Japan, and back. I’ve got­ten to meet so many nice peo­ple and to learn about so many dif­fer­ent cul­tures. Mostly I’m happy to have been in the mecca of surf­ing – Cal­i­for­nia and Hawaii.

How impor­tant is the Hawai­ian word “aloha” and what does it mean to you?

Aloha is really impor­tant to me. I was brought up with it. To me, it means giv­ing, shar­ing, help­ing one another, and show­ing that you care. It means just try to be on equal level with peo­ple that you meet. That’s aloha.

You’re still stoked…

Yeah, I’m so stoked. For me, it’s really nice to be able to turn some­one on to surf­ing – like the feel­ing I got when I was surf­ing. I can just pass it on to some­body else. And I will be able to enjoy the same thrill and joy that I got out of surfing.

Shar­ing surf­ing with other peo­ple is such an awe­some feel­ing. I get turned on by it. It keeps the stoke going. For exam­ple, some­one comes in the shop and shouts “Don­ald, the board you made me works and the waves are so bitchin’ – let’s go out and ride!” – for me, THAT is the stoke.


  1. AnonymousJune 07, 2012

    Fantastic!!! I just scored a Donald Takayama DT-1 that has been sitting in a shed for years untouched. It must have been ridden only a few times before the previous owner actually passed on. Up to date I am not even a longboarder , but the board is just so damn beautiful not only can I not sell it on to pay off my debts but I find myself not wanting to surf it and I have never been one to not ride a board. I know before too long I will be out there hanging 10 or speeding along a steep wall of a big wave like the board was mneant for but wow! what a piece of work. Stoked!

  2. R.I.P. :( It's a Very Sad day from all


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