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Rocket to Makaha

George Downing (left) and Wally Froieseth, late '40s
George Downing, Makaha. Photo: Don James
Oceanographer William Bascom
George Downing, left, mid-'50s. Photo: Walter Hofman

There were still a few challenging surf spots waiting to be discovered along the sparkling four-mile necklace of reefs between Diamond Head and Honolulu Harbor, and this allowed Waikiki to remain a force in contemporary surfing (unlike California’s San Onofre) during the 1950s. But the real Waikiki, the soft-lit beachfront of song and story—Queen’s Surf and Canoes and the rest of the interlocked breaks in front of the Moana and the Royal Hawaiian; crossroads for Duke Kahanamoku and Jack Londo...

George Downing was 14 when he reshaped an old redwood plank into a sleek hot curl he named “Pepe.” Whittling his new craft into existence, Downing collected the shavings in a pair of burlap potato sacks, which he occasionally slept on.