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Surfing Legend George Downing Dies

March 7, 2018, 9:54 AM HST
* Updated March 7, 9:56 AM
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Surfing legend and environmentalist George Downing died Monday morning, March 5, 2018, at his home in East O‘ahu.

He was 87 years old.

Downing was one of the major figures in Hawai‘i surfing, both in a historical and contemporary sense.

He served as ombudsman for the Hawaiian surf athlete while exerting his own street smarts and personal credibility to oppose the abuse of Hawai‘i’s waters.

Along his life path, Downing gained a unique knowledge of surfboards, paddleboards and outrigger canoes.

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He formulated and introduced creative-format surfing competitions, influenced surfboard design, served as a lifesaver for numerous individuals who came to him for help, acted as mentor to the sport and its industry as a whole—all without compromising his sense of balance.

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Born in 1930, Downing began surfing on a solid redwood plank at Waikīkī in the mid-1940s.

In the later 1940s, he became the youngest member of a group of watermen that included Fran Heath, Wally Froiseth, John Kelly, with ex-gilder pilot distance record holder Woody Brown contributing aerodynamic ideas to their increasingly foiled surfboard shapes.

In all facets of his life in the ocean—paddleboard racing, canoe paddling and surfing, surfing big waves and small, instructing, renting surfboards, sailing and diving—Downing had always been known as calculating, thoughtful and strategic in studying and understanding the forces he was dealing with before coming up with a tactic to win with.

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This knowledge he’s passed down to his children and now grandchildren.

“Uncle George Downing was a great Hawaiian man who loved and worked to protect the waters of our island state,” said Gov. David Ige. “He was one of the beach boys who taught us to Live Aloha, and by following his example, we can make Hawaiʻi a better place. He was a personal friend, and Dawn and I will miss him. We send our aloha to his ʻohana.”

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