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Ben Aipa, one of the most influential surfboard craftsmen in the history of the sport, passed away on January 15, 2021, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease and effects of a subsequent stroke.
Born in Honolulu in 1942, though Aipa didn’t start surfing until the end of his “semipro football career” in his early-’20s, according to The Encyclopedia of Surfing’s Matt Warshaw.
“After an ankle injury ended his semipro football career… He trained for surfing with the single-mindedness he’d developed as a linebacker, not missing a day in the water for all of 1965, and the following year he won the Hawaiian Inter-Island Championships and was a finalist in the Duke Kahanamoku Classic at Sunset Beach.”
Aipa’s contributions to surfing can’t be overstated, the heavyweight Hawaiian combining unmatched power with a confident grace and style.
Named one of the Top 10 Most Influential Shapers of all time by Surfing in 2004, Aipa began shaping shortly after surfing, early on shaping the board Fred Hemmings would go on to win the first World Championship on in 1968, then launching his now-iconic Aipa Surfboards label in 1970.
Aipa’s contributions to the development of modern, high-performance boards cannot be understated. First picking up a planer in 1966, his comfort in the shaping bay was immediate. By ’68 he’d shaped the board that Fred Hemmings rode to victory at World Championships in Puerto Rico.
Aipa Surfboards was officially established in 1970. Among his innovations are the development of the swallow tail and the “stinger” design, in which he sculpted a wing along the rail ahead of the tail. Aipa’s designs were ridden by Larry Bertlemann, Michael Ho, Buttons Kaluhiokalani and Mark Liddell in competition, where Aipa also served as an informal coach/trainer for the surfers.
Along with running a successful surfboard business, he continued to be one of the most inspiring coaches over the years, working with the likes of Championship Tour stars Brad Gerlach, Sunny Garcia, Kalani Robb, Bruce and Andy Irons and Bethany Hamilton, among many others.