Espere, Tiger

Low-key but inspiring regularfooter from the North Shore of Oahu; a style influence on many heavy-hitting Hawaiian surfers from the 1960s and early '70s, including Gerry Lopez, Eddie Aikau and Barry Kanaiapuni. “He wasn’t flamboyant or radical,” Lopez said of Espere, “but he had an innate presence that simply made him part of the wave—and, in turn, the wave seemed a part of him.”

Clement Espere was born (1946) and raised on the North Shore by his fisherman-groundskeeper grandfather, and began surfing at age nine, renting boards in Waikiki for a dollar a day before saving up enough to buy one himself. “Tiger” was the nickname given to him by the Waikiki beachboys. By the mid-‘60s, Espere was one of the best and most knowledgable surfers on the North Shore.

Espere put himself on the cutting edge of the shortboard revolution in Hawaii, and for a time, in ’69, he and Barry Kanaiapuni were riding 16-inch-wide “pocket rockets” at places like Sunset Beach and Haleiwa. Although Espere once made the cover of Surfing, and was invited to ’71 Duke contest—and bore a striking resembles to surf icon Duke Kahanamoku—he was by and large the most invisible surfer of the age. “Credit for his ability,” as one surf magazine said in 1970, “has avoided him almost completely.”

In the early- and mid-‘70s, Espere worked as a lifeguard at Waimea Bay. He later worked as a ranch hand on the Big Island. Beginning in the mid-‘70s, and continuing on for the rest of his life, Espere was involved in preserving and celebrating traditional Hawaiian culture, and to that end he held canoe-building workshops around the world.

In 1992, he began hosting the Tiger Espere Longboard Classic, held at Kawaihe, on the island of Hawaii; as of 2015, the event was ongoing. 

From 1997 to 2000, Espere and his wife lived in Japan. Espere died of cancer in 2005, at age 58.