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Gomes, Johnny-Boy


Snarling regularfooter from Makaha, Oahu; winner of the 1997 Pipeline Masters, and a power surfer for the ages. "He's outrageously talented," Australian surf journalist Tim Baker wrote of Gomes in 1993, before noting that the menacing and heavily muscled Hawaiian had also "soured more surf sessions for more people than any surfer alive."

Gomes was born (1965) and raised in Makaha, the son of a roofer father and waitress mother, and began surfing at age six. At 12 he was sent to a juvenile detention house on theft charges; two years later, after his mother and father had both died (of breast cancer and diabetes, respectively), the teenage Gomes was adopted by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, the 700-pound angel-voiced Hawaiian who became famous as the lead singer for the Makaha Sons. Gomes served a 14-month sentence following a second theft conviction, was released on his 18th birthday, and pledged a new life dedicated to surfing.

Two years later, with help from friend and mentor Dane Kealoha, Gomes had worked his way to the top of the pecking order on the North Shore of Oahu, and by the end of the '80s he'd earned a reputation as a surfer of near-superhuman strength. The keglike Gomes (5' 9", 200 pounds) rode in a tightly clenched weightlifter's squat, with a ramrod straight back, leveraging his board into one massive turn after the other, and often riding deep inside the tube.

Gomes' small-wave skills were limited and early in his pro career he made a smart decision to not follow the world pro circuit and instead concentrate on the bigger Hawaiian surf. "It's among the grunt and fury of the North Shore," Australia's Surfing Life magazine wrote, "that Johnny-Boy is in his element." Gomes was a brilliant if inconsistent competitor in Hawaii, winning the 1993 World Cup at Sunset Beach and the 1997 Pipeline Masters. The 34-year-old Gomes earned $56,000—the biggest prize check in pro surfing history at the time—by winning the 1999 Backdoor Shootout, held at Pipeline. He placed third in the 1999 Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau big- wave contest at Waimea Bay; in 2002 he finished sixth.

All down the years, Gomes did  nothing to soften his reputation as a thug. In 1991 he was fined $1,000 by world tour officials for punching a fellow competitor during a match; in 1993 he slapped female pro surfer Jodie Cooper off her board after she interfered with one of his rides ("Mike Tyson," Gomes stated two years earlier, "is my biggest inspiration"); and in 1999 he was convicted of assault and fined $6,300 after breaking a surfer's nose during a punchout at Chun's Reef on the North Shore.

Gomes appeared in more than 50 surf movies and videos, including Ticket to Ride (1986), Surfers: The Movie (1990), Momentum (1992), and Voluptuous (1996).