Jones, James

Aloof, balls-to-the-wall big-wave charger from Honolulu, Hawaii; winner of the Duke Kahanamoku Classic in 1972 and 1976, and a key figure in the '80s-launched big-wave surfing renaissance.

Jones was born (1952) and raised in Honolulu, the son of a construction equipment operator and bar owner, and began surfing in Waikiki at age nine. He first came to the attention of the surf world as an 18-year-old semifinalist in the 1970 World Surfing Championships, held in Australia; in 1970 and 1971 he was an invitee to the surfing showcase Expression Session events, held in Hawaii. Jones's winning performance in the 1972 Duke, as described by surf journalist Drew Kampion, was the result of his "clean, flowing, functional style," and for the next four years Jones was a consistent performer in the North Shore pro events. He was also the era's premier switchfoot surfer, able to lead with either his left or right foot.

Jones had meanwhile developed into one of the world's best big-wave riders, spreading his wiry 5'6", 140-pound frame out across his board in a low crouch while spearing across giant waves at Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Oahu. On February 4, 1977, he became the first surfer to ride inside the tube at Waimea; he later described the experience—in a grandiose style that many of his big-wave contemporaries found offputting—as one in which the "full potential for ultimate surfing was realized."

Since 1970, big-wave riding had in fact been pushed to the background, as surfers and the surf media focused on professional contests (rarely held in giant surf), tuberiding (mainly at Pipeline), and high-performance small-wave surfing. But in the winter of 1982–83, as North Pacific storms were pumped up by a strong El Niño condition and the Hawaiian surf became consistently huge and spectacular, big-wave surfing returned to prominence, with Jones appropriately viewed with new respect as a Waimea sage. Jones was himself impressed. "Let me say this," the handsome dark-haired Hawaiian told Surfing magazine in 1987, "I think I'm the best big-wave rider in the world. I feel like the fastest gun in the west, and every kid with a gun of his own is trying to shoot me down."

Jones wrote nearly a dozen surf magazine articles, mainly on big surf, between 1977 and 1987, and appeared in about 15 surf films and videos, including Tracks (1970), Five Summer Stories (1972), Playground in Paradise (1976), and Atlantic Crossing (1989). He finished 11th in the 1990 Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau big-wave contest at Waimea, and competed in the 1995 Quiksilver event, which was canceled due to failing surf at the halfway mark.

Jones has worked as a stockbroker, commercial property manager, and a real estate agent; in '84 he made an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the Hawaii State House of Representatives.