Makaha International Surfing Championships

Annual surfing competition held at Makaha on the west side of Oahu, Hawaii, from 1954 to 1971, usually in November or December; regarded in the late '50s and early '60s as the unofficial world championships.

Created by Honolulu surfer and restaurant supplier John Lind, and sponsored by the Waianae Lions Club as well as the Lind-founded Waikiki Surf Club, the inaugural Makaha event was a bust: the wave-riding events were cancelled due to lack of surf, leaving just the paddling races. Attendees were all from Hawaii or Southern California. California surfer Flippy Hoffman later recalled that the opening Makaha event was not without drama, as tensions flared between the Makaha surfers and the Waikiki surfers, then between the Hawaiians and the visiting Californians. "They had this luau," Hoffman said, "and a big hassle developed over how to cook the pig. Things got pretty hot. That first contest had a lot of fist-fights and hassles."

The Makaha event steadied itself in 1954, surfers from Australia and Peru joined in a few years later, and by the end of the decade it was the closest thing the sport had to a world championship. From 1962 to 1965, the contest was shown on ABC's Wide World of Sports. The Makaha competition structure was different from contests held on the mainland. In California and the East Coast, surfers usually were sent into the water in heats of six; Makaha heats had as many as 24 surfers, each wearing an identifying number-stenciled T-shirt. There was no interference penalty for riding in front of another surfer, and a photo taken during the 1965 Makaha contest shows five riders clustered together on the same wave.

The Makaha scoring system was also unique, as each ridden wave was scored on a points system from one to 30, with an emphasis on ride length and wave height equal to that given to performance (turns, cutbacks, etc.). Also, because the Makaha event was open to all surfers, the number of contestants was enormous—more than 500 by 1965. Big-wave pioneer Wally Froiseth ran the event from 1960 to its demise in 1971.

The surf at Makaha International over the years ranged from two foot to 20 foot. The event peaked in 1963, as huge waves swept into the bay during the men's division final, won by Hawaii's Joey Cabell; Time magazine covered the event, calling it surfing's "supreme test."

By the mid-'60s, however, the contest's reputation was nosediving. The first World Surfing Championships were held in 1964 in Australia, and 1965 brought the first Duke Kahanamoku Invitational at Sunset Beach—both events cut deeply into Makaha's prestige. The surf media meanwhile criticized Makaha for its crowded heats and judging favoritism (no California surfer even won the men's division), as well as its archaic scoring system. "Makaha is the Worst" was the title of a 1966 Surfer magazine article, while a Surfing editorial urged California surfers to boycott the event completely. In the late '60s and early '70s, the Makaha contest went all but unnoticed by the surf press.

George Downing, Joey Cabell, Martha Sunn, Fred Hemmings, and Nancy Nelson each won three Makaha titles.

Makaha International footage from the mid-'50s to the early '60s was often used in surf filmmaker Bud Browne's movies; later events are seen in Golden Breed (1968), Tracks (1970), and Five Summer Stories (1972). Winners for the men's, women's, junior's and tandem divisions of the Makaha International Surfing Championships are as follows:

1954: George Downing, (no women's), Alan Gomes, Walter Hoffman/Joanie Jones

1955: Rabbit Kekai, Ethel Kukea, Alan Gomes, Ed Whaley/Nancy Boyd

1956: Conrad Cahna, Ethel Kukea, J. Raydon, Robert Krewson/Kehau Kea

1957: Jamma Kekai, Vicky Heldreich, Timmy Guard, (no tandem event)

1958: Peter Cole, Marge Calhoun, Joseph Napoleon, Rabiit Kekai/Heide Stevens

1959: Wally Froiseth, Linda Benson, Paul Strauch, Ed Whaley/Diana Moore

1960: Buffalo Keaulana, Wendy Cameron, Erick Romanchek, Mud Werner/Robin Grigg

1961: George Downing, Anona Napoleon, Fred Hemmings, Rabbit Kekai/Lucinda Smith

1962: Midget Farrelly, Nancy Nelson, Peter Kahapea, Joseph Napoleon/Sue Ellen Ketner

1963: Joey Cabell, Nancy Nelson, Fred Hemmings, Mike Doyle/Linda Merrill

1964: Fred Hemmings, Joyce Hoffman, Joey Gerard, Mike Doyle/Margie Stevens

1965: George Downing, Nancy Nelson, David Nuuhiwa, Mike Doyle/Danielle Corn

1966: Fred Hemmings, Joyce Hoffman, Reno Abellira, Pete Peterson/Barrie Algaw

1967: Joey Cabell, Martha Sunn, Reno Abellira, Bob Moore/Patti Young

1968: Joey Cabell, Margo Godfrey, Keone Downing, Leroy Achoy/Blanche Benson

1969: Paul Strauch, Martha Sunn, Keone Downing, Bob Moore/Blanche Benson

1970: Peter Drouyn, Martha Sunn, Craig Wilson, Steve Boehne/Barrie Algaw

1971: Mark Sedlack, Becky Benson, Larry Bertlemann, (no tandem event)