Baby-faced surfer and board shaper originally from Waikiki, Hawaii; runner-up in the 1966 and 1967 United States Surfboard Championships; founder of Hawaiian Pro Designs surfboards. "A wild little critter," fellow boardmaker Bob McTavish said of Takayama, full of "great humility and incredible humor."
Takayama was born (1943) and raised in Honolulu, began surfing at age seven and shaping surfboards shortly after. He's often cited as the sport's original, and maybe greatest, child phenomenon: in 1957, at age 11, he saved money from his paper route and bought a plane ticket to Los Angeles, where he got a job shaping for Velzy-Jacobs Surfboards in Venice Beach. The following year, when his employers split and formed their separate business, Takayama chose to work at Jacobs Surfboards in Hermosa Beach, and over the next few years he made boards for some of the state's hottest riders, including Lance Carson and Mickey Dora. Jacobs introduced the Donald Takayama Model in 1965, which Longboard magazine later described as "one of the most functional and aesthetically appealing boards ever made"
Takayama then jumped to Bing Surfboards and in 1966 designed the David Nuuhiwa Noserider; he moved on to Weber Surfboards a few months later, and helped shaper Harold Iggy design the wildly popular Weber Performer.
The bantamweight Takayama (5'4", 130 pounds) worked hard and made enough money to indulge his passion for hot rods, keeping two fully tricked-out cars running at the same time. Meanwhile, he became one of the country's best competitive surfers; in the United States Surfing Associations' year-end ratings he placed fourth in 1964, third in 1965 and 1966, and fifth in 1967; he also finished runner-up to Corky Carroll in the U.S. Championships in 1966 and 1967. A bowlegged goofyfoot with lightning-fast reflexes, Takayama matched speed and flash with classic Hawaiian poise, often striking a back-arch pose while holding trim through a steep section of the wave.
Takayama was was among a tiny number of top surfers from the 1950s who made a successful transition to short surfboards in the late '60s. He continued to compete, and won the masters division of the U.S. Championships for three years running in 1971, 1972, and 1973. In San Diego County, he was locally famous for winning the Stone Steps Invitational—a surf contest where each contestant has to chug a bucket of beer prior to each heat—a record five times. "The more Donald drank," one Stone Steps competitor later recalled, "the better he surfed.
Near the end of the 1970s Takayama founded Hawaiian Pro Designs, and was making boards for world pro tour surfer Joey Buran; by the mid-'80s, in response to the growing demand for longboards, he produced plus-sized equipment almost exclusively, and made signature models for '60s-era longboard stars David Nuuhiwa and Dale Dobson.
In 1985 Takayama was arrested, along with 65 other people, in connection with a massive cocaine smuggling operation, and later served 13 months in federal prison. Upon release, he made a quick return to boardmaking prominence, and in the early '90s began a celebrated association with California longboard whiz kid Joel Tudor.
Takayama appeared in nearly a dozen surf movies, including Surf Crazy (1959), Barefoot Adventure (1960), and Cavalcade of Surf (1962). As a sage surfer-shaper of the new longboard era, he was also featured in surf videos, including On Surfari to Stay (1992), Powerglide (1995), Adrift (1996), and The Seedling (1999).
Surfer magazine in 1985 named Takayama as one of "25 Surfers Who Changed the Sport"; in 1991 he was inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame; in 2000 he was the second-place vote-getter in the legends division of the Longboard Magazine Readers Poll.
Takayama died in 2012 from complications following heart surgery. He was 68.