Blaine "Sumo" Sato, Huntington Beach's surfing pastor who was inducted into the Surfers' Hall of Fame in 2016, died of colon cancer Sunday at age 55.
Sato, a Hawaiian known for his long white beard, was pastor of H2O Community Church, operating out of the International Surfing Museum in Huntington Beach. He also was the Huntington Beach Marine Safety Department's official pastor and a regular speaker at the funerals of people in the action sports community.
In October, surfers gathered at the Huntington Beach Pier to compete and raise money to help Sato pay his medical bills. The event was organized by surfers Rick "Rockin' Fig" Fignetti, Dave Reynolds, Don Bigelow, Joe Pearson and Don Ramsey.
"He was just the most inspirational guy," Fignetti, who also helped organize a 2016 fundraising luau for Sato, told the Orange County Register. "It didn't matter if someone was the mayor or they could be a homeless person — everyone was the same to him. He tried to help everyone out. He just had the biggest heart."
Surfer Sunny Garcia wrote on Instagram after Sato's death: "Heaven got another soldier today. RIP @sumosato. I'm happy you're no longer in pain, and among the angels. Thoughts and prayers to all his family and friends."
In a profile of Sato in August 2016, six months after his cancer diagnosis, Surfline.com quoted him as saying, "I'm a druggie from a little town in Hawaii. I wanted to be Al Capone. And I was him, but then I got toppled. That's why I had to come here [to Huntington Beach]. I got a whole new life."
At his Surfers' Hall of Fame induction, Sato, who began surfing at age 4, said he was "overwhelmed by how supportive the H.B. community has been to me and my family. To have the honor of being inducted is crazy."
Surfers' Hall of Fame founder Aaron Pai said at the time that "Pastor Sumo is just the happiest, most pleasant guy and has always been there for surfing and the surfing community. Even if you never get to personally know Sumo, know this — he's the kind of man our world needs more of."
Huntington Beach Marine Safety Lt. Claude Panis told the Register that Sato became the department co-chaplain after "he came over and wanted to cook for the lifeguards and make himself available to serve. He just wanted to be there as a listening ear and support."
"Even in his later stages of cancer, he was still serving us," Panis added. "He still had a heart of a servant all the way to the end."
Sato never seemed comfortable with the attention he received.
"I don't live for this kind of stuff," he said in 2016. "I would rather have my applause from heaven than from Earth."
Sato is survived by his wife, Diane, daughter, Taylor, and son, Micah.