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Pier Group : Six Surfing Legends Inducted Into Walk of Fame

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although it shares a name with its more flamboyant Hollywood cousin, the inauguration of the Surfing Walk of Fame on Thursday was hardly a glitzy affair.

In fact, it was unapologetically down-home. About 80 people--many of them wearing shorts and flip-flops--hooted and howled as the inductees were announced. And the Walk of Famers did not sashay up to the microphone in designer attire flashing million-dollar smiles for the paparazzi.

This is Surf City, U.S.A., after all, not Tinseltown. And the honorees are legendary surfers, not a pack of caffe-latte-guzzling super-agents.

After speeches by local dignitaries, the names of six immortal surfers, etched on small granite stones, were placed on the Main Street sidewalk near the city pier.

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Filmmaker Bruce Brown, whose 1964 movie about the quest for the perfect wave, “The Endless Summer,” introduced surfing to the masses, downplayed the praise bestowed on him.

“I don’t really feel like I deserve this,” said Brown, 56, garbed in a Hawaiian shirt, khaki trousers and running shoes. “I’m flattered. But it’s kind of embarrassing. I’m more comfortable sitting at home talking to my friends.”

What did he plan to do after the ceremony?

“I’m going home to surf,” said Brown, whose “The Endless Summer II” was recently released. “With the movie now out, I’m trying to get into shape by surfing.”

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Master of ceremonies Peter Townend, a 1976 world surf champion from Australia who lives in Orange County, introduced the four living inductees: Joyce Hoffman, a five-time world champion; Robert August, one of the stars of “The Endless Summer”; Australian Mark Richards, a four-time world champion, and Brown.

Two surfing pioneers were inducted posthumously, Tom Blake, a Santa Monica surfer who invented the surfboard fin in 1935, and Duke Kahanamoku, former Olympic swimmer and actor who was known as the “father of surfing.”

“I never met Duke Kahanamoku,” Townend said. “But I feel I’m a product of what he started way back in 1915 in Australia when he introduced the sport. To me it’s an honor to talk about people like him.”

Kahanamoku’s place in the surfing pantheon is so universally accepted that he wasn’t even voted on like the rest of those honored Thursday--he was an automatic inductee. Born in Honolulu in 1890, the Duke, as he was known, became an inspiration to surfers of all ages. He helped start the first surf club in Oahu in 1907, and was voted sheriff of Honolulu 13 times.

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Beside his contributions to surfing, Kahanamoku also won five Olympic swimming medals and had a stint in Hollywood with small parts in several films, including the 1948 “Wake of the Red Witch,” starring John Wayne.

When Kahanamoku died in 1968 of a heart attack, his funeral was the biggest Hawaii had ever seen.

For Hoffman, 47, of San Juan Capistrano, it was a day of pride.

“It’s nice to know that after 30 years, people remember you as giving something to surfing,” said Hoffman, who was accompanied by her daughter, Samantha, 18.

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Hoffman is regarded by some as the best female surfing competitor ever. In 1965, she was named Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year, the only surfer to ever win the honor. In the 1960s, she was unbeatable and won five U.S. championships and five world championships.

Samantha recalled hearing a tale about her mother’s competitive spirit on a trip home from a Santa Cruz contest with rival Jericho Poppler. “Poppler won,” Samantha said, “and on the long drive home, my mother never said a word to her.”

Those outside of surfing may not have heard of Tom Blake. Blake died May 5, 1994, in Ashland, Wis., where he returned in the early 1980s after a career as a lifeguard and surf innovator in Hawaii and Southern California.

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Inspired by Kahanamoku, Blake moved to the West Coast in 1921 at age 19 to take up surfing. He gained attention when he entered a surfing competition with a board in which he had drilled holes to reduce weight. He became a national distance swimming champion for the Los Angeles Athletic Club and competed against actor and Olympic star Johnny Weismuller.

In 1930, Blake invented the first water housing used for surf photography. Five years later, after noticing a metal fin on the bottom of a boat, he decided to add a fin to a surfboard. The sturdy boards became so popular that lifeguards made them a standard piece of lifesaving equipment.

At Thursday’s ceremony, Blake’s biographer, Gary Lynch, read from a letter by Blake, which read in part: “Nature equals God for all practical thinking. And that keeps us on the wave of life.”

At the last minute, the surf walk’s organizers agreed to pay $1,000 to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which owns the trademark “Walk of Fame.” Under an agreement, Huntington Beach can use the name Surfing Walk of Fame for five years with an option to extend that time.

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The idea for a walk of fame began in 1990, said Mike Abdelmuti and Ron Abdelfattah , co-owners of Jack’s Surfboards, who donated $30,000 to get the project started.


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