‘Surf culture shaped me’: Surfing Walk of Fame inductees share their gratitude for the sport and its lifestyle

Huntington Beach’s Main Street was transformed Thursday morning to celebrate a new group of surf industry stars inducted to the Surfing Walk of Fame.

A crowd of people dressed in aloha-themed and Vans apparel, including Mayor Mike Posey and U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), congregated under a tent in front of Jack’s Surfboards to honor the members of the new Walk of Fame class and hear how they found their passion for the sport.

This year’s inductees are Mick Fanning (as Surf Champion), Ben Aipa (Surf Pioneer), Bob McKnight (Surf Culture), Stephanie Gilmore (Woman of the Year), Randy Lewis (Local Hero) and Fernando Aguerre and Steve Van Doren (Honor Roll).

“We have an unbelievable class of 2018,” said Walk of Fame project director Peter “PT” Townend.

All inductees receive a trophy and gift bags, though Fanning couldn’t make it to Thursday’s event.

“Thank you for [letting me] be part of this,” said Aipa, 77, who was joined by his son Duke. “Something like this puts me far up. … What I gave to surfing was very small.”

Aipa, who said he first fell in love with surfing at age 21 at Waikiki in Hawaii, created a career as a professional surfer, coach and surfboard shaper who is credited with inventing the surfboard swallow tail and adding the “sting,” a wing along the rail ahead of the tail, to make the board go faster.

McKnight’s introduction to surf culture came in 1963 in his hometown, Pasadena, where he listened to the Beach Boys. He said he was drawn to beach scenes on the band’s album covers.

After graduating from USC in 1976, McKnight acquired the foreign license for the Australia-based Quiksilver brand and began importing surf trunks to North America. The company became one of the surf industry’s leading apparel manufacturers in the early 1980s.

“Surf culture shaped me,” said McKnight, 65. “Surf culture influenced every walk of life locally — style, art, sport, photography, architecture, music, trends, surf language. Where else do people say ‘dude’ and throw shakas [the ‘aloha’ or ‘hang loose’ hand sign]?”

Aguerre, 61, co-founder of the Reef sandals and surf apparel brand, thanked the Surfing Walk of Fame’s board of directors for the “heartwarming award.” Aguerre is president of the International Surfing Assn. and a primary driver for surfing’s inclusion in the Olympic Games.

Aguerre said he envisioned surfing being available to all, regardless of age and socioeconomic status, so people could “enjoy the playground of the ocean.”

“The world would be a better place when infected with surfing,” he said to a standing ovation.

Of the other inductees, Fanning was the ASP World Tour surfing champion in 2007, 2009 and 2013, Gilmore is a six-time champion of the Women’s ASP World Tour, Lewis is a Huntington Beach resident, surfer and shaper who was inducted into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame in 2010, and Van Doren is vice president of events and promotions for skateboarding shoe manufacturer Vans.

Huntington’s surf celebration — coinciding with the nine-day U.S. Open of Surfing, which runs through Sunday — will continue at 9 a.m. Friday, when Aipa will join hometown surfing hero Brett Simpson, a two-time U.S. Open champion, and Herbie Fletcher, a Huntington Beach High School alumnus and founder of Herbie Fletcher Surfboards, as inductees into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame. They will be immortalized by putting their handprints and footprints in cement in front of Huntington Surf and Sport at 300 Pacific Coast Hwy.

Twitter: @vegapriscella