A Lifelong Love Of The Sport Of Surfing
Legendary surfer Fred Hemmings is quite the jokester. His latest target is his advancing age.
“Chronologically I’m 66, but I feel like I’m 46 mentally and my body is 106,” he says, laughing.
The senior surfer, paddler, and former football star and marathon runner has had a knee replacement and two hip replacements in recent years – and he pokes fun at that, too.
“I had to change my will,” he says. “I wanted to be cremated. Now, I have to be melted down.”
Hemmings has put his sense of humor to good use, as he works as a speaker at key events around the state and the country.
He will be speaking alongside his daughter, Kaui Hart Hemmings, at a big fundraising event for the Heritage Surfing Foundation in Orange County, Calif., this Friday (May 11). “We’re so proud of her,” he says of his author daughter who wrote the successful book/movie The Descendants.
Hemmings’ first love is the sport of surfing.
“Surfing is Hawaii’s gift to the world,” he says. “In my estimation, surfing is more widely popular around all the locations of the world than football, basketball and baseball. Everywhere there’s a wave, you can find somebody who wants to ride it.”
He personally has surfed in Hawaii, Australia, North and South America, Europe and Asia, and many islands in between.
“I’ve never surfed in Africa or Antarctica,” he says. Then, he rattles off a story about iceberg surfing. “I’ve seen the video,” he says with amazement. “It proves just how big the sport has become.”
Hemmings says he practically grew up in the waters off Waikiki.
“I got my first board at age 8 and paddled my first canoe at age 11. Waikiki was my playground,” he says. By age 12, he entered his first surfing competition at Makaha. “I finished third against guys who were 16 and 17,” he says, proudly.
A surfing star was born. At 18, he was an all-star football lineman at Punahou and in 1964 aided Charlie Wedemeyer and company to the ILH title. Within a month of winning the football championship, he added an international surfing title at Makaha. The Honolulu Quarterback Club named him its 1964 Athlete of the Year.
Within a few years, he had surfed all over the world, and in 1968 in Puerto Rico, he became the first local boy to win the World Surfing Championships. “I trained really hard for it,” he recalls. “Surfing was going through a cult phase then. Everybody was pretty hip, and I wasn’t.”
But there was more than surfing and football. Within the next several years, he set the record for most career wins as a steersman at the Fourth of July Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Racing Championships. He also competed in a dozen marathons. He is arguably the most diversified athlete that Hawaii has ever seen. He was inducted into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Waterman Hall of Fame in 2010.
“If you had to bury me in a surf spot, it would be at Makaha,” he says. “I am so intimate with Makaha and know it extremely well. When you’re out there on the water so much, you develop a sixth sense.”
Some of his other favorite spots are Kalehuawehe, also known as Castles, and he loves the surf in Peru. This week, he’ll be with old surfing friends in California.
“I hate the cold water there, but I love Malibu,” he says. “Surfing has opened so many doors for me, and I’ve been invited so many great places to speak. I love to talk about the history of Hawaii and the history of surfing.”
On these subjects he loves so passionately, Fred Hemmings isn’t joking.