Saying Aloha To ‘Pops’ Ah Choy

It's believed Pops Ah Choy invented stand-up paddling. PHOTO COURTESY MIKE AH CHOY

It’s believed Pops Ah Choy invented stand-up paddling. PHOTO COURTESY MIKE AH CHOY

It was a royal salute to one of Hawaii’s true wave-riding innovators and pioneers. Dozens paddled out to Kuhio Beach Aug. 30 to say aloha to John “Pops” Ah Choy.

“This is where it all got started,” says his youngest son Mike. “This was his playground.

He touched many hearts, and it’s obvious a lot of people loved him too. People have been calling and emailing from all over the world. We’ve had an outpouring of aloha from Oregon, Florida, California and even Germany. It’s been touching to see.”

Pops Ah Choy died June 27 at the age of 94. His death came one day before the fourth Pops Ah Choy Family Surf Fest, a two-day, all-stand-up paddle-surf event at Kuhio Beach.

“We didn’t tell anyone that Dad died, but by the time we got to the beach, people already knew,” says Mike. “Everyone was asking if we’re still holding the surf meet. We said yes! Pops wouldn’t want it any other way!”

Although there are several stories as to the origin of stand-up paddle surfing (SUP), many believe Pops Ah Choy was one of the originators of modern-day SUP.

“When Dad’s knees started giving him problems in the 1960s, he told us he was going to use a big canoe paddle to help catch waves,” recalls Mike. “When my older brother Leroy saw my dad do this, he thought it would be a good way to get closer to tourists while they surfed.”

And the rest is SUP history.

Some of the biggest names in local surfing were on hand to bid a fond aloha to Pops, including Don Stroud, China Uemura, Allen Okuma, Ocean Safety captain Paul Merino and pastor Dennis Salas.

Mike urged everyone who attended the celebration to bring a hard hat in honor of his dad. Pops worked for Hawaiian Electric Co. for 37 years as a troubleshooter and would always wear his hat when surfing.

“He kept his cigarettes and lighter in it for years,” chuckles Mike. “But one day the doctor told him he had to stop smoking, so he switched to candy bars!”

Those who attended the services shared similar stories about Pops, who was described as a real character.

“He did a lot of crazy things, like build his own surfboard wagon that he used to transport his five long-boards,” laughs Mike. “My brother Leroy used to call my dad the scientist and our garage was his laboratory!”

Pops made his own surf racks in that garage, along with skateboards for his sons and even his own surfboard leashes.

“I hate to say it, but he used us as guinea pigs with his designs,” admits Mike. “A couple of times my board nearly hit my head off! But he made the adjustments, and in the end it was perfect.”

One of his most creative innovations was the talk of Waikiki for years.

“He brought a chair from home and used suction cups to hold the chair in place on a 12-foot Hobie,” describes Mike. “He used it to go fishing, and eventually my brother would take it out to Waikiki to take pictures of tourists while riding on the waves with them. It was cool!”

He was a true innovator of creative ocean toys.

“Pops carried his paddles in two cut PVC pipes attached to the frame of the bicycle,” says Mike. “He also carried his ding-repair items, pastries and coffee thermos — and don’t forget those candy bars!”

Mike says that, although his father was never a beach-boy like his brothers Leroy and Bobby, he lived a “beach-boy-style” life, and his love and passion for the ocean were genuine.

“I reflect back to the life lessons he taught us — love of family, work hard to support your family and always be there for your family,” says Mike. “My dad worked two jobs to support us, and he sent all of us to private schools. We were so blessed to have him as our dad.”

And we are blessed he called Hawaii home.