Where You Live: Ben Aipa

Published On: Feb 11 2014 07:40:39 PM HST

What is it that shapes a man?  For Ben Aipa, it's not fame and notoriety that comes from being the name behind one of the most recognizable surfboard labels on the planet!

Click here watch Andrew Pereira's report.

His true identity was forged seven decades ago in the red dirt and backbone of a Kauai sugar plantation.

"Hard work is not even in my vocabulary, OK.  It's just a natural thing for me," said Aipa.  "I think back every time and I'm so stoked I cam from that time, that era, learning a lot.  I mean, really learning a lot."

Lessons of wherewithal and grit that Aipa carried with him from Kauai at the age of nine when his family moved to Palama Settlement in Honolulu.  It's there in the community pool that a kid once fearful of the ocean would learn how to swim.

"And I used to sneak in there like about 3-o'clock in the morning and just go that deep and this was going on for two weeks and then I got busted," said Aipa.

Like most things Aipa, Ben turned a negative into a positive.  The man who busted him at Palama Settlement also made him an offer to forgo the pool entrance fee.

"I never had ten cents.  So, he tell me, 'Hey, you know what?  You work it off.'  And that's how it started for me," Aipa remembered.

Aipa became an accomplished competitive swimmer all the way through high school at Farrington.  His prowess in the pool was matched only by his toughness on the football field.

However, it was one particular day in Waikiki that would forever transform him, forging a love affair with the ocean that still entices him today.

"The white water turned me around.  I caught the white water.  I rode it all the way to the beach.  My first wave.  I got hooked.  My very first wave," Aipa reminisced.  

Aipa was 22 -- ancient if you ask any grom.  But soon, Aipa was surfing more and more.

After that first wave, fisticuffs in the lineup with the surf shop owner Joe Kuala would set him on a course with destiny.

Aipa surfed nonstop 365 days, determined to get better than Joe.  Three years later, Aipa apologized.

"The most happiest thing of all, this the guy who got me to shape my first board," said Aipa.  "This the guy that owned the stop called Interisland Surf Shop and that's where I got started."

Aipa soon began shaping full-time, and tackled the powerful waves of the North Shore like he tackled fullbacks.  His 240-pound frame because a plus, and a new style of surfing was born.

"I never realized that, that I was going to set a thing because I was oversized -- bigger than everybody else," said Aipa.  "It was like power against power, or power with power."

Aipa took his experience in the ocean to the shaping room, dreaming up revolutionary designs like the stinger and shallow tail.  Surfers like Mark Richards, Eddie Aikau, Buttons Kaluhiokalani, and Mark Liddell went along for the ride.

"Surfing has been very, very good to me," said Aipa.  "Surfboard building has been very, very good to me.  Surfers have been very, very good to me and I enjoy it."

Through it all, the father of modern surfing, Duke Kahanamoku, has been looking over Aipa's shoulder.  Duke was both mentor and inspiration.

"He just pumped me up and pumped Eddie Aikau up, and, you know, it was just there for us," said Aipa.

Aipa is now passing the torch to the next generation of shapers -- sons Akila and Duke have followed in their father's footsteps.

"But, under their own name.  Under their own name," said Aipa.  "Not, oh, Ben Aipa's son.  That's Akila Aipa, you know.  That's Duke Aipa, and I think his dad was Ben."

Aipa estimates that he's shapes more than 36,000 surfboards since he first started in the mid-1960s.


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