Ben Aipa - A Father’s Legacy
For Father's Day this year we wanted to do something special, so we hopped on a call with our very own collaborator, Duke Aipa, to talk about growing up as the son of legendary surfer and shaper, Ben Aipa. Duke opened up about growing up around the world's best shapers, continuing his father's legacy of innovation and the importance of family in his life and work.
A Conversation with Duke..
When I think of my dad, I remember growing up on the beach, in the factory, in the shaping room. Dad would make these giant musubi style tuna and rice balls stuffed with spam and vienna sausage and covered with seaweed so we could have an easy meal to eat in between sessions since we surfed from sunrise to sunset.
Growing up as an Aipa I really had no idea why people thought my dad was such a big deal. People would say, “Ben Aipa, Ben Aipa!” And all I would think was - big deal! Then I got a little older and realized being the son of Ben Aipa was like having Elvis Presley as my dad. My dad was a true to life, American hero.
Dad grew up poor - the son of a sugar cane plantation family on Kauai. When his family moved to Oahu, he hustled in any way he could - diving for coins that tourists threw overboard from the cruise ships, shining shoes, and working in the pineapple fields. In middle school and high school, he worked as a part time tailor, learning how to custom fit clothes to the exact needs of his clients and using “templates” to make them.
Dad was a natural athlete - an All American swimmer and football player. His dream was to be a football coach one day, but after he played semi-pro for a short time, he got injured and had to stop. This set him on an unknown path.
Unable to play ball anymore, he had to punt, literally, in life and in 1964, took a job at the docks in Honolulu. That was when he fell in love with surfing. On his break one day, he was down at Waikiki beach when a mysterious surfboard washed ashore. He looked around to locate the owner but no one could be found, so he hopped on, paddled out, and after that he was hooked. He challenged himself to surf everyday that year, surfing Ala Moana Bowls, Diamond Head, and everything in between!
Dad took his mindset from football and applied it to surfing. When the waves were down, he would go out with his goggles and study the ocean floor in depth so he could understand each break as perfectly as possible.
This attention to detail and passion for excellence set dad apart when he became a shaper. One of dad’s new friends he met in the water (they got in a fight first, then became great friends after!) was a shaper and told my dad he could use extra help.
Dad wasn’t interested at first, but his friend insisted. He knew my dad had worked at the lumber mill and was good with his hands…what he didn’t know is that dad had been a tailor, understood the use of templates and had the skill and attention to detail that it took to craft a quality board. Dad spent ten hours on his first board and when he was done, the guys he was working with were blown away.
That was just the beginning. Dad became obsessed with surfboard design and was set on his path. Simultaneously his drive to become a competitive surfer, combined with his football strength in the waves, saw him carving turns with power like no one had seen before. Shaun Tomson accredits him as being the surfer that pioneered “power surfing."
Right at the epicenter of the surfing world, he kept pushing the limits of surfing, consistently breaking through the boundaries of what was possible with surfboard design decade after decade for over 50 years, and with his football coaching experience, he was the first real surf coach that brought strategy into the competition line up.
Dad’s creativity and imagination led him to create boards inspired by nature and high end technology. He was self taught yet still shaped, after only 4 years, the winning board for Fred Hemmings in the 1968 world championships in Puerto Rico.
He pioneered the swallow tail board after watching swallows turn faster than any other bird in the sky. He crafted the origin of all winged boards, “The Sting” after observing the speed of high-end hydroplane boats in the waters of Honolulu. His innovations have since become common practice for shapers around the world.
For me, Dad’s brand became like the Ferrari of surfing - always pushing things to the limit, always looking forward to what could be done to make things even better. He was meticulous in everything he did, always keeping his shaping bay crystal clean. When he finished a board, it was clean and perfect.
So for me, after spending my 20’s as a musician, then picking up the family trade in my 30’s, I feel the responsibility to continue this legacy of meticulous craftsmanship and innovation.
For dad, it was important to always be moving forward. In Hawaiian we say “Imua” - move forward. Never settle for what is achievable now, always keep your eye on the horizon, looking for what is next.
Working with Dark Arts enables me to move the Aipa brand forward into the future. If dad were with us today, he would be floored by this technology. It represents everything he cared about when it came to shaping - so meticulous, so perfect - carbon literally sucked on to the board. It is the wave of the future.
Combining dad’s unique designs, along with my modern adaptations, and the unique technology that Dark Arts have developed - which I believe is currently the best around - moves my father’s legacy into the future.