was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. Living in Kaimuki,
he started surfing Waikiki at a very young age. After graduating
from Saint Louis High School he moved to California to attend
UCLA where he received a degree in engineering.
the height of the 1960’s surfing boom, Ernie started Tanaka
Surfboards in Van Nuys, CA. It was at this time he shaped for
his good friend and amazing surfer, Paul Strauch Jr. When he
wasn’t shaping you could find him at his homebreaks of
L.A. County Line and Secos.
waves and lifestyle of Hawaii eventually got to Ernie so he
returned to home in the mid 70’s. He was designing boats
for several different companies and shaping boards for Town
& Country Surf on the side. He eventually went to work for
Glenn Minami at Blue Hawaii Surf. He shaped there for many years
until the company was sold. He then shaped for Local Motion
until he passed away. Ernie shaped thousands of boards and played
a large part in developing the modern long board.
earned a beach boy status in Waikiki and loved every minute
of it. He enjoyed surfing Queens and Ala Moana with his friend’s,
guy’s like China Uemura, Reynolds Write, Cipy Cabato,
Paul Strauch Jr., Ben Aipa, Rabbit Kekai and many more. Ernie
lived a great life and was recognized as a living legend before
he died. Ernie is survived by daughter (Tammy) and son (Tommy)
who is carrying on the family shaping tradition.
We lost Ernie Tanaka last week, who passed away and was scattered
out at his favorite break, Queens Surf. He joins Duke K. and
a host of other famous Beach Boys like Blue Makua, et al, in
the lineup there, and leaves a son, Tommy. Ernie was 59 and
had survived a heart attack, but I am still trying to get information
on the exact cause as the heart attack frightened him into a
better life style, dropping from two packs to one pack, and
from portuguese sausage, spam, and rice to ham and eggs.
He was a great friend of Cy Carey and Turtle and came up to
California during our hot time in the 50's with Ken Tilton,
Terry Woodall, Alan Gomes, Paul Strauch, Chubby Mitchell, and
George Kapu. (I think we lost Kapu a couple of years ago when
his liver left his body). Ernie had some local friends he stayed
in touch with over the years, if you remember Kia Kenny, who
played music at the old Sip N Surf in Santa Monica Canyon and
Reno Abelliera, Sr. still chopping Haoles at his Karate studio
in Anaheim, as well as, Ron Kanemura, "Haga" with
whom I play volleyball every week at Corona Del Mar.
I remember many good "go outs" at Malibu, County Line,
and Topanga with Ernie, who got an engineering degree from UCLA
and taught swimming at the Tocaloma Club in Brentwood, when
he was here, and some great days at Tong's, Rice Bowl, and Suicides
with Kimo Austin Reno A. Jr., and Paul Strauch when I first
moved to the Islands.
Anyway, I will now be extra careful of my two Tanaka boards,
8'8" round tail mini-gun (my version of the short board
and an absolute rocket) and a 10' 9" "Publics Special";
Rabbit's brother, Jama Kekai, has the twin. We continue to be
in touch with our mortality.
Read your correspondence from Hugh Foster and was sad to hear
that Ernie Tanaka has passed from this world. He was one of
the special people who changed my way of looking at things many
years ago. In the water we'd jockey for waves but we'd also
talk a lot, especially on those slow days when sitting on the
beach made more sense than sitting on a surfboard. One day he
said, "That's the difference between the Western way of
looking at things and the Oriental way. The Westerner sees a
flower and says, "That's a beautiful flower. Let's take
it apart, analyze the various components and figure out how
it works." But an Oriental sees a flower and says, "That's
a beautiful flower."
also saved my ass one morning at Secos (or Arroyo Sequit). It
was in the days before surfer wet suits and it was bloody cold.
There was a big south swell with a brisk offshore wind and the
waves were peaking in front of the rock for incredible long
drop takeoffs and big, fast rides. I got an intense cramp in
one of my calve muscles between sets and the pain came on so
suddenly that I sorta panicked. Ernie paddled over to me, steadied
my board with both hands and calmly told me to stand up on my
board and put some weight on the leg. I did what he told me,
the cramp went away, and I learned a lesson that I never forgot.
But it was his calmness and care that I remember most.