Editor’s Note: Disruptors is a series that examines the most groundbreaking–and in some cases, heart-wrenching–moments in surf and outdoor history.
Date: March, 2018
Location: Island of Oahu, Hawaii.
Moment: Instead of one single moment, George Downing will be remembered for his influence on surfing on a number of fronts over an extended period of time: he pushed the envelope in big surf at places like Makaha, created the first removable fin (an innovation that would be one of his most important), and was one of the first watermen to understand surf forecasting.
“It was an honor to surf on your call when #TheBayCallsTheDay for over two decades in #TheEddieAikau. You will be sorely missed and fondly remembered as a good guy and a great shaper and waterman (and even the first person to put a removable fin on a surfboard). Mahalo Nui Loa!.”
A lot of times, being first is an accolade handed out all too easily in the sporting world. But with George Downing, one of surfing’s true innovators, it’s a spot-on description. Downing was first because he was curious and carried a deep obsession to improve the sport he loved. He started by riding finless Redwood boards in the 1940s on Oahu where he was raised before many people knew what surfing was. In the 1950s he pushed the envelope of big wave riding before there was an envelope at places like Makaha, when Oahu’s North Shore was still a vast and dangerous wilderness full of unnamed possibilities. And he invented the first removable fin, a feature that would be utilized for generations to come.
Downing grew up surfing Waikiki–a place he worked hard to protect from unwanted development–and was one of the last living proteges of Duke Kahanamoku. He didn’t take that honor lightly, mentoring other young watermen who loved the ocean and everything it offered. But perhaps his greatest feat was creating the Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau at Waimea Bay, arguably one of the world’s most famous big wave contests that he oversaw for nearly 30 years. Surfing certainly has its cynical side these days. But George Downing will forever be remembered as one of the sport’s good guys. He was 87 years old.