Editor’s Note: Welcome to the third installment of our INSPIRED Series, presented by Cobian’s Every Step Matters (ESM) initiative. This series looks at compelling moments, people, and places that inspire athletes to do what they do, that in turn inspire us. Learn how, by choosing Cobian footwear, you can make a positive impact and enrich the lives of others at Every Step Matters.
It’s hard to keep Sumo talking about himself for too long. He’d much rather discuss the community in Huntington Beach that defines him. I’m sitting in The Inertia offices in Venice. Sumo’s talking to me from Hawaii. We would have met in HB, but he was back where he grew up to undergo another round of chemotherapy for stage four colon cancer. Talking to him, you wouldn’t know it. He’s jovial. Upbeat.
Despite growing up in Huntington Beach, this is my first conversation with Blaine Sato – known around the world simply as Sumo. A perennial figure on the North Side of HB pier, and a local pastor, Sumo’s an institution in Surf City.
He’s also unmistakable. A long, white, wispy beard descends from his chin – the kind that grows in length and turns whiter not with age but with wisdom and life experience. And with a shaved head and a bulldog build, it’s not difficult to determine the origin of his nickname.
If you’ve strolled along Main Street once or twice, or gotten a surf in at the pier, you’ve likely seen the man – probably grinning widely, as is his custom – maybe on his longboard.
For years, Sumo’s been the unofficial chaplain of the surf community in Huntington Beach. He’s led local paddle-outs following tragic loss, and been a singular voice to addicts, the homeless, and the vulnerable.
“I never thought my life would go this way, to tell you the truth,” he says. “Growing up in Hawaii, my parents used to bring people in, you know homeless people and stuff, and I didn’t think I’d ever be like that. Now, I’m a spitting image of my parents.”
Sumo’s mission, in particular, is to connect with the youth. “We all know stories in our industry of our heroes’ dark paths,” he says. “And it’s so sad that they don’t have someone they can talk to. In the last two weeks I dealt with four suicides. All young men. To me that’s four too many.”
The path that led Sumo to Huntington Beach was a winding one. Back in Hawaii, in his youth, Sumo got immersed in what he explains rather cryptically as the “local culture.” In truth, it was a drug-infused darkness that caused him to leave Hawaii and ultimately settle in Southern California. He ultimately found God – a transformative moment that would alter his life’s trajectory completely.
Now, his journey has brought him to a place where he leads a congregation, preaching with authority. “The people that come to our church are the people you wouldn’t expect to go to church. That’s who I attract.”
Being an ambassador for Cobian’s Every Step Matters campaign, he says, is fitting. “I think the fact that I ended up in Huntington Beach, that I’m talking to you, none of it’s coincidence. It’s God-incidence.”
Not to mention, quite literally, Sumo walks from door to door on any given day, on a mission to make himself known by anyone in the community that might need a helping hand or someone to talk to. “I used to do 40 houses a day,” he says. “I used to do them in an hour and a half. Just [knock, knock], ‘Hi, my name’s Sumo and I’m a pastor here,’ give them my card and tell them if there’s anything they ever need to call me… You know, so in that sense, yeah, every step does matter.”
I mentioned that Sumo has cancer. Over the course of our conversation, he makes only two references to it, and that’s with prodding. “The way I see it, I don’t have cancer, cancer has me,” he says. Fighting words. He also discloses to me that while stage 4 cancer patients typically have a 5% chance of living, his doctors have told him he’ll soon be in remission. Incredible news.
From then on, Sumo continues to describe the importance of the community around him; the collection of people that breathe meaning into his life and give him strength; the same community that inducted him into the Surfing Hall of Fame alongside legends like Shaun Tomson, Andy Irons, and Tom Carroll this year during the U.S. Open. The level of support he’s received from Surf City at large is a testament to the man.
But in Sumo’s terms, it’s all quite simple. “I love this city,” he says. “And I want to make it good.”
Editor’s note: As Sumo continues to receive cancer treatment, our friends at Cobian want to help relieve some of the financial burden. That’s why 100% of the proceeds from Cobian sandals will be donated to Sumo and his family if you enter 4SUMO at checkout online.