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John Shimooka, known to friends, family, and admirers alike as “Shmoo,” passed away early on Monday morning. No details about the cause of his death have been officially released. He was 51.
“A talented former world tour surfer, commentator, Jiu-Jitsu black belt and General Manager of Partnerships for Surfing NSW since 2018, ‘Shmoo’ was a much-loved member of the global surfing community and the Surfing NSW family,” wrote Surfing NSW. “He will be remembered for his passion for the lifestyle as well as his energy and enthusiasm. Everyone in our organization joins his son, Brandon, immediate family, and his extended worldwide network of friends, in grieving his loss. It is our saddest day.”
According to those closest to him, Shimooka was a friend to nearly everyone he met. He was a force of personality, the warmest of humans in a cold sea. In the eighties, Shmoo was a prominent figure in pro surfing, standing shoulder to shoulder with people like Sunny Garcia, Matt Hoy, and Martin Potter. Shimooka was part of the hard-partying crowd that gave surfing the brash, loud, out-for-a-good time reputation. His personality took over any room that he found himself in.
By 1992, however, he dropped off tour. In California, he basically stopped surfing but continued to party. He, along with his wife Lisa, reportedly went through hard times for a few months. Then, Sunny Garcia called him, made him realize that he could get better, and convinced him to return to Hawaii. By 1995, he was back in shape, back on tour, and surfing at the top of his game.
After he retired from surfing a few years later, he took a job as a surf commentator. By 2000, he, Lisa, and their little boy Brandon were living full-time in Cronulla, Australia, where Shimooka took the position as Surfing NSW’s general manager. His “Shmoo-1-2” reports were a bit of light-hearted brightness that almost always brought a smile to the face of the person watching. He remained close with his extended surfing family.
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In 2019, however, Shmoo’s wife died of cancer. Then, his longtime friend Sunny Garcia attempted suicide. Those events rocked Shmoo to his core. “There’s not a day that goes by I don’t think of you two beautiful souls,” he wrote on Instagram at the time. “I love you both so much and look forward to seeing you at some point. Sunny when we go surfing someday soon and Lisa when god says so.”
According to reports, Shimooka was planning on a return to Hawaii in December.
His death has sparked an outpouring of grief, love, and messages of support from all over the world. “My heart’s ripped out,” Kelly Slater wrote on Instagram. “I’m sorry, Shmoo. I thought we had this.”
Our thoughts go out to Shmoo’s family, friends, and anyone affected by his tragic passing.