Not a day goes by when I don’t think of you and feel that angelic energy boost that you give to my day. I picture your eyes squinting with laughter, a slight gold shimmer shining around your neck, and a little shoulder of shimmy as you excitedly take your next step. Picturing this is a daily reminder of the joy that surfing and building boards gave you. It’s also a reminder of your aloha. You were the most selfless giver I’ve ever known. Through your memory, I carry those lessons on my wings out in the surf and into my daily life on the shore.
When I was 15, green, and eyes filled with awe, our friend Mary Bagalso suggested you loan me one of your Cori Schumacher Gypsy models to ride for the summer in California. I’ll never forget the call I made from a payphone in Malibu after my first time on the board. I explained that I just had some of the best noserides of my life. You answered, “Looks like you’ll have to take that board home with you then.” I got the tingles from head to toe. Your gift was life-altering, and from that day forward you became my mentor.
At that time, you were sponsoring more women than I have fingers and toes. You graciously supplied some of the most sought-after boards in the world for us to continue our love story with the sea. You appreciated women’s surfing as much as you did men’s. Your Hawaiian Pro Designs team was one-of-a-kind, full of world champions, and incredibly talented humans, who all brought together by the magnetism of your aloha and surf-stoke. Your presence in all of our lives was magical, Donald. I’ve never been around anything like it.
You found such happiness in simple, obvious feedback from your boards. From team riders and customers alike, you have probably heard this a hundred times: “This is the best board I’ve ever ridden.” You found joy in giving your friends new boards with the simple hope of elevating their water experience. And elevate it you did.
Your excitement and engaging personality drew people from all corners of the globe to you, and you to them, forming a type of bond that gives greater meaning to life. Even something as routine as answering my phone call, you would say hello in at least three languages and then laugh. You carried this sense of magic and wonder that allowed you to know intricacies of design unlike any other human before or after you. And you moved your body in the ocean with that same fluidity and power.
Devon Howard, my favorite surfer for his simple, yet expressive surfing style, was also enormously influenced by you. We often have conversations about you. I recall one I recently shared with him. “Donald’s legacy lives on in all of us,” said Devon. “I don’t mean that because you can get his boards still, but we know that because his old crew is still building his amazing designs. Any customer, team rider, or friend that met him got to experience what true aloha is. I didn’t grow up in Hawaii so I didn’t know what that meant until I witnessed the hundreds of selfless acts from that man. Yes, he’s a major surfing legend and arguably the best board builder ever. But his best gift of all was showing us how to treat others.”
I often think about your endearing wife, Diane. I always admired the love and strength you two shared. It was perfect teamwork. Seeing love continually look fresh, new and adored, you two represented relationship masterfully.
I like to watch old surfing footage of you. I notice your chi energy is always in line. Like a Tai Chi master. In our last surf together, we climbed over the rocks at Bowls where you used to surf alone, free, and sometimes naked. You laughed and chuckled, as you recalled your childhood. Your mom took your shorts when you weren’t allowed to surf. But you didn’t care. The ocean caught you like it caught me.
Most of the time I got to spend with you was in the shaping bay. I watched you gallop lightly around your creation station. It was clear that mindfulness was matched by inexplicable intuition. Your shaping appeared effortless, although I could tell your eyes were still sharply focused.
I recently shaped my first surfboard. It has been a lifelong dream of mine—especially since knowing you. When the board first started taking form, the feeling of shaping felt strangely familiar. I felt your presence all around me and tears welled. I placed the planer down and said a prayer of gratitude to you for all your love and guidance. Then I heard your laugh. As I was finishing the board, I thought, “Would Donald say it’s straight?”… “Yeah, right,” I chuckled.
One of my heroes, Linda Benson, the first woman to ever surf Waimea at the age of 15, carries your legend, too. When I asked her about you, she said, “I, too, miss him daily. Friends since teenagers, he was my best surfing friend and confidant through all the trials of life – the good times and not so good times. As with many, his friendship and unending generosity was one of the greatest gifts of my life. For me and everyone else that loved him, he remains woven into the tapestry of our lives forever. How wonderful is that?”
DT, I’m so grateful to still feel your influence on my life every day. You inspire me to live life full of love and gratitude. I, along with many others, strive to humbly emulate you and your ability to live with true aloha. And as I ride that board we shaped together (in spirit), I will do my best to always share with others the same level of stoke you had for riding a few waves with your friends.