“The Surfers’ Hall of Fame is proud to honor George Downing one of the great pioneers of big-wave surfing, leaders of our sport, and major force in preserving oceans, reefs, waves and beaches. George is an ambassador to our sport of Surfing, a Legend and is true Surf Royalty,” said Surfers’ Hall of Fame founder, Aaron Pai. “We are thrilled to be able to thank George Downing for his contributions and achievements to our surfing world and stoked that he will be here for his induction into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame!”
Downing was born in 1930 and raised in Honolulu. He began surfing Waikiki at age nine and spent his teen years living with Wally Froiseth, one of the sport’s original big wave riders and co-creator of the Hot Curl surfboard. As the youngest in a group of World War II-era surfers that included Froiseth, John Kelly and Fran Heath, Downing was in on many of the earliest forays into big wave riding. Froiseth introduced Downing to the big surf at Makaha and later he was among the first to ride Laniakea on the North Shore and Maui’s Honolua Bay.
In a time before surf trips even existed, George sailed to California and spent two months in 1947 surfing up and down the coast. An unfortunate collision with the Malibu pier damaged the nose section of his board, but led him to learn about new materials called fiberglass and resin from a like-minded designer—the enigmatic Bob Simmons. Upon his return to Hawaii, Downing continued a systematic approach to gaining the knowledge that would allow him and his friends to ride ever-larger surf.
A keen student of weather and its impact on swell formation, Downing blended this knowledge with surfboard theory and construction. He not only created one of the earliest quivers with subtle variations in length, rocker and volume, but in 1950, produced the first board for truly big surf, and it soon became the template for all serious surfers. While the Hot Curl was finless, Downing’s 10-foot “Rocket” had the first removable fin. George and others like Walter Hoffman and Buzzy Trent, cracked first the 20, then 30-foot barrier at Makaha riding the innovative Rocket.
As a competitor, George won the Makaha International in 1954, 1961 and 1965, finished seventh at the 1965 World Championships and second at the 1967 Duke. He coached the Hawaiian team to victory in the 1968 World Surfing Championships and set numerous paddling records from 100 yards to one mile. As a businessman George Downing created the venerable Downing Surfboards, which his son Keone continues, and has worked to prevent the corporatization of the Waikiki beach concessions.
Mentor to dozens of Hawaiian surfers over the years, Downing also worked as one of the famed Waikiki beachboys for more than three decades. The longtime contest director of the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau event, George Downing holds an important place in surfing culture.