Legendary Laura now Lahaina’s own
LAHAINA — She was the first woman in the world to win money in a surfing contest. Bosomy with a great figure, she posed surfing in the buff for Playboy magazine for a three-page feature. Her illustrious father, Lord James Blears — his real name, not a title — advised her to “go for it.”
She was a Smirnoff vodka girl, posing in a white swimsuit on a surfboard for a promotional poster sent to every bar in the islands.
She appeared for three straight years on ABC’s Wide World of Sports’ “Challenge of the Sexes” as well as its “Superstars,” competing with the likes of NFL football star Dick Butkus and others.
She appeared on “What’s My Line,” a popular network show in the 1960s, whose panel members had to guess the profession of guests. Nobody figured out that Laura was a world-class surfer.
On Waikiki Beach, she became a beach boy favorite as a little girl, learning, helping them, surfing alongside her father, a professional wrestling champion, world-class surfer in his own right and survivor of a World War II merchant ship sinking at sea.
She is Lahaina’s Laura Blears, formerly Laura Blears Ching and Laura Blears Cody, who has been the “hostess with the mostest” at Kimo’s on Front Street for the last ten of her 29 years there.
To the amusement and delight of a few of her younger male and female colleagues, she recently showed them the Playboy spread and even autographed a copy for this columnist.
Lord James “Tally Ho” Blears, born in Manchester, England, survived the torpedo attack on his ship and a long dip in the sea, returning unfazed to England.
He soon was traveling the globe as a world wrestling champion, performing with notorious television wrestler Gorgeous George and pioneering a “wild-hair” look. Then a wrestling tour led him to Hawaii.
Like many who touched these shores, he vowed to return, because, Laura said, he liked “the people, the weather and the ocean.”
Given a chance once to move to often-frigid Minneapolis to make a lot of money and become a big time wrestling promoter, he said no — “I want to live in Waikiki.” Soon, he and his Italian wife and family became a fixture on the world-famous beach. And then the champion wrestler became a champion surfer.
Over eggs and ahi at breakfast recently at Duke’s on North Beach, Laura reminisced about the saga of her father, Waikiki in the 1950s and her more than 50 years of surfing on Oahu and Maui.
When her father jumped into the water when his ship was sunk, Laura relates, “he swam for hours and found the wreckage… he swam and swam and found a table they actually used to play cards on.”
After being taken aboard a Japanese submarine, “he jumped overboard when he saw other prisoners’ heads being cut off with a sword.
“My dad brought us over here in the early ’50s. We lived right next to the Duke’s statue on Waikiki Beach,” Laura continued.
Kalakaua Avenue — now a tony shopping area with a beach; it used to be a beach with some shopping — “was a two-way street. We were in the old Judge Steiner’s building. It had the very first surf shop in Hawaii underneath. (It’s owner) was a friend and moviemaker. He made one of the first surf movies called ‘Slippery When Wet,’ ” Laura said.
“We started surfing when we were little kids. All the beach boys took us out. (Years later), I took my son, Dylan, on a surfboard before he was a year old. We surfed every day. The beach boys would take us surfing all the way out to the break. We would stand up with them — even did tandem surfing on top of their shoulders while the man is surfing on the wave. I competed in that when I was 14 years old.
“My father became a surfing champion. He surfed in competitions. We all surfed in competitions; it was just a way of life. My dad would say, ‘You feel like doing something and it is fun, let’s go to do it!’ “
And that’s just what Laura did. The rest of the story, in this limited space, requires a Hana Hou.