Laura: From famous surfer to ‘Hostess with The Mostest’
LAHAINA — For those of us who do not indulge, the surfing experience is confined to marveling at the skills of those riding swells. What better person to ask what this is like than Laura Blears, once named the world’s top amateur woman surfer.
Now, to thousands over the years, she is known as the “Hostess with the Mostest” at Kimo’s on Front Street.
Laura’s story, begun in the last column, continues with Waikiki, a place she said still has its magic.
“As a little girl, I used to surf against the boys, because there were no girl surfers,” she began.
When not on boards, Laura, before she was ten, paddled in canoes and rode on catamarans.
“As little kids, we helped the beach boys when they needed an extra paddler. They didn’t even have to say Laura and Carol. They just waved their hands and we jumped in. It was just a way of life,” she said.
Encouraged to surf by her father, Lord James Blears, known to beach boys as Tally Ho, Laura entered her first competition at 12. She lost. To seek comfort, she remembers running to a beach towel shack and crying.
The famous seamstress there was named Take (pronounced Ta-Kay). She used to make all the surfers shorts. No other surf company made them to order.
“I ended up being asked by surfing legend Fred Hemmings (later for 26 years a state legislator) to enter my very first contest for money. My brother was a finalist in that very first pro contest,” she recalled.
Laura was an alternate, but the next year she was a real participant.
“It was billed as ‘325 men and Laura.’ That was the advertising. I beat one guy in my heat, but I never advanced. And I never ended up on the circuit,” she said.
Against women, however, she had at least ten wins.
“When you are on the board, you forget about everything,” Laura noted. To be a surfer “requires desire, a love of swimming and the ocean, and balance and agility. If you want to do it, you can do it. It is such a good feeling to be able to dance on the waves.
“My Dad used to surf 365 day a year, with surf or without surf. He didn’t just practice when there was surf. You have to do it a lot. You just have to keep practicing.“
Thirty-two years ago, surfing in Waikiki mostly gave way to parenting, working and surfing on Maui after she moved here with her first husband, Bonn Ching.
A while later she joined Kimo’s as a cocktail waitress, just five years after the now-famous restaurant opened. For years, she carried heavy plates and water pitchers.
“We were trained that you go out with your hands full and in with your hands full,” she explained. The years there have flown by, because she loves it so much, she said. Eventually, her wrists gave out with carpal tunnel syndrome.
By now, she believes, she would have been in management if she had not damaged her wrists.
“Managers work very hard. They bus tables, bring out dinners, carry the ice buckets along with their management duties,” she added. Though Laura completed half of a 100-point training program, she gave it up knowing that her wrists would not handle the strain.
About a decade ago, she put away her waitress outfit and was named by then-General Manager Ron LaClergue as “Miss Aloha,” assigned to rove around tables and chat with diners. She was so good at it, she was moved to the hostess stand, where she has been ever since.
Son Dylan, who used to walk from Sacred Hearts School to meet his mom at Kimo’s, grew up to be a surfer with amazing ability and agility to ride the curl, Laura said.
One of his first jobs was busing tables at Kimo’s sister restaurant, Leilani’s in Whalers Village. Today he is general manager of T S Restaurants’ very popular Dukes in Waikiki.
Laura, at 60, still surfs when she can between hosting at Kimo’s, teaching water aerobics and managing a condo for a friend. She also frequently visits her Dad, now 87, in Oahu. He gave up surfing years ago.
Each August, she returns to her old beach haunts to appreciate the annual Duke Kahanamoku Oceanfest. For four years running, she said, Kimo’s has paid the $2,500 entry fee for the surf contest.
Rather than surf with friends, she brought colleagues from work. One year, they took second place.
“You should go,” she told this columnist. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.
Columnist’s Notes: Loquacious Laura is the only person this columnist has ever asked to stop talking. The sound bites and her family and life — all worth repeating — kept coming. Not enough space. Oh well… there’s always 2012.