Legends live on after the last wave
Friday, May 26, was the last day. After 83 years of life, love, art, creativity, adventures, friendships and waves, John Severson looked out to the sea in Napili for the last time.
A Maui resident for almost half-a-century, Severson made his mark not just on Maui Nei, but on the world. He filmed and toured some of the first surf videos at high school auditoriums throughout Southern California; he founded and published the first major national surf magazine, and the best known; he painted idyllic seascapes of country soul surf dreams, which on Maui was often just painting what he saw in his backyard.
He was a member of the first generation of the scions of surf culture, taking his rightful place as an ali’i of the sport among people like John Kelly, Steve Pezman and Drew Kampion. He was respected, beloved and admired for his integrity, artistic vision and stoke.
Severson loved Maui. In the early 1970s, he fled Orange County – a place overheating with the culture wars, fast-paced Mainland development and the arrival of the Richard Nixon compound at Severson’s favorite surf spot – for the tradewinds, friendly lineups and aloha of Maui. Here he created art, raised his daughters and relished his granddaughters, and rode the world-class surf of West Maui.
Severson was an artist, and his life was his masterpiece. May the spirit of this intelligent, creative and deep soul live on in West Maui and in the surfing culture that he helped create.
Saturday, May 27, was a day of legends. The 40th annual Kimo’s Longboard Contest (dedicated to the memory of John Severson) was held at the classic reef-edge setup at Mala Wharf. This is simply the most fun contest you can ever witness. The rules are these: one fin, no leash, the board must be at least nine feet long, and the top two old school (toes on the nose) rides will be scored the best.
Fifty-four competitors (this year four women, a handful of teenagers, and the rest men and masters) vied for stylistic supremacy at glassy, roping, four-foot, down the line, flawless Mala Wharf. The swell arrived right at the peak of the King Tides, which meant that the reef was drained to .5 feet below sea level in the morning, and it filled in to 2.4 feet above sea level in the afternoon, pumping a watery surge into the waves that made for an epic final heat.
I entered the contest humbly, fully aware that this contest gathers together much of the best surfing talent on the island. As I scanned the heat draws, I felt privileged just to be in the water with this crew: noseriding maestro Eric Casco, cross-stepping phenom Johnny Pitzer, Hawaiian soul stylist Kalei Kauhane, heels on the nose shredder Matt Passamonte, waterman and SUP surfing world champion Zane Schweitzer, 62-year-old style king Albert Jenks, precision performance surfer Mau Ah Hee, Honolua Underground shaper Mark Anderson, surf yogi Casey Casco. The list goes on. The whole eight-hour production is a community contest and a labor of love.
Doug Pitzer and his crew at Pitzer Built constructed the judging tower, essential so that the judges can perch high and watch closely all of the tricks and maneuvers of the competitors. Rodney Kilborn ran his jet-ski in the channel to provide water safety. Most importantly, Kimo’s Manager Jack Starr was the conductor, providing shirts, prizes, coordination, food, drink and hilarious commentary all day long.
My performance was slightly humiliating this year, as I pearl-dived and lost a loaner board in my first heat. My second heat, I found my groove long enough to race three waves all the way to Mala Pier, racing to the front of my board, cutting back and trimming my line. By the quarterfinals I fell apart, choosing the wrong waves, missing the right ones, and being generally outclassed by my competitors.
But what fun! For 40 years, the Kimo’s Longboard Contest has brought community, style and tradition to the West Side surfing tribe. Surfers will talk about this day all year long – the rides, the tricks, the risks, the fun.
The day after the passing of one of our cherished ali’i, John Severson, it was especially comforting for the surf community to be together, to remember those who have passed on and to cherish the incomparable beauty of a legendary day of surf in Maui with friends.