My Greatest Influences
November 1, 2017
My grandfather was a really good man. Growing up, he had a property in Kaneohe where we all lived and in the back of that property was a pig farm. There, he grew fruit and papaya. From the age of nine, and all the way through high school, I would go down and work the farm; after school until the early evening.
It wasn’t easy work by any means. I’d go to the supermarkets and pick up disregarded produce that I could cook and prepare as food for the pigs. I fed them. I cleaned their stalls. After those tasks were completed, I would harvest fruits and bananas and prepare them to be sold to the market the next day. It was full on manual labor, and something I could have easily done without at the time.
What I didn’t come to realize until later in life was that my grandfather was teaching me the value of work ethic. He stressed hard work above everything else. “Whatever you do, always do it 100%. Never go half. Go full heart into it,” he would say. If he saw me slacking, he would rip into me.
My grandfather never finished the 3rd grade. Despite his lack of a formal education, he ran a successful plumbing business, acquired properties and even built a few apartment buildings. It was amazing what he was able to accomplish with the little education he had. I think it was his commitment to a strong work ethic that drove his success and that’s something that I have taken and applied to my own life. Work. Surf. Play. I put 100% into everything I do.
My Brother, Kerry Tokoro
Kerry is one of the most talented guys with his hands that I have ever known. The way he can get lines even and symmetrical… I don’t think I’m nearly as good as he is when it comes to shaping.
Even though he’s two years younger than me, I learned a lot from Kerry growing up. He shaped his first board in 1985, and when he did, I thought to myself, “Oh yeah. That looks fun.” From that point on, we started building boards together.
Kerry eventually got a job at HIC as a laminator, but soon after he started shaping for them as well. Whenever he came home after shaping at the factory he would tell me what he learned and share tips with me. Twenty years later, Kerry and I still work together. He runs the machine here, and still shapes boards for HIC.
I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to do what I love with my brother. Kerry taught me the importance of collaboration and I would not be where I am today without having worked together with him all these years.
Glenn used to run a surf shop in town where I found myself often hanging out in the mid-eighties. I had a friend who worked there, and having shaped a few boards on my own I felt confident in asking Glenn if he needed a shaper to help him with his Blue Hawaii label. He told me to bring a shaped blank down to the shop so he could check it out.
Excited, I ran down and handed Glenn what I thought was a pretty good shape. After checking out the board, he looked at me and said, “Oh. Ok. Why don’t you come back in six months or so?” I guess it wasn’t good enough!
Glenn is a super talented shaper. Every shaper sees things differently, but he’s pretty advanced in how he looks at boards. Despite the rejection, he was kind enough to give me some parting advice before I left.
After fine tuning my work, I went back six months later with another shaped blank. This time, I got the response I was looking for. “Ok, this is good. You can start working for us,” Glenn told me.
So, in 1987, I officially started working for Blue Hawaii Surfboards. I would go in early in the morning to use Glenn’s shaping room, before he would get in because all the other shaping rooms were taken. I wasn’t the fastest shaper. I would hand shape maybe one to two boards a day, but I did them right and I made the best boards that I could.
And Glenn encouraged that. He was really good at detail and stressed excellence and quality. While he never rejected any of the boards I shaped, he was always great about pointing out ways that I could become a better shaper.
I don’t see Glenn often these days, but we run into each other every now and then. He shapes on the south shore, and I’m mostly out on the windward side and north shore. When we do see each other though, it’s great to catch up and I always leave reminded of the meticulousness that he taught me during my time at Blue Hawaii.
In the early 1990’s, Tony was the captain of the Local Motion surf team. At the same time, I had decided to stop shaping and leave Blue Hawaii so that I could go back to school and focus on my education.
Tony saw me surfing one day and asked if I wanted to join the team. It was stacked with local standouts like Brian Pacheco and Kalani Robb, so I agreed to join but would ride my own boards that I shaped for myself. No shaper logo; just plain white boards.
Soon after I joined, the other team riders beagn asking me to shape boards for them as well, including Tony. Next thing you know, I’m shaping boards again! Then the shops started asking me to put boards on their racks, and it just all snowballed from there. None of this was intentional, but it ended up being a turning point for me to devote my time to shaping. I really owe it all to Tony for asking me to be on the team.
Beyond getting the opportunity to shape again, Tony ended up being an amazing influence on my life outside of surfing. He was always a great role model to me and the other guys; super positive and always showed Aloha. He was a little older than us, had surfed in the Eddie and charged big waves. Tony was also a Christian and a believer, so we would always say a prayer before we went out and trained. Needless to say, we all looked up to him like an uncle.
I’ve had the opportunity to shape for some really great guys from all over the world. Sunny Garcia, Mick Fanning and Jamie O are just a few of them that come to mind when I think about the people that have come into my life.
Sunny has always stood up for what he believes in and was never afraid to fight for it. I admire him for that and try to live my life standing up for the things I believe in as well. Sometimes the media portrays a different side of the story, but if you know Sunny, you know he’s a guy who believes strongly about principles.
Mick is just a really good person and is so much more than just a surfer or world champ. He’s a solid guy with a really good heart. I think he gets it from his family; his mom especially. He’s a great example of the man you can grow to become when you are surrounded by such positive family and friends.
Jamie O is super smart about surfing Pipe. I’ve surfed out at Pipe for a long time, maybe even before he did. However, Jamie thinks about Pipe differently than the average surfer. The things he would tell me about Pipe I had never thought of before. Swell direction, the reef, the lineup. I was amazed at his attention to the little details he shared with me, and through that I was really able to dial in Pipe boards for him and many others.
Beyond the shaper-surfer relationship, I value the friendships that I’ve formed with these guys and so many others along the way.
When I look back at these moments and the relationships I’ve made, I feel lucky and fortunate to have had such positive influences in my life over the years. World championships, money, fame, titles… all of these accomplishments are secondary. Life is short. Once it’s over, the only thing that matters is the type of person you were, how you treated people, and the love that you shared with others. All that other stuff will be in the wind. Aloha!