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George Downing
George Downing (1930-2018)
George Downing was born in 1930 and raised in Honolulu, beginning surfing at Waikiki aged nine, and tutored by Wally Foiseth.
He shaped his first redwood board in 1949 and was one of the original designers of the Hot Curl, a fin-less board with a deep vee in the tail, the original big wave gun.
On a visit to California in 1947, Downing was introduced to the use fibreglass and resin by Bob Simmons, and on his return to Hawaii is accredited with the first removal fin-box.
An innovative board shaper, Dow­ning Surfboards in Kaimuki was known to generations of surf champions and world class shapers.

During the 1950s George Downing was among the first to surf +20 feet waves at Makaha and pioneered the famed breaks of the North Shore and Maui's Honolua Bay.
As a competitor, he set numerous paddling records from 100 yards to one mile, and the won the Makaha International in 1954, 1961 and 1965.
finished seventh at the 1965 World Championships in Peru, second in the 1967 Duke Contest and was at the forefront of the so-called Short-board Revolution in Hawaii.
He lead the
Hawaiian team at the 1968 World contest in Puerto Rico Surfing Championships, and at the 1970 World Contest in Australia George accompanied his eldest son, Keone, who came sixth in the final at Johanna.

In the mid-1970s, George Downing was one of the innovators of the short-lived points-for-manoeuvre format (also known as the Hang Ten, or objective system) introduced at some contests on an emerging world circuit, later evolving into the International Surfing Professionals (IPS) under the direction of Fred Hemmings and Randy Rarick, 1976-1983.
Downing  appeared in Surfing Hollow Days (1962), Gun Ho (1963), Search for Surf (1958), The Endless Summer (1966), Legends of Malibu (1987) and Great Waves (1999) and was inducted into the Huntington Beach Walk of Fame.
In an extended introduction to ABCTV's coverage of the 1968 Duke Contest, titled Duke Kahanamoku's World of Surfing, Downing presented an overview of developments in surfboard design from solid wood to foam boards.
He describes and rides a vintage fin-less timber board for the cameras, and details the recent trend to smaller and more manoeuvrable surfboards, as illustrated by his +8ft pintail with a high aspect fin. 

Decades before the surf-forecasting was digitalised, Downing's studies of weather, swell formation, and his intimate knowledge local conditions, along with years of competitive experience, ensured his reputation as Oahu's premier contest director, appointed to run
the prestigious Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau contest in 1985.
An active member of the Outrigger Canoe Club, he worked as one of the famed Waikiki beachboys for over three decades and as an early member of Save Our Surf, a local grass-roots environmental organisation, later leading its advocacy and educational work after the death of founder John Kelly.
Remarkably, George Downing is said to be absent from Nat Young's The History of Surfing (1983).
On the final page of the book he notes:
George Downing has been omitted from The History of Surfing at his request although he has played a significant part in the sport.
This proved to be impossible; apart from featuring in several photographs, George Downing was named as one of the riders in “Scoop” Tsuzuki's famous 1950s photograph of large Makaha Point.
With the publication of the Revised Edition in 1994, George's request was thereafter replaced with Nat's dedication to Tom Blake, who died in May that year.

Also see:
Duke Kahanamoku and George Downing Talking Surfboard Design From Wood To Foam, 1968.
From ABC TV: Duke Kahanamoku's World of Surfing, 1968.
Encyclopedia Of Surfing
Surfer Magazine
Downing Surfboards

Wally Froiseth (left) and George Downing,
Waikiki, 1949.

Wally Froiseth gluing up a laminated blank, Honolulu, late 1940s.
George Downing assisting.


Photograph: Wally Froiseth
Nat's History, page 67.
 George Downing's Rocket, 10ft x 20" - 1952.
Laminated balsa wood blank with three redwood stringers, fibre-glassed,
fin-box, fitted timber and fibre-glassed fin.


The Rocket's
Fin-box, 1952.
Photograph: Marshall Crum


Ross Tanaki, Wally Froiseth, and
George Downing,
Hot Curls at Malibu, 1947.
Nat's History, page18.

George Downing,
Walter Hoffman

and Buzzy Trent,
Makaha, 1952.

 Wally Froiseth,
John Kelly,

and George Downing,

John Kelly,
Wally Froiseth,
and George Downing,


Woody Brown, Buzzy Trent and George Downing, Makaha Point, 1953.
Photo by “Scoop” Tsuzuki.

In a chapter titled Big Waves - Big Guns in his History of Surfing (1983), Nat Young credits the photograph as inspiring the now annual winter pilgrimage to the North Shore:
About the winter of 1955 a San Francisco paper published a front page photograph of three surfers screaming across a giant Makaha Point wave; they were George Downing, Wally Froiseth and Woody Brown.
That shot blew everyone away, all up and down the coast.
Keen surfers had already seen Bud Browne's early surfing movies of big-wave riding in Hawaii, but seeing that shot in a mass-circulation paper made everyone realise what Hawaii could hold in store for them.
After that every winter, about November, a crew of Californian surfers made the pilgrimage to Hawaii with the intention of riding waves at Sunset Beach and Makaha.

Note the date as 1955, and
Wally Froiseth instead of Buzzy Trent.

Also note that the image is slightly misleading; in framing to the left,
Tsuzuki has significantly enhanced the wave height.

George Downing after winning the 6-mile main event of the
Diamond Head Surf Board Paddling championship,1953.

George Downing, Makaha, 1954.
Surfer Magazine Archives.

Downing Gun Fin
Wood and fibreglass
10 x 8 b @ 2 inches (approximation)
George Downing Surfboards, Hawaii.
Ed and Randi Economy Collection
" of ten shaped by George Downing and was his personal board.
Stripes on fin were used to identify boards that went out to sea as these were pre-leash days.
This was a common occurrence at Sunset beach in the early 1960 's."

Blackburn, page 73.

George Downing, Makaha Contest, 1961.

Waikiki Surf Club Presents
9th Annual International Surfing Championships.
Makaha Beach, January 6-7 and 13-14, 1962.

 The program included a map of Makaha Point on page 6,
with the location of the judges stands and marker buoys,
subject to surf conditions.

It also included an advertisement
for Hobie Surfboards
with photographs of Hobie Alter and his agent in Honolulu,
George Downing.


Hobie Surfboards' agent in Honolulu, George Downing, Makaha, 1961.

Design by International Surfing Champion
George Downing

1964 George Downing Champion – Delux Model 11′ 0″
Serial number 21708
2″ balsa redwood t-band stringer
light blue pigment competition stripes
rising sun multi-laminated wood fin.
Semi-finalists: Joey, Cabell, Felipe Pomar,
George Downing, Midget Farrelly.

1965 World Contest, Peru.
Punta Rocas,
20-21 February.

George Downing and Ken Adler,
Punta Rocas, 1965.

On the way from Lima to Punta Rocas,
George's board is
in the back of the truck.

All photographs by John Severson
Surfer,Volume 6 Number 2, March 1965.
Board portrait courtesy of Fred Hemmings.
Makaha Contest, 1965.
Photographs by Bill Cleary.

... this ripple crowded with five surfers was typical of the waves during
preliminaries of the Makaha International.
That's George Downing, number 5, who picked up his third Makaha title.

Makaha Final, 1965 ?)

Duke and Makaha Contests, 1965.
Surfer, Volume 7 Number 1, March 1966

Duke Kahanamoku with 1965 Duke Contest Invitees.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 1965.

Left to right: Felipe Pomar, George Downing, Mike Doyle, and Fred Hemmings, Jr.

Joey Cabell and George Downing, Haleiwa, 1967.
Photo: Leroy Grannis.

George Downing, Sunset- Haleiwa (?), 1967.

Wally Froiseth, John Kelly, and George Downing, 1989.

John Kelly, Wally Froiseth, George Downing, 1989.

The Downings - Keone, Kainoa, & George, 2000.

Woody Brown, Buzzy Trent and George Downing, Makaha Point, 1953.
Photo by “Scoop” Tsuzuki.

Rotated to the right, the line of white-water is now horizontal.

Objective Methods of Judging Surfing.
In the mid-1970s, George Downing was one of the innovators of the short-lived points-for-manoeuvre format (also known as the Hang Ten, or objective system) introduced at some contests on an emerging world circuit, later evolving into the International Surfing Professionals (IPS) under the direction of Fred Hemmings and Randy Rarick, 1976-1983.

This was not the first attempt to quantify surfing performance; at Makaha in the late 1950s-early 1960s, length-of-ride was highly rewarded by the judges; each ride judged out of 30 points for distance and out of 10 points for performance.
Commenting on the 1964 contest, Wally Froiseth explained stressing distance encouraged contestants to really turn on - ride the wave from outside, cut back from the
outside buoy and hot-dog until they reach the inside turning buoy near the shore.

Map of Makaha Point Contest Area.

In 1965, Tom Morey's Noseriding Contest used a stopwatch, timing the surfer when riding on the front 25% of the board.

At the beginning of 1966, the Hawaiian Surfing Association contest rules allocated a pre-set point spread for Takeoff, Ride, Cutout, and Style; and later that year Tom Morey, as President of the USSA, proposed two alternate contest formats:
Timed rules simply accumulated the time a competitor spent standing on the board.
Paired eliminations matched just two surfers in the water one at a time.
The Paired elimination format was resurrected by Peter Drouyn
as the Man-on-Man system for the first Stubbies Contest at Burleigh Heads in March 1977, won by Michael Peterson.

Under George Downing's objective system each manoeuvre was allocated a specific score, which increased with a larger wave height, in four sizes, tube rides scored on wave height and time in seconds.
In a hang-over from the 1965, points were allocated for a hang-five, hang-ten, and a stretch-five, also calculated on wave height and time in seconds.
As surfboards had radically shrunk in length and volume since 1967, by the 1970s nose riding had all but disappeared from progressive surfing.
Similarly, points were also awarded for a side-slip (deliberating disengaging the fin from the wave face) and the associated helicopter-360; the technique was popular for a brief period in 1969,
although judges at the 1970 World Contest were directed not to score such manoeuvres.
Interestingly, the technique returned to progressive surfing at the end of the 20th century, initially employed in the recovery after surfers had left the wave face and taken to the air.

The objective system was only used at two Hawaiian contests, under George's direction, but was used more widely in Australia; first trialled at the
1973 Rip Curl Easter Bells Beach Contest.
The contest was won by Michael Petersen; junior competitor Mark Richards recalling that MP had a copy of the official points system taped to the dashboard in his car.
It was used again at the next Bells Contest, the
1974 Coke 2SM Surfabout, and the 1975 Bells, and all won by Petersen.
The system was widely criticised, notably by World Champions Nat Young and Fred Hemmings, and it had disappeared by the end of the 1970s.
Points Allocation for the Bells Beach Contest, Easter 1975.

However, twenty years later another attempt was made to quantify surfing performance with the K2 Big Wave Challenge.
Held over twelve months, 1997-1998, competitors submitted
photographs for the judges, professional surf photography experts and experienced big wave surfers, to measure the tallest waves in the objective categories.
First place in the K2, and  $50,000, was awarded to Taylor Knox for riding a 52ft wave at Todos Santos.
This was followed by the XXL Big Wave Awards, the contest period March to March, now under the banner of the World Surf League Big Wave Award.
The first XXL Biggest Wave Award (2000-2001) went to Mike Parsons, who towed into a wave at Cortes Bank measured at 66 feet on the face.
The following year a Big Wave Paddle Award was instituted (as distinct from tow-in), won by Paul “Antman” Paterson at Waimea Bay.
In 2011-2012, Garrett McNamara towed into a 78ft  wave at Nazaré, Portugal.
The Big Wave Awards have grown to include seven categories.

Many thanks to Fred Hemmings and Garry Lynch for their contributions and assistance.

Waikiki Surf Club:
9th Annual International Surfing Championships
Makaha Beach,1962, page 6.

Tracks  #53 February 1975.

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Geoff Cater (2018) : Surfer : George Downing.