David Nuuhiwa

by Glenn Sakamoto on January 26, 2010 · 16 comments

David Nuuhiwa is a Hawaiian-born surfer who is famous for both his smooth style and incredible noseriding abilities. A competitive surfer, Nuuhiwa was regarded as the finest surfer of the ‘60s and who easily made the transition to shortboards in the ‘70s. We caught up with David to talk about surfing, style, and Hendrix.

What was it like growing up in the islands?
Back in that time, it was unreal. There were no big hotels and Waikiki used to be a place of just tiny cottages up and down Kuhio Avenue. There was a handful of us in the water back then. Surfing wasn’t very popular among us kids at the time, but we always looked up to the Waikiki Beach Boys. They were all really good surfers. Sadly, a lot of them are gone now.

Do you remember the first time you were standing on a board?
Oh, yeah! It wasn’t really a surfboard; it was actually a skimboard. We used to do it right there at the wall in front of Waikiki over there by Queens. I would do the paipo board thing right after school. I would go down there and catch waves along the wall and ride in on my belly. Then we started to stand up on those things until we moved on to surfboards. My first surfboard was a balsa board. Man, it was so heavy we had to drag it down to the water.

What brought you to the mainland?
My family moved to Northern California, not too far from San Francisco. After living in Hawaii for nearly 12 years of my life, here I was, an innocent little kid wearing shorts, an aloha shirt, and a lei in the dead of winter! (Laughs) Later, I wanted to go surfing and I didn’t even own a wetsuit. I couldn’t believe the difference in the water. It was shocking! I was in the water for about four or five waves and I was done.

You lived in the South Bay?
Eventually, I ended up living in Hermosa Beach. I used to hang out with Donald Takayama, Dewey Weber, Grant Reynolds, and Iggy. They were all superstars back then. I eventually got used to the cold water, and even the girls with their beehive hairdos and tons of make up. (Laughs)

Tell us about the famous David Nuuhiwa Noserider board.
I remember Donald in Hawaii when I was growing up. He was the hot kid back then. Back in Hermosa, Donald had mentioned to Bing Copeland that we should make a noserider board for my style of riding. We tested a lot of boards and we finally hit on this design. It’s funny, just about every longboard made today carries a similar plan shape, concave and rocker as my original Noserider.

You are known to have had noserides up to 10 seconds or more at a time. What’s your secret?
Back then, the waves were so small there was nothing else to do but ride the nose. Every contest I was in, the waves were at the biggest… maybe shoulder high. Noseriding was simply the way to win. The boards were becoming lighter because they were made of foam and so you could move the board around better. But there was really no secret to it at all. I would just get out there and do it. I just lucked out and happened to be the guy.

Tell us about the controversy between you and Nat Young in ’66.
That incident was really blown up by the surf media. They kind of made a war out of it. They were saying things like, “The US is taking on the Aussies!” Then the Aussies got kinda cocky and were saying this and that. I didn’t say an f-ing word. All I wanted to do was surf.

You transitioned easily to the shortboard?
When I was a boy, I grew up riding shortboards with Keone Downing (son of George Downing). He had a board that was 5’6.” So we were already riding these little boards made out of balsa. We grew up with this stuff so it was really no problem. I left the longboard and easily transitioned to shortboards. In some ways it was like being a kid again.

And then there was the incident at the San Diego contest in 1972…
The San Diego boys were upset with me because I was riding a fish design. They wanted to claim that design. But the truth is that I was shaping and riding my own fish designs with Dyno over in Huntington. If you go back to the museums, you can see there was always a twin fin board, so no one really owned that design.

I wasn’t paying attention to my car at the time and someone took off with my board. But what they didn’t know was that I had three or four of them in my hotel room. They made their statement, but it didn’t slow us up in the contest. Jimmy Blears and I broke out our little fish boards, and we rode the small waves like we were on skateboards. We blew past everyone while they were looking the other way.

You were known as quite the rock star. Tell us a little about that time period.
That was around the Draft, Vietnam, and the Movement. Most guys, like Corky Carroll, were listening to The Beach Boys and, in contrast, I was listening to Bob Dylan. We all let out hair down.

I did a movie with Jimi Hendrix in Maui called Rainbow Bridge. I was just stoked to be at the right place at the right time. It was fantastic. Hendrix was a big deal back then. He was playing the music while I was surfing. It was unreal. Hendrix was a radical dresser and wore a lot of weird stuff. I guess I ended up buying clothes that were weird too.

How important is style to you?
A lot. It’s called “flow”. You’ve got to get into a good rhythm and once you get there you can pretty much ride the wave any way you want. It depends on the wave. If you are feeling good on the first two waves, you simply relax and everything will turn out well. It’s really simple.

How do you feel about the resurgence in longboarding?
Takayama and I tried to pull it back in, and we gave it a big push during a period when nobody wanted to ride a longboard. It was good for everyone as we got a lot of older guys off the couch. A lot of the old guys got back into it because it was easier to paddle the longer boards. On one hand, you have the longboarders and, on the other, you have the shortboarders (like Kelly, etc). Unfortunately, today all the attention comes from the companies and promoters that run the contests and they could care less about longboarders.

What is your all-time favorite surf spot?
It would have to be Tavarua. I really love that wave. It’s just a nice, long left.

What’s your favorite meal?
I still love the Hawaiian plate lunches. (Laughs) It would have a little bit of fish or teriyaki steak with a scoop of rice and salad. It was pretty much our staple over there.

What kind of music do you listen to?
I still listen to the old stuff—Led Zeppelin, The Stones and Hendrix. Those are really my favorites. I’m still a rocker.

What is the greatest thing you’ve learned in your life?
To catch myself before I hit the wall. (Laughs) I’m the kind of guy who likes to run to the extreme. For me, it’s about learning how to go there and then pull out.

What board are you riding these days?
Right now, I am on a 10’ noserider. Because of work, it’s really hard for me to get in the water and, when I do, I want to be able to paddle and catch waves. They’re just so much easier to ride.

What’s next for David Nuuhiwa?
We’re redoing the company and bringing in a new exciting fish shape with my original art, shaped by Al Dove. Together with my friends we’re working on a new line of clothing. And we’ll keep making the noseriders too.

For more information about David Nuuhiwa and his surfboards click here. 1960’s-era photographs provided by Steve Wilkings. 1970’s-era photos by Jeff Divine. All images are under copyright and may not be used without permission.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Pushingtide January 26, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Awesome read.



Drew Kampion January 28, 2010 at 12:05 am

Love your site, Glenn!


Ryan Tatar January 28, 2010 at 8:04 am

Great read.


Derek Tsuji January 28, 2010 at 6:11 pm

I was hoping someone would do an article about David and you did! Mahalo for a great article and magazine.


Ian O' February 6, 2010 at 10:35 am

“And then there was the inci­dent at the San Diego con­test in 1972…
The San Diego boys were upset with me because I was rid­ing a fish design. They wanted to claim that design. But the truth is that I was shap­ing and rid­ing my own fish designs with Dyno over in Huntington. If you go back to the muse­ums, you can see there was always a twin fin board, so no one really owned that design.”

Actually David, the fish design was part of that core group of San Diego (la Jolla reefs anfd cliffs respectivly) guys going back to Bob Simmons (40s and 50s) then the Mirandon brothers twin pin of the 60s, leading up to the perfection of that evolutionary design: Steve Lis-Fish of 70s… so give credit where credits due. With that attitude I can see why they strung your board up! We are very proud of our heritage down here in San Diego.



Jim February 11, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Great interview. Nuuhiwa is the man.


Celia G March 18, 2010 at 10:46 am

We watched his evolution from when we were little kids wishing we could go out n’surf w/him too. Always liked his style. Glad his attitude is still an “us” thing – not Me, Me, Me or I, I, I, or “my crew this, my crew that”, spreading around credit/props/gratitude where he feels they’re due – that is the true spirit of Aloha. From that the good fortune that came his way is still smiling upon him and all those who were there along the way. Thank you for a great article!


Rich Corbin June 19, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Good to see Nuuhiwa these days. Nice interview.


Derek Lawrence April 11, 2011 at 8:49 am

Who cares who owns the fish design, Iwas on the beach for the 1972 world final and no-one rode the fish like David, he was always ahead of the pack.It was great to meet him again in Huntington many years later.
Well done David, you should have won in 72
Best wishes
Derek Lawrence


GRV July 21, 2011 at 1:56 am

David is what real surfing is all about! Stoked to see the reaction to “Rainbow Bridge” painting that artist Dan Kubat and David worked on together! The word on the street is the release party going to be unreal at Tuna Town in HB Aug 5th, 2011


Willie Grace March 7, 2012 at 1:04 am

Davie you are the Man on the Fish and twin fins, I can remember you just flying at rocky point and other left brakes? No one use to like the Fish and when I was riding them everyone look at me and said twin spin? Today everyone owns one in there surfboards quiver so I know about the Fish and then there came M.R. ? Aloha Willie G.


Brian A Ramsay April 29, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Grew up in Miami following David during the late 60s. Now I live and surf in Oahu. One of my idols. Great to hear he’s still ‘flowing.’


David Hall January 14, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Great interview. I still have my 1977 6’6″ Dyno Diamond Tail. My first board.


alan bienenfeld July 24, 2013 at 3:06 pm

i’ve been looking for the footage of david surfing and flying over a closed out section in haleiwa. i think he was surfing a short board, fish or thruster? i thought it was in the film “pacific vibrations”. i got the dvd and it isn’t on there. i could have been cut because of copyright laws. the background music was the moody blues ” ride my see-saw”. it was the “best surfing footage i have ever seen and want to own it!


TT October 1, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Great to read about DN. Saw him at 13th St. in Hermosa when I was 13 or so back in the day. He was way, way, WAY ahead of everyone else in the water. Smooth, effortless style.


Johnny Bee October 20, 2013 at 5:44 am

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like a massive bong in the background of the pic with psychedelic boards


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