Stanley's Surf Gear


Ernie Tanaka
08/22/1938 - 05/15/1998

Ernie was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. Living in Kaimuki, he started surfing Waikiki at a very young age. After graduating from Saint Louis High School he moved to California to attend UCLA where he received a degree in engineering.

During the height of the 1960’s surfing boom, Ernie started Tanaka Surfboards in Van Nuys, CA. It was at this time he shaped for his good friend and amazing surfer, Paul Strauch Jr. When he wasn’t shaping you could find him at his homebreaks of L.A. County Line and Secos.

The waves and lifestyle of Hawaii eventually got to Ernie so he returned to home in the mid 70’s. He was designing boats for several different companies and shaping boards for Town & Country Surf on the side. He eventually went to work for Glenn Minami at Blue Hawaii Surf. He shaped there for many years until the company was sold. He then shaped for Local Motion until he passed away. Ernie shaped thousands of boards and played a large part in developing the modern long board.

Ernie earned a beach boy status in Waikiki and loved every minute of it. He enjoyed surfing Queens and Ala Moana with his friend’s, guy’s like China Uemura, Reynolds Write, Cipy Cabato, Paul Strauch Jr., Ben Aipa, Rabbit Kekai and many more. Ernie lived a great life and was recognized as a living legend before he died. Ernie is survived by daughter (Tammy) and son (Tommy) who is carrying on the family shaping tradition.

Hugh WW Foster
We lost Ernie Tanaka last week, who passed away and was scattered out at his favorite break, Queens Surf. He joins Duke K. and a host of other famous Beach Boys like Blue Makua, et al, in the lineup there, and leaves a son, Tommy. Ernie was 59 and had survived a heart attack, but I am still trying to get information on the exact cause as the heart attack frightened him into a better life style, dropping from two packs to one pack, and from portuguese sausage, spam, and rice to ham and eggs.

He was a great friend of Cy Carey and Turtle and came up to California during our hot time in the 50's with Ken Tilton, Terry Woodall, Alan Gomes, Paul Strauch, Chubby Mitchell, and George Kapu. (I think we lost Kapu a couple of years ago when his liver left his body). Ernie had some local friends he stayed in touch with over the years, if you remember Kia Kenny, who played music at the old Sip N Surf in Santa Monica Canyon and Reno Abelliera, Sr. still chopping Haoles at his Karate studio in Anaheim, as well as, Ron Kanemura, "Haga" with whom I play volleyball every week at Corona Del Mar.

I remember many good "go outs" at Malibu, County Line, and Topanga with Ernie, who got an engineering degree from UCLA and taught swimming at the Tocaloma Club in Brentwood, when he was here, and some great days at Tong's, Rice Bowl, and Suicides with Kimo Austin Reno A. Jr., and Paul Strauch when I first moved to the Islands.

Anyway, I will now be extra careful of my two Tanaka boards, 8'8" round tail mini-gun (my version of the short board and an absolute rocket) and a 10' 9" "Publics Special"; Rabbit's brother, Jama Kekai, has the twin. We continue to be in touch with our mortality.

Bob Feigel
Read your correspondence from Hugh Foster and was sad to hear that Ernie Tanaka has passed from this world. He was one of the special people who changed my way of looking at things many years ago. In the water we'd jockey for waves but we'd also talk a lot, especially on those slow days when sitting on the beach made more sense than sitting on a surfboard. One day he said, "That's the difference between the Western way of looking at things and the Oriental way. The Westerner sees a flower and says, "That's a beautiful flower. Let's take it apart, analyze the various components and figure out how it works." But an Oriental sees a flower and says, "That's a beautiful flower."

Ernie also saved my ass one morning at Secos (or Arroyo Sequit). It was in the days before surfer wet suits and it was bloody cold. There was a big south swell with a brisk offshore wind and the waves were peaking in front of the rock for incredible long drop takeoffs and big, fast rides. I got an intense cramp in one of my calve muscles between sets and the pain came on so suddenly that I sorta panicked. Ernie paddled over to me, steadied my board with both hands and calmly told me to stand up on my board and put some weight on the leg. I did what he told me, the cramp went away, and I learned a lesson that I never forgot. But it was his calmness and care that I remember most.

photoLeroy Grannis

Bob Hofer
I've been surfing for 40 years and producing a quality board for 35. I learned the craft from some of the best, original board shapers in the business. I began with Ernie Tanaka at Ernie Tanaka Surf Boards. In the mid 1960's Ernie Tanaka taught me to shape and at that time paid me about $2.50 a rail.

Tanaka Ad
Tanaka Surfboards "a family tradition"
Tommy Tanaka carries on the tradition
Revised 10/12/2015
Legend Ernie Tanaka
Copyright © 1994-2009 [Stanley's]. All rights reserved