Ben Aipa was born into a poor sugar cane plantation family in 1942. Looking for opportunity in the merchant marines, Ben’s father moved the Aipa family to Oahu in 1946, but left a few years later. Using the strong work ethic he developed by working in the cane fields, Ben did everything he could to help his mother make ends meet – from shining shoes in downtown Honolulu to diving for coins tourists would toss into Honolulu harbor. His unyielding determination would drive him to become a top competitive swimmer, All-American football player, legendary surfer, master shaper and respected surf coach.
Aipa didn’t start surfing until he was in his early 20s – after an ankle injury put an end to his football career. With the same dauntless resolve he had always shown, Ben trained daily to become a professional surfer. In 1966, he was a finalist in the Duke Classic and finished fourth in the ’67 Makaha International. He also competed in the World Championships in 1968 and 1970. In 1989, he won the grandmasters division of the U.S. Surfing Championships and the legends division in 2000 – at the age of 58!
Ben started shaping surfboards in 1964 and founded Aipa Surfboards in 1971. With the transition period in full swing, Ben became a distinguished, contemporary surfboard designer, credited with inventing both the double-point swallowtail and the sting. He has also coached a host of champion athletes, including Sunny Garcia, John Shimiooka, Brad Gerlach, Taylor Knox, the Irons brothers, the Smith brothers, and Bethany Hamilton.
Ben Aipa passed away on January 15, 2021 on the Big Island of Hawaii. Wherever Ben traveled in the surfing community, he needed no introduction. Recognized as the man who originated power surfing, Ben’s larger-than-life presence commanded respect in both the lineup and in the shaping room. It also earned him his most cherished nickname – “Uncle Ben.” To generations of young surfers, he was always especially kind.