Wayne Miyata

Wayne Miyata, surfer: born 17 February 1942; (one daughter); died Hermosa Beach, California 21 March 2005.

Wayne Miyata’s moment of glory came in 1966 when he was featured in Bruce Brown’s groundbreaking surfing movie The Endless Summer.

Miyata was filmed at Ala Moana in Hawaii, at a break known as “Garbage Hole”, on the south side of the island of Oahu, in classic warm summer conditions. It was not a big swell, just a few feet. But he had the sun behind him and it seemed to set the water on fire. Miyata’s wave, a right-hander, peeled perfectly then pitched out and he bent down and suddenly he was in the tube.

From the end of the Fifties, tube- riding – disappearing into the tubular hollow at the heart of the wave which forms only in relatively rare conditions – became the quintessential and indispensable move in surfing. This was not a huge, North Shore-style winter wave. It was, as Michael Willis – surfer, board-shaper, and one half of the Willis Bros – described it, “small but perfect”. Matt Warshaw, semi-omniscient author of The Encyclopedia of Surfing (2003), called Miyata’s waves “bitchin little tubes”.

Quantitatively, it was a mere five seconds of fame. But this was one of the first tube-rides to be documented (probably filmed in either 1962 or 1963) and it gave Miyata a degree of immortality in the collective surfing consciousness.

Miyata was born in Hawaii in 1942 of Japanese parents. He moved to Hermosa Beach on the West Coast in the late Fifties, but continued to ride big waves in Hawaii through the Sixties. Professionally, he carved out a career for himself in the discipline of board-shaping and became a specialist in the old-style techniques of pinlining and glossing boards, adding colour and decoration using resin.

Most mass-produced boards use airbrushing for colour and design. Miyata did it all by hand and acquired a reputation as a serious artist in the genre. A renaissance in vintage board-making kept his skills in high demand. After serving a two-year prison sentence for drug possession and then losing his own shop on Hermosa Beach, he went to work for Tyler Surfboards in El Segundo.

“Glossing is kind of a lost art,” said Tyler Hatzikian, the owner, who had previously worked under Miyata. “That’s why I brought Wayne into my shop, to educate me on the traditional ways of making boards.”

Miyata doesn’t quite make the cut as one of the legends in Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing. But as a tough, hard-living Hawaiian in California he retained immense beach cred. “He had the real macho Hawaiian type of vibe to him,” Hatzikian said.

Before the rise of the professional circuit, Miyata put the emphasis on performance surfing, making difficult manoeuvres on the face of the wave look easy. He became one of the pioneers of tube-riding before Butch van Artsdalen and later Gerry Lopez gave it definitive form at Pipeline. He was one of those who, in the Sixties, worked to establish and define surfing style. But, as Michael Willis said,

He was cool before surfing was cool. He helped to make it cool. He was a surfer at the time when surfing was not about who was best but who was having the most fun.

Andy Martin

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