By Jerry Derloshon
He is not a Hawaiian. But then again . . .
The Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center (SHAAC) in San Clemente embraced an icon on March 11 when it hosted an event honoring legendary surfer, sailor, and entrepreneur Joey Cabell. The Hawaii-born winner of surf contests, big wave pioneer, board shaper, boat builder, ocean racer, and restaurant founder walked among and talked story with 170+ friends and well-wishers who wanted to give the 84 year as old much aloha as the room could hold. Note to organizers: you needed a bigger room.
During a pre-event conversation in SHAAC’s library, Joey reminisced on the sport of surfing and his turn in history, surrounded by hundreds of books and periodicals, many of which featured his name, photos and achievements over decades.
He spoke lovingly and respectfully and with immense gratitude about Rabbitt Kekai, the pioneering Hawaiian surfer and to many, the Lord of Waikiki, who took Joey, when was just seven years old, under his watchful eye. Waikiki was a tight knit community and Haoles quickly learned while the path to acceptance among the Hawaiians might not be closed to them, no one threw welcome leis at their feet. “The key was earning the respect of the older guys,” recalled Cabell. “And you did that with how you surfed, and how you handled yourself. Respect was everything.”
A natural, multi-sport athlete, Joey Cabell quickly earned the respect of Kekai and the other Waikiki beach boys with his style and agility riding waves and before long, with his bravery and mastery of riding monstrous waves at Makaha, Sunset, and ultimately Waimea Bay. To Joey, wave riding wasn’t something you did, it was who you were.
So talented in fact, and fiercely competitive, that Cabell won the International Surfing Championship in Peru in 1966 and the Duke Kahanamoku Classic in 1969. The burgeoning surf magazine world took note and plastered images of Cabell riding the nose, or screaming across the face of 30 footers, or stylishly cutting back on waves from around the world. Cabell was everywhere, sharing magazine space and film clips with all the greats of the era—Phil Edwards, Dewey Weber, Greg Noll, Joyce Hoffman, Marge Calhoun, Linda Benson, and countless others who were the brightest stars of their generation.
On land, Cabell wasn’t all about beach chairs, ukuleles and umbrella drinks. Not yet out of his 20s, he saw where those themes could be tapped into to create an unparalleled dining experience for a growing number of people eager to participate in the beach lifestyle. With the same passion he brought to the sport of surfing and big wave riding, he dove headlong into the restaurant industry co-founding a chain of restaurants that remain popular today, more than a half century later — the Chart House. Caroline Weber, wife of acclaimed surfer and board builder Dewey Weber, said she and Dewey made all their most important decisions over dinner at the Chart House in Redondo Beach. While there have been many imitations since, no restaurants and certainly no restaurant chains connect the patron with the aloha spirit and the ocean vibe of a Chart House.
Friends and family attending the event listened in as surfing legend Paul Strauch and SHAAC co-founder Dick Metz joined Cabell in an engaging panel discussion. A highlight of the evening was the screening of the documentary film: Joey Cabell — Beyond the Sport: Surf Legend. The film tells the story of Cabell’s other passion, sailing, and portrays a crossing he made on a catamaran from Honolulu to Tahiti, which on the return, Cabell and crew were dismasted. Out muscled, exhausted, and close to the edge of life itself, the crew relied on their wits, experience, and sheer force of will to keep their names off the list of sailors who have vanished in the Pacific.
In the catamaran world, Cabell is a highly regarded designer and high performance boat builder, and one of his greatest pleasures today is owing Hokulea, a 43’ catamaran designed by none other than Joe Quigg — it’s a link to Hawaii, surfing, and sailing that is as much spiritual as it is physical. Cabell’s well known open ocean racing feats made it easy for the Hawaii Sailing Hall of Fame to induct Joey into its august group, and it is one of his favorite accolades.
At home in Hawaii where he was born, raised, and currently resides with his wife, Yana, Joey Cabell personifies a few treasured Hawaiian cultural values worth closing with:
KA LĀ HIKI OLA: Promise
KŪLIA I KA NU‘U: Excellence
As for SHACC and its mission, the evening with Joey Cabell is part of the organization’s stewardship DNA as keeper of history and traditions for future generations. it is who they are. The organization is worth supporting with time, talent and treasure.
Jerry Derloshon is the author of Little Man on Wheels — Surfing Legend Dewey Weber (2012) and other books.