Hawaii-born international surfing champion Conrad Canha, who pioneered performance wave-riding known as “hot-dogging,” has died at age 85.
Canha, born on March 1, 1932, died of prostate cancer on July 21 at his home in Punaluu.
Surfer magazine called Canha “Hawaii’s most influential performance surfer” of the 1950s.
Before he was a teenager, Canha’s family, who lived in Puunene, Maui, moved to Honolulu to get away from life on a sugar plantation.
Canha won the Makaha Invitational Surfing Championship in 1956 and the World Surfing Competition in Lima, Peru, in 1957, according a book about his life, “The Last of The Golden Years in Surfing.”
“He was just beautiful, just a humble man,” said his friend Clayton Gohier, a former Waikiki beach boy.
Gohier said Canha began surfing with redwood boards, then switched to balsa boards, dragging a foot in the water as did most surfers to make turns while riding waves.
The big change came when Canha shaped his own board and put a redwood skeg on the bottom of his boards, enabling him to make radical turns on waves.
“After the skeg came into the picture, that was it,” Gohier said.
Canha, who was about 5 feet 2 inches tall and stocky, was known for positioning his surfboard into a tube-rolling section of a wave, sometimes disappearing and then emerging out of the foam.
Friends said Canha rode well in large and small waves and one of his favorite surfing spots was Ala Moana Bowls, where waves would come together from the southeast and southwest and suddenly rise into a wall across the reef.
“He had a grace that was poetic to watch,” said Tim McCullough, a photographer and friend. “He was a good ambassador too.”
Canha also was a member of the Waikiki Surf Club, participating in early canoe races between Molokai and Oahu.
In his biography, Canha, a member of the Teamsters Union, said he enjoyed working as a driver for a number of movies and television series, including “Hawaiian Eye,” “Hawaii Five-0,” “Diamond Head” and “Hawaii,” because it allowed him the flexibility to go surfing.
“That’s Conrad … work less, surf more,” recalled his wife Francine Park Palama Canha, the author of his biography.
Services for Canha will be at his home at 53-205 Kamehameha Highway. Visitation is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 8, with services starting at 2 p.m.