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Bernie Ching, founding member of the Surfers and former ‘Iolani coach, dies at age 79

  • JOHN BERGER / JBERGER@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Bernie Ching, third from left, was joined by the other surviving members of the Surfers — Pat Sylva, Joe Stevens and Clayton Naluai — when the group received the Hawai’i Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. State Sen. Brickwood Galutaria, right, congratulated them after the presentation.

Bernie Ching, a founding member of the 1960s recording group The Surfers, died Friday in Honolulu. He was 79.

Ching grew up in central Honolulu. He entered Kamehameha as a kindergartner, graduated as a member of the Class of ‘57, and attended Glendale Junior College in California. It was there that he and three other young islanders — Pat Sylva and Alan and Clayton Naluai — founded the Surfers while they were taking a college choir class. The quartet went from performing with the choir to performing separately at campus events and from there to performing at other colleges. The next step was playing weekends at Disneyland, followed by full-time work in Las Vegas, Reno, Lake Tahoe and throughout the mainland.

A recording contract with Hi-Fi Records, a mainland record label, resulted in the quartet’s first albums — “On the Rocks,” “At High Tide,” “Christmas From Hawaii” and “The Islands Call.”

The Surfers were later signed by another national label, Decca, which billed them for a while as “the Hawaiian Surfers” to set them apart from all the surf-rock bands of the 1960s.

The group also sang backing vocals on the Elvis Presley movie soundtrack album, “Blue Hawaii,” although they were not mentioned in the production credits.

Ching retired from the group in the mid-1960s and was replaced by Joe Stevens. It would be the only personnel change in the quartet’s history; fifteen years later Stevens was still describing himself as “the new guy.”

Back in Hawaii, Ching married and he and his wife had four daughters. In the years that followed he worked with his brother, beach boy and professional wrestler Sammy Steamboat, in Waikiki, coached several sports at ‘Iolani School, worked as a security guard, and played music with two friends at the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort.

At ‘Iolani, Ching coached the girls basketball teams to Interscholastic League of Honolulu championships in 1989, 1995 and 1996, and to state championships in 1989, 1993, 1995 and 1996. He was also a boys basketball assistant coach in the early 2000s, an assistant coach for the paddling team, and was a head football coach of the intermediate school and and junior varsity teams.

He was also an avid noncompetitive surfer from the age of 12 when his brother loaned him a board.

The Surfers received the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.

Ching is survived by daughters, Lisa Ching, Rona Kekauoha, Kehau Ponoke and Beth Ann Shizuru, 15 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Services are pending.

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