Honolulu resident Reno Abellira, 71, a world-renowned surfer who exploded onto the scene with the shortboard revolution of the mid 1960s, was hospitalized at Queen’s Medical Center last week, friends said.
The Star-Advertiser was able to confirm with a Queen’s representative this morning that Abellira was a patient at the hospital, but could not verify the details surrounding his hospitalization.
Darrick Doerner, a former Honolulu city and county lifeguard, North Shore resident and close friend of Abellira’s for 40 years, said he received a phone call last week informing him that Abellira had been found unconscious, “in a coma, with severe, life-threatening injuries,” in Ala Moana Beach Park.
“He had been assaulted,” Doerner said. “Someone called 911, and he was transported to Queen’s and remains in the ICU.”
Doerner said Abellira had long struggled with homelessness, and, although friends tried to help, had not been able to obtain a driver’s license, Social Security card, debit card or other documents that would enable him to work or receive benefits, including food stamps.
“It’s very, very painful — people are very hurt to think this happened to such an iconic, revolutionary stylemaster and super-smart intellectual,” Doerner said, adding he hoped the sad news would be an awakening for the community and political leaders to provide support for the “hundreds of people living in our parks that are drug addicts, and not able to get back in the system. “
According to Matt Warshaw’s 2003 book, “Encyclopedia of Surfing,” Abellira began surfing at age 4 in Waikiki, but didn’t get his first board until he was 11 years old.
Abellira won the 1966 Hawaiian Noseriding Contest, the state’s first professional surfing event, and the juniors division of the Makaha International in 1966 and 1967, and later became Hawaii’s juniors division champion in 1968, making his international debut in the World Surfing Championships in Puerto Rico that year as well.
Abellira won Hawaii state titles in 1970 and 1972, starred in the innovative Expression Sessions of 1970 and 1971 and “beat fellow Hawaiian Jeff Hakman by a fraction of a point” to win the 1974 Smirnoff Pro, “held in cataclysmic 30-foot surf at Waimea Bay,” Warshaw wrote.
Jill “Corky” Summers, a surf journalist, Kahuku resident and friend of Abellira’s, said in a phone call Monday morning, he had been in good form on Aug. 25, when she interviewed him at Sunset Beach for a forthcoming documentary on surfboard shaper Dick Brewer.
“Reno looked fit; he was full of energy, joy, and wit,” she said.
“Everyone loves Reno,” Summers added, and the Oahu surfing community was “devastated” to learn of Abellira’s plight.