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David Nuuhiwa Sr., 82; Infused Surfing With Hawaiian Ritual

January 25, 2005|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

David Nuuhiwa Sr., a Hawaiian whose expertise on his native culture won him celebrity in California surfing circles, has died after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 82.

Nuuhiwa, also an expert in martial arts, died Friday in Hawaii of stomach cancer, said his widow, Lily Nuuhiwa.

Nuuhiwa was a familiar figure for more than two decades in California surf contests, conducting opening-day blessings and providing security.

In December, Nuuhiwa was inducted into the Surfers' Hall of Fame in Huntington Beach.

Ian Cairns, who directed professional surf events, first hired Nuuhiwa for security in 1982 at the Op Pro in Huntington Beach.

The competition later became known as the U.S. Open of Surfing, which annually drew 250,000 people to Huntington Beach.

One day, Nuuhiwa asked whether he could bless the contest, Cairns said.

The next day, Nuuhiwa showed up wearing white pants and a shirt, a symbol of purity, and wearing a necklace of kukui nuts.

While new then, the ritual became a tradition: Nuuhiwa would unpack shiny ti leaves and elie, Hawaiian rock salt from the island of Kauai, which he always carried with him.

He mixed the salt with ocean salt water and then, holding the long ti leaves as a wand, slowly sprinkled the special water on the event's boundaries and the competitors.

Nuuhiwa also was an instructor in martial arts, specializing in Danzan-Ryu, and had won more than 100 consecutive matches.

He was also proficient in karate and made TV appearances demonstrating martial arts on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Steve Allen Show.

Professional surfer Taylor Knox recalled that Nuuhiwa also helped competitors recover from sprained ankles, backs and sore necks with massage therapy.

"I had a bad back," Knox said, "and he put me through some stretches at first, and then with his hands he pulled here and pulled there. I was amazed how strong he was. It felt like he could break me in half."

Nuuhiwa provided a spiritual link to Hawaii, where surfing began, Knox said.

Nuuhiwa is survived by his wife, Lily, of Anaheim; son, David Nuuhiwa Jr., of Orange County; daughter, Melody Nuuhiwa-Adams of Anaheim; and six grandchildren.

Services will be held Wednesday in Hawaii. Arrangements are pending for a memorial service in Anaheim.

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