This week, the world lost Australian surfing legend John Shimooka. The super-star was found unresponsive in his home in Sydney, Australia on the morning of November 16th. Shimooka was known for his unique, flamboyant style of big-wave surfing.
As a boy, Shimooka felt a deep connection to the ocean at a very young age when he partook in canoe paddling as a steersman. He then began to actively pursue big-wave surfing when he was 12 years old. The young boy’s father had quickly picked up on his son’s raw talent. “He just excelled so fast,” Shimooka’s father stated.
John Shimooka first made his professional surfing debut at the Beach Park Challenge Event at Ala Moana Beach Park in the 1980s.
Former surf proctor Reid Inouye spoke about his immediate reaction to Shimooka’s debut performance at the event. “He was one of those kids that just had what it took to become next level,” Inouye said. “He had an intensity, a drive to become successful. He had that hunger, and that’s what you need in surfing.”
In the 1980s and 1990s, Shimooka competed in the World Surf League’s World Championship Tour as a top contender. Shimooka won a tour event in Japan, and later became a runner-up to his fellow friend and surfer Sunny Gracia in the 1995 competition. He later ranked as the 19th best surfer in the world.
In a publicized statement, the World Surfing League shared: “The WSL is saddened to learn of the passing of John Shimooka. A former CT surfer, industry executive, commentator and coach, he made a major impact on the surfing world. Our hearts are with his family and friends.”
Shimooka also took on a high-profile career as a television commentator after retiring from the World Champion Tour in 1999. Former surfer and close friend Kaipo Guerrero spoke about Shimooka’s natural charisma on-the-air.
“He was just that ball of energy coming into the room that uplifts people,” Guerrero stated. “Having a great personality combined with an intimate knowledge of the sport of surfing made him a perfect sportscaster for surfing.”
Shimooka’s cousin Russell Schimooka, former KITV sports director and former KGMB news anchor, recalled the memory of hosting a surf-show with his beloved cousin. “He was so funny and witty,” Russell stated. “He just took it to another level.”
As John Shimooka entered the latter years of his life, he began to take an active interest in stand-up paddling. He would later pursue this interest competitively when competing in the Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships.
In 2019, tragedy struck when Shimooka lost his wife Lisa in a hard fought battle against cancer. Schimooka also struggled when his close friend Sunny Garcia faced a difficult fight with depression. Both instances left Shimooka deeply shaken. However, despite facing these challenges, Shimooka made it a priority to try and work through challenging times.
John Shimooka will be remembered as a true hero. Not just for his accomplishments on-the-board, but also for the kindness he displayed to his fellow athletes. He will be remembered for his infectious laughter and genuine smile. Although the surfing star’s death was premature at the age of 51, the mark he left on the world is massive.
As a world tour surfer, a television commentator, a Jiu Jitsu blackbelt, and a leading figure in Surfing NSW, John Schimooka never lived life passively. He pursued his dreams and didn’t let the concept of “probability” anchor him to a life that he didn’t want. By Shimooka’s own motto, “life is too short to be serious.”