Big-wave pioneer, surf innovator, mentor and historian George Downing has passed away.

Born and raised in Honolulu, Downing surfed Hawaii in the ’40s on finless Hot Curls made out of redwood. He was a surfer responsible for many firsts in the sport, and in 1950 he produced the first surfboard with a removable fin. Eight years later he and a handful of other surfers rode awe-inspiring 30-foot waves at Makaha, pushing the boundaries of what was believed to be possible at the time.

“Downing’s line across the wave was precise, even conservative, but he invariably rode the biggest and best waves of the day, and rarely wiped out,” says surf historian Matt Warshaw in his “Encyclopedia of Surfing.

Warshaw goes on to describe Downing as an unusually inquisitive surfer: “The wiry, dark-haired Downing made a study of surfing, analyzing weather maps to better understand swell formation, snorkeling over reefs on waveless days to learn how their topography affected the surf, calculating wave intervals, observing wind patterns and ocean currents, and absorbing all there was to know about surfboard theory and construction.”

Downing was a successful competitive surfer in the ’60s and often was a finalist among surfers 10 to 15 years his junior. Over the decades, Downing shared his insights and experience and acted as a mentor to the younger wave riders, such as Joey Cabell, Reno Abellira, Michael Ho and many others. He was referred to as “The Teacher” and “The Guru” for his extensive knowledge of surfing as a whole.

Downing will be remembered as a true pioneer in both big-wave surfing and in the evolution of surfboard design, and while he will be dearly missed, his influence will live on. Rest in peace, and thank you George Downing.

George Downing, 1965. Photo: Ron Stoner / Surfer Magazine