The Lost and Found Collection / Surfer LAURA BLEARS / by Sandy Ordille
by Doug Walker·
In the early years of professional surfing, at a time of great transition and hope for those involved, there was a family of extremely gifted water women and men. Born from Champion Wrestler and swimmer, Lord "Tallyho" Blears, and his water woman, fitness instructor wife, Carol. The children of this talented and unique family all learned at an early age to swim before they walked. Lord Blears was very adamant about safety and knowing that water is everywhere in Hawaii, he wanted his children to be be adept in all water and wave situations.
The Blears Ohana landed in Hawaii in the mid 1950's. A wrestling match had brought Lord "Tallyho" Blears to Waikiki and the minute he landed he knew he wanted to raise his children there. As a former British Navy member and a war hero, when "Tallyho" arrived in Hawaii Nei the people accepted him. Lord "Tallyho" Blears worked as a wrestling promoter at "The Civic Auditorium" in Honolulu and sold tickets to the weekly wrestling show that took place on Wednesday nights. His youngest daughter, Carol, shared that she, and her mom, Carol, Sr. would get all dressed up to go to the weekly wrestling matches and always be treated like royalty. Beside being let in for free, they also were seated in the front row.
At 5 years old, daughter Laura Blears, learned to swim and surf . Her parents imparted their love of the ocean by teaching Laura, and her siblings, Jimmy, Clinton, and Carol, the ways and means of ocean waves. They lived on the beach on Kalakaua Street directly across from the famous Waikiki Beach Boys surf station. The Beach Boys; such as Buffalo, Blackout, Chubby Mitchell, Chief, Jessy, Nappy, helped raise the Blears kids and took them in as family. Laura remembers magical Hawaii days, before Waikiki became so crowded, the Beach Boys enjoyed taking the Blears kids out on canoes, catamarans and surfboards. Laura's mom and dad surfed, so it was a way of life for the whole family. Laura's brothers, Clinton and Jimmy, and sister, Carol all surfed and always encouraged each other to keep pushing in all things athletic.
Laura remembers being on the beach and blending with the local culture; "We did what kids did, go surfing. Our parents made sure that they watched over us, we lived right on the beach next to The Moana Surfrider and I remember the ocean was our playground and the Beach Boys were laid back, back then; canoes on the beach, people who wanted to go out on canoes for rides, or surf, if they wanted to. There's still Beach Boys down there doing the same thing, its just a lot more structured now, but there's still Beach Boys down there with Hawaiian hearts and wanting to share the magic of Waikiki and wanting to share the Hawaii Spirit."
I asked Carol to tell me her favorite story about her dad, Lord "Tallyho" Blears. She immediately explained in detail her memories of going to Makapu'u Beach as a child and riding out past the crashing waves on her dads back. He would swim out with her holding onto him and take her out past the danger zone of the crashing shore break. They would spend time swimming around out past the dangerous shore break, in the serene waters that lay outside. When Carol was ready to head to shore she would cling tight to her dads back as he navigated a safe passage to the beach.
Carol also shared that her family always had dinner together and her mom was always open about the kids bringing friends over. In particular, her older brother Jimmy's friends were always welcome to stay when they felt more at home, or safer, with the Blears family than at their own family homes.
When Lord "Tallyho" Blears started going to Tommy Leong's gym in Waikiki to train for wrestling, his wife, Carol went with him. Carrying a play pen for her youngest child, Clinton, to safely rest in, Carol started training with her husband during the week. While the men were training for the infamous Wednesday Night Wrestling Matches at The Civic Auditorium Carol was learning how to become a fitness trainer. Her first client was a former Miss Hawaii and gradually Carol added more clients as her reputation as a stellar physical fitness expert grew by word of mouth in the heart of Waikiki. Later on, when the Blears Ohana moved to Makaha, Laura joined her mom in the Waipahu "Great Shapes Figure Salon" as a fitness trainer as well.
Laura explains her philosophy "There is a Hawaiian way of doing things, like easy "bruddah", slow down, its going to get done. There's good people all over the World, and their life is special. When they come over to Hawaiii, they learn to blend into a new culture by accepting the way of "malama" which is; we all take care of each other.
I asked Fred Hemmings how he met Lord "Tallyho" Blears and the answer was the same way we all meet our friends " I met him surfing, at Makaha." In 1965 Larry Lindberg, who Fred calls, "the hidden hero of surfing", hired Fred to be a commentator for the Makaha Surf Contest. Later on in 1973, when Fred became the promoter of the first Smirnoff sponsored event , he asked Lord "Tallyho" Blears to be the commentator for his Invitational, and invited Laura Blears to surf against the men.
Laura learned to surf big waves at Makaha after the family moved there from Waikiki. She also tackled big Ala Moana bowl (when it was breaking at the Pole), Haleiwa, Chun's, and Sunset Beach. In 1972 Laura won The Makaha International Surfing Championships. She also was the first woman to compete in the 1973 Smirnoff World Pro-Am Surf Contest. Her brother Jimmy was a finalist in the event. In 1974 Laura won $1000. as the highest scoring woman in the event.
Laura Blears is the first Professional female surfer. This is defined by the fact that she received prize money for surfing maxing out Laniakea in 1973.. She surfed against the men and received a $1000 check from contest sponsor, Smirnoff. In so doing, Laura set a new precedent that women, who qualify for competing in a professional contest, will receive prize money, albeit didn't necessarily mean equal prize money, yet! Laura has incredible big wave skills and can read the Hawaiian Waters at the level of the legendary Hawaiian Lifeguards.
Besides all the surfing accolades Laura is a Punahou Graduate (Class of 1969); she and her old brother Jimmy were accepted on swimming scholarships. Laura also competed in "The Superstars Event" at the Houston Astrodome against women athletes from all fields and appeared in 1979 in a set of women only trading cards called "Supersisters" with the likes of Olympic Skier Suzy Chaffee, Gloria Steinem, and Rosa Parks! Laura explained she continued to participate in the "Supersisters" events in lieu of going on the early years of the IPS Womens Pro Tour. Probably the wisest choice given the lack of media coverage and the low scale of prize money being offered in the early years of Womens Pro Surfing.
I asked Laura about the beginning years of Professional Surfing in Hawaii because she, her sister Carol and brothers, Jimmy and Clinton, along with her father, Lord "Tallyho" Blears, were an integral part of its inception. Here's what she explained:
"They started the very first Mens Pro at Makaha. The next year I was invited only as an alternate. Flew to the mainland and Australia promo. Smirnoff was the first sponsor for pro surfing. The next year I was invited and had a spot…held at Laniakea (1973), man the waves and current were wild. I did not advance but placed 5th in a heat of 6. Survival. The next year they decided to have one heat of women, coinciding with the mens, Sunset, winner take all, a big $1000.00. Smirnoff Pro surfing championship .To me it was not the money, it was that I felt it was a start. The rest is history. I went to Malibu for first women's pro, but returned to Oahu before they ran the contest. I believe we were there a week and it was flat. From there I was invited to the woman’s superstars by Fred Hemmings and for 3 years I kept competing. What a great person (Fred Hemmings). As for the San Miguel….That was a contest I ran and started. It was an Hawaiian Invitational …posters and radio ads etc. lots of dark and light beer to give friends …that were awesome. I also ran the contest with a losers Bracket , very cool. And it was a one day event!! I have no paperwork on that…unless Clinton does in storage or in his mind, that was really fun. I actually am bummed thinking that Shawn Thompson was there and not in it now that I think of it. But that’s fine. Cannot change the past and it was good times for all. Success"
Although all the Blears family surfed it was Laura and Jimmy who were most adept at competition. Jimmy and Laura were both competitors at The 1972 World Amateur Championships in San Diego, California at Ocean Beach Pier. Jimmy, shown here with a very young Michael Ho, heading out for a contest heat with 2'-3' onshore wind waves at the OB Pier in San Diego, CA. Jimmy Blears won the 1972 World Amateur Championship riding a Fish model twin fin and considered David Nu'uwaiwa to be his biggest competitor because David was also riding an early Fish model twin fin. Laura Blears surfed through to the Womens Finals and placed a very respectable third place, edging out San Diego, California local favorite, Debbie Melville, who placed fourth.
Jimmy was a very quiet, shy man who treated everyone with respect. His days as a Hawaiian Lifeguard were marked by many lifesaving rescues. He knew the fickle ways of Sunset Beach and could see the roque waves coming in before anyone else. There were no jet skies, boats, helicopters; just a big yellow rescue board that the Lifeguards had to paddle out to reach people in distress. I was practicing at Sunset Beach one day as I had finally secured an invite to a contest there in late 1970's. Sitting out near the North Peak, all of a sudden the sky disappeared and a sneaker set swung in from the North West charging faster than a freight train, it turned to a huge mountain of whitewater all the way from Backyards, through the North and West reefs, straight through the (usual) channel and on to Kammieland. I was dragged underwater until it felt like my lungs were going to explode. Thank goodness the leash broke and I remembered my swim training as a little girl: Never Panic! I stopped fighting it and eventually started floating upwards with hopes of making the surface before my Oxygen level dropped to the point of passing out. All of a sudden I felt two strong arms pull me up; I was gasping and surprised and what I saw was Jimmy Blear's face. He pulled me onto the yellow rescue board and quietly explained his partner was retrieving my surfboard for me, which was already heading out to sea. A brand new Barnfield which was delivered to me at the Sunset Beach Lifeguard Tower unscathed. So grateful for Jimmy Blears and Butch Akaukau, the humble lifesavers of those early days.
These days Laura spends her evenings working as a greeter for TS Restaurant owned "Kimo's" on Maui. She stated that lately, because we are in our second year of a pandemic, she has felt somewhat apprehensive about being a greeter because she faces every person who enters the restaurant. Many visitors have flocked to Hawaii, attempting to escape the pandemic, but in reality, they just brought it with them. Kind of similar to what happened to the people of Hawaii Nei in the late 1800's when whaling ships inundated Pearl Harbor, and all the outer islands seaports, bringing diseases to the Indigenous Hawaiian population that had no immunity against them.
Frequently, on her days off, Laura hops on an inter-island plane to go spend time with ohana and friends on O'ahu. She is still surfing and has a full, and very active, life. Besides still being an avid surfer, Laura participates in swim work outs, paddling outrigger canoe, and standup paddle boarding.
In closing, this story would not be complete without mentioning that Laura also contributed to the liberation of women everywhere by agreeing to pose topless in Playboy in late 1970's. Laura's take on it is well defined by her own words: "Surfing is getting to where you and the waves are one. It's more than balance . It's flowing with the wave. It's you against Nature: the wind, the wave and your strategy."
It really makes sense to me because the first thing that always lost its hold were bikini tops in waves of consequence and strong trade winds. Here's to you Laura for coming up with the best solution for that challenge for women surfers.