26 Miles to Catalina

Tom Zahn with the lei and Hawaiian George Kepoo laughing it up – wearing M Nii. This shot was taken after the Catalina paddleboard race in 1958 – maybe a little later. Tommy Zahn won the race and they are celebrating in front of a restaurant in Manhattan Beach above the pier. The Catalina Race was a big event and very competitive – many lifeguards and surfers entered the 26-mile event from Catalina to Manhattan Beach Pier.

The original race was held back in 1932 with a small group of entries – 4 or 5 as my history memory remembers: It was won by Tom Blake and Pete Peterson was in the field. Blake was promoting his new Blake Rogers paddle boards in this race.

Some of the great paddlers of this time were Tom Zahn, Mike Bright, Mike Doyle, Greg Noll, Ricky Grigg, Bob Hogan, Gibby Gibson and others. If I’m not mistaken George Kepoo paddled in the race.

George Kepoo was truly a great Hawaiian who came to the mainland and was Velzy’s right hand man. George was a great surfer full of the aloha spirit. He met Velzy in Hawaii and came here to surf. Velzy had a great 1955 Ford truck with stacks for the exhaust and Georgie got one with a different color.

Velzy was still in his shop above the Manhattan pier which was a great for surfing and they had a clubhouse under the pier for locals!! At this time the whole surf shop development came in these early years. Georgie was always taking us young surf groms to Malibu and Secos and his friendship was so important to us getting around I can still hear him saying to me “Fordie we go!” He was truly one special Hawaiian and a true friend to Velzy and all us groms.