China Uemura: A Stand-up Guy

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - March 19, 2008
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The author, China Uemura and Ed Drew at Ala Moana
The author, China Uemura and Ed Drew at Ala Moana

Longboard surfing legend China Uemura has been a stand-up guy for years, and now he’s going a step further.

“Two of my policemen friends were trying to get me on stand up paddle board for months, telling me it’s a great way to lose weight,” said Uemura about his new-found passion. “At first I told them, ‘You’ll never catch me on that,’ but now I can’t get enough of it!”

While surfing will always be his first love, Uemura says his “new sport” has been very good to him.

“When I started last November I weighed 246 pounds and, by the end of February, I weighed in at 222,” he says. “I’ve dropped more than 25 pounds, my blood pressure is back to normal and I feel great. I don’t feel like eating roast pork or any fatty stuff. This is the best thing that has happened to me in a long time, besides my daughter getting married,” he chuckles.

These days, when the surf isn’t up around Oahu, you’re sure to find Uemura at Ala Moana Beach Park sitting under a white tent with two stand up paddle boards waiting to be ridden.

“I give free lessons over here to anyone who wants to learn - locals, tourists, it does-n’t matter,” says Uemura. “All I ask for is a smile when I give them the lesson and when we pau, a simple thank you - nothing more, no strings attached.”

Uemura thanks his friends Jim Hayes of Tropical Blends and Jun Balanga of Hulakai Surfboards for blessing him with his first stand up boards and paddles at no cost. He says it’s another reason why he refuses to charge anyone who wants to learn.

“I love watching people smile and feeling good about accomplishing something, especially when they say ‘I can’t,’” he says. “I say, ‘You can.’”

Giving back is nothing new to the former national longboard surfing champion. For more than two decades, Uemura has run one of the most-popular surf meets in Hawaii. On July 24-26, he’ll host the 24th annual China Uemura Longboard Surfing Classic at Kuhio Beach in Waikiki. He also is preparing for his annual Wahine Surfing Classic, set for June 6-8. It is the largest all-female surfing event in the nation.

“My wife and I work hard and we enjoy hosting the events,” says Uemura. “We appreciate our sponsors because they make it happen.”

To date, Uemura’s surfing contests have raised more than $200,000 for local charities, including the American Diabetes Association, Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Sex Abuse Treatment Center of the Kapiolani Medical Center. Uemura says he will never stop giving back to his community after taking so much from it early in his life.

“At one time it was all about me - I was doing drugs and dealing drugs and destroying lives. I had money and power, but for what?” he says. “I’m finished with all of that.”

Uemura believes he has given free lessons to well over 100 people during the past several months, and says his next project is to design a stand-up pad-dle board for big men 250 pounds and above.

“I recently taught two big local boys, 280 and 300 pounds, and they felt so good about themselves, it was awesome,” Uemura says with a huge grin. “The ocean is a blessing for me. It keeps me out of trouble and makes me feel good. I feel I owe the community after some of the things I’ve done, and I just want to make a difference.”

“Uncle China” is doing just that - one stand-up lesson at a time.


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Most Recent Comment(s):

I’ve been wanting to try this stand up paddle board for such a long time.  A while back I inquired about lessons and I was quoted $75.  That was a little to steep for me. My husband, knowing I wanted to try this told me some friends of his at work also had paddle boards and maybe I could try one of theirs.  That never panned out.  So, yesterday(Tuesday) I read my MIDWEEK as I always do and I come upon this article.  I was so excited!  The very next day(Today) I drove from Kailua to Ala Moana to look for the white tent.  No white tent, but I see him in the water paddling alongside 2 others on a paddleboard.  I walk over to him when he comes to shore and tell him that I read the article in MIDWEEK and he immediately gives me a lesson.  AWESOME. I loved it.  I now want to get my own.  China is such a nice guy!  AND it was absolutely free.  Although who wouldn’t refuse a tip, especially with the high gas prices. :  )  Thank you so much for this article.

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