Bob “Ole” Olsen was in the middle of a card game with some friends at Launiupoko Beach Park when I showed up to interview him. There were many people surrounding him, but he patiently and helpfully answered my questions. He was dressed casually, like a lot of people that day, in surf shorts and a T-shirt from the long board contest that bears his name.
It was Aug. 13, the day of the 12th Annual Ole Longboard Contest at Launiupoko. The beach was packed with 13 divisions waiting to enter. There were myriad long boards ranging in size, shape and condition strewn across the sun-lit, grassy park in between the heats. The waves were small but consistent and considering the lack of waves in the previous weeks, any push or movement of water was welcome. In fact, the conditions were perfect for the longboard contest.
Ole’s contest is probably the best indicator of the end of the summer. The setting is a perfect environment for catching up with old friends and saying an excited aloha to summer and a hopeful aloha to the Fall swells soon to grace our beaches.
I didn’t have to speak with Olsen to find out he’s a classic longboard shaper and an indelible fixture in the surf industry. He’s been well known and respected throughout the industry for a lot longer than the 12 years he’s been sponsoring the contest, along with companies like Hi-Tech, Rusty, Leilani’s, Hula Grill and Kimo’s.
In between the card play Olsen told me he began shaping in 1948 for his own interests, initially working with wood because that was what guys shaped boards out of back then. Ten years later, he opened his own shaping business in 1958 in Seal Beach, California.
At the time, when he wasn’t shaping boards, he told me he worked in nearby Garden Grove as a high school wood shop teacher. He said he stayed in Southern California until 1971, when he took a leave of absence and moved to Maui. He’s been here ever since.
He has continued shaping—he abandoned wood long ago—but still cranks out quality boards from his shop in Lahaina. Speaking to him gives a person the unmistakable feeling that he’s lived a fun, enjoyable life and continues to enjoy it.
In many ways, he seems to have achieved the ultimate of what the sport of surfing can give you—that enduring stoked feeling that’s now considered a cliche. Considering his wealth of knowledge and history with the sport, he still exudes a real humbleness.
I was still writing down notes when Olsen heard that it was time for his heat, the 60 and over division, to paddle out. Excitedly, he excused himself, grabbed his board and headed for the water. He ended up placing second. MTW