Lifestyle: Tommy Bernstein is the man. Surf City with the master

Lifestyle: Tommy Bernstein owns the surf and the sand. More tales of his adventures.

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In the beginning surfers wore what ever swim trunks were available. But if you went to Hawaii and got an Outrigger Canoe Club swim suit, that was special. They were made out of canvas, fit a little longer down the leg than regular swim trunks and had a distinctive stripe running down each side. On my first trip to Hawaii, I had connections that got me a guest membership in the Club and of course bought one, red, with thin blue and white strips down the leg. I actually kept it a long time and wore them when I life guarded at the Palo Alto Municipal pool, and on a river beach in Korea. Pioneer big wave surfer Greg Knoll (known as the Bull) was surfing Makaha when he ripped his trunks and needed a new ones right away. He went to the nearby town of Waianae and found the M. Nii tailor shop. He asked M. Nii to make a swim suit similar to the Outrigger Canoe Club’s. Nii did even better, using a much stronger canvas and incorporating a wider, more distinctive stripping down the legs. They instantly became the hit of the surfing world and beyond. Numerous celebrities, including President John F. Kennedy became customers. The first thing you did when arriving in Hawaii was to go out to M. Nii and get custom fitted for your trunks. In a couple of days he’d have them delivered to were ever you were staying and kept your measurements on file so you could order new ones from the mainland. I had three pairs, white with black and red stripes, black with red and white stripes and blue with white and black stripes. On my honeymoon in Hawaii, I took my wife out to Nii’s and had a two piece swim suit made for her. Nii had only one leg, and it was pegged, he used a crutch to get around. While Nii’s wife measured my wife, Nii and sat outside and gossiped. He had all the latest surfing dish. When I mentioned I was a friend of Miki Dora, he dropped his crutch and hopped around on his one leg doing and imitation of “the stowaway”, referring to Dora’s Lurline Steamship escapade (see back columns for details). 

After getting my wife fitted, we drove over to Makaha. I was a dark, rainy day, but Makaha was breaking and there were three surfers in the water, famed Hawaiian surfer, Buffalo Keaulana, and two south bay guys I knew. Always prepared, I had my Nii trunks and swim fins, so I borrowed a board from one on the south bay guys and went out. Buffalo borrowed my swim fins and body surfed, it was only breaking 8-10 feet that day. At least I got one surfing day on my honeymoon. 




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