Surfing world mourns death of Hawaii-born surfer John Shimooka

Family and friends are mourning the death of former world tour surfer John Shimooka, who uplifted people with his sense of humor.

Shimooka turned 51 on Nov. 9.

“He was the funniest person I ever met in my life. He happened to be my son,” said his father, Michael Shimooka of Waikiki. “He could always make me laugh and others laugh.”

Shimooka, affectionately called “Shmoo,” died early Monday, according to a statement from Surfing NSW, a governing body for surfing in New South Wales, Australia.

He died at his home in the Sydney suburb of Sutherland, according to No cause of death has been announced.

“A talented former world tour surfer, commentator, jiu-jitsu black belt and General Manager of Partnerships for Surfing NSW since 2018, ‘Shmoo’ was a much-loved member of the global surfing community and the Surfing NSW family,” Surfing NSW said in a statement. “He will be remembered for his passion for the lifestyle as well as his energy and enthusiasm.”

An official cause of death has yet to be released.

Originally of Hawaii, Shimooka competed in the World Surf League’s World Championship Tour in the 1980s and ’90s.

In a statement, the World Surf League said, “A former CT surfer, industry executive, commentator and coach, he made a major impact on the surfing world. Our hearts are with his family and friends.”

Many in the global surfing community turned to social media to pay tribute to Shimooka.

On Instagram, 11-time WSL champion Kelly Slater said, “My heart’s ripped out. I’m sorry, Shmoo. I thought we had this.”

Shimooka became a commentator in the surfing industry after he retired from the World Championship Tour in 1999.

Shimooka’s cousin Russell Shimooka, former KITV sports director and former KGMB news anchor, recalled co-hosting a surf show in the 1980s with John Shimooka where he observed Shimooka’s radiance with the audience.

He was so funny and witty, said Russell Shimo­oka. “He just took it to another level.”

He had an infectious smile and was adored and loved by so many people, Shimooka’s cousin said. “He was an all-around great guy.”

Former surf promoter Reid Inouye recalled noticing Shimooka’s natural talent in surfing during the Beach Park Challenge event he held at Ala Moana Beach Park in the 1980s.

“He was one of those kids that just had what it took to become next level,” Inouye said. “He had an intensity, a drive to become successful. He had that hunger, and that’s what you need in surfing.”

In addition to his talent, Shimooka was always supportive of his fellow surfers and friends. All the surfers love him, Inouye said.

His best friend, six-time Triple Crown of Surfing champion Sunny Garcia, who previously spoke about his battle with depression, has been undergoing speech and occupational therapy following a suicide attempt in April 2019.

Shimooka was set to travel to Hawaii from Australia this week to visit family and friends.

He and his late wife, Lisa Shimooka, who died in September 2019, have an adult son, Brandon Shimo­oka, who resides in Australia.

Kaipo Guerrero, former world tour surfer and now announcer who was friends with Shimooka for nearly 40 years, described Shimooka as gregarious. “He was just that ball of energy coming into the room that uplifts people,” he said.

“Having a great personality combined with an intimate knowledge of the sport of surfing made him a perfect sportscaster for surfing,” Guerrero added.

Shimooka’s father said his son developed a passion for the ocean as a child in canoe paddling where he was a steersman. His passion continued with surfing where he honed his skills at the “Big Rights” surf spot at Ala Moana Beach Park. “He was just a little under 12 when he caught that bug.”

“He just excelled so fast,” Michael Shimooka said.

In recent years he took an interest in stand-up paddling and competed in the Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships.

Shimooka’s father said his son will be best remembered for making people laugh and encouraging and motivating others. “He was a giving person.”

“I miss him dearly,” he said.

Memorial services for Shimooka are pending.