Surf historian Matt Warshaw replies to Reno Abellira's Instagram tirade!
Reno Abellira is one of my surf heroes. Reno, Jock, BK, Hakman, Nuuhiwa – my Big Five, during the formative years. I have style inflections to this day that come straight from Reno. There’s a Peter French shot of Reno at Ala Moana that is the backside bottom to which every one of my backside bottom turns has aspired.
Reno and I met in person while I was at SURFER, probably in 1988. He is a chilled out motherfucker, intense and quiet-voiced and formidable, and I was so nervous just sitting across from him. But evidently I passed muster, as we worked together on two feature articles the following year: “Performance: the Hot Pursuit,” then “Whatever Happened to Hawaiian Style? The Rise and Fall of Surfing’s Aloha Spirit.” The second piece was especially good, with Reno lamenting the fact that modern Hawaiian pros seemed to be losing sight of their surfing roots. Read this, and see if it doesn’t move you the way it did me when it first came across my desk:
Someone forgot to pass the calabash. Others were no-shows at their own initiation. That scares and saddens the hell out of me, for within the calabash lie all the vital legacies and knowledge important to our great surf heritage. With a symbolic passing and receiving of the bowl from generation to generation, the connection stays alive—the connection which threads its way up from the days of the ancients—and with it, the meaning of Hawaiian Style.
Reno’s articles were clean, concise, delivered on time, easy to edit. He and I talked on the phone during the edit process, going over drafts. He was stoked on how they came out in print. We had plans to do some more pieces during the upcoming winter, but Reno dropped out of sight, or at least dropped off the media radar, and that was it as far as the two of us go. I left SURFER the following year, in 1990.
I tried no less than six times to get in touch with Reno in 2000 and 2001, while researching the print version of Encyclopedia of Surfing. I had a basic questionnaire that all the surfers in EOS filled out (all the living surfers): birth date and place, school, year started surfing, most notable accomplishment’s, etc. I couldn’t find with Reno. The number I had for him was disconnected, my emails got no reply. The fallback in such cases was to do research from sources at hand. For Reno, that meant about two-dozen magazine articles. I had a Duke Boyd profile on him from 1968, one from Drew Kampion in 1975, one from Phil Jarrett in 1979. Most of what’s in Reno’s Encyclopedia of Surfing page is taken from those three articles, including this bit from Kampion’s 1975 profile:
The year before , Reno’s father was shot and killed in a pool hall fight. “Being a boxer,’ [Abellira said], “he had underworld contacts. He used to strong-arm gambling games in the downtown Honolulu environs.”
I had no reason to question this part of Reno’s bio. It didn’t come up in any subsequent surf mag interviews or profiles, and Reno and Drew connected again for a chatty Surfing conversation in 1979.
Reno’s Encyclopedia page has been out there, in print or online, since 2003. This is the first I’ve heard that he was unhappy with it. Attacked by my childhood hero. I won’t pretend it doesn’t hurt.