RIP: John Shimooka (1969-2020)

16 Nov 2020 5 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Image by Tom Servais

Image by Tom Servais

COASTALWTCH | SEAN DOHERTY

John Shimooka would be quick to tell you, “I’m lucky as a motherfucker.” He didn’t need to though. You only needed to look at him.

Shmoo knew he’d lived a fortunate life. From his days on tour in the ‘80s as the “dancing Hawaiian playboy”, to a successful comeback after “the wheels fell off”, to life in Australia with his family and a career that kept him in the surf and in touch with his huge circle of surfing friends, Shmoo wore his luck for all to see. Privately however – and particularly in recent days – he didn’t always feel that way.

John Shimooka passed last night. No details provided here, which might tell you enough for now. This is going to be an incredibly tough day for a lot of people. In Hawaii, in Australia and right around the world, surfing has lost one of its great characters and warmest souls.

Shmoo emerged from Hawaii in the mid-80s as a South Shore counterpoint to the macho North Shore vibe. Shmoo surfed fast and surfed with his hips. He surfed like he was dancing to a soundtrack in his head. He was deadly in the beachbreaks that made up most of the tour at the time.

Always quick to take the piss out of his short stature, Shmoo compensated with an overdeveloped personality. Shmoo filled the room wherever he went. Five minutes in his company and you simply became an extra in the Shmoo Show. Along with close mates like Rod Kerr, Matt Hoy, Dog Marsh, Pottz, Gerr, Sunny Garcia and Sonny Miller, they surfed fast and partied faster through the late ‘80s. Shmoo laughed when he described his tour dynamic this way, “It was a nuisance to compete. It got in the way of the partying.”

Eventually he burned out and dropped off tour in ’92. “I was living in California and there was a three-month period where I partied every night. Lisa and I had no money. I was counting penny rolls to go down to 7-11 for a hot dog and cigarettes, but I always had money for beer and everything else. I wasn’t surfing and I was close to 90 kilos, which for someone who’s four foot tall is a lot of weight. I hit the bottom off a big one and remember waking up one afternoon and Sunny was there. He said, ‘Shmoo, what are you doing? Come back to Hawaii.’” Sunny Garcia took him back home, whipped him back into shape and got him back on tour in ‘95. The pair made the final together that year at Bells.

Post-tour, Shmoo became the voice of surfing through the 2000s as a commentator and broadcast host. With surfing booming, Shmoo was everywhere. He moved to Australia with wife Lisa in 1999, and they had son, Brandon soon after. Living in Cronulla, he eventually began working with Surfing NSW as their General Manager, running contests and delivering his daily “Shmoo-one-two” surf reports online. That charisma never dimmed.

Recent days however have been tough. Last year he lost his wife and long-time soulmate, Lisa. A few months later best friend Sunny attempted to take his own life, surviving but now requiring full time care. “There’s not a day that goes by I don’t think of you two beautiful souls,” Shmoo posted online. “I love you both so much and look forward to seeing you at some point. Sunny when we go surfing someday soon and Lisa, when God says so.”

Their loss has weighed heavily. They were the two who’d saved him at his lowest point, and to lose them both in quick succession knocked him around. Up or down, Shmoo wore his heart on his sleeve and he’d always let you know how he was going. Often he didn’t have to say it; it was just a weary tone in his voice, or an enthusiasm level for life at a mere eight and not his usual 11. Shmoo was up so much, picking him when he was down was easy.

You could only imagine what he was carrying, but through it he was willing to share his troubles to salvage some good out of it. In August last year he attended the “Surfers Unite to Fight Suicide” event in Ulladulla. He got up that night and talked about Sunny, and the need to talk about what had happened… to prevent it happening to someone else’s best friend.

Shmoo was due to head back to Hawaii in December and had been looking forward to reconnecting with his Hawaiian crew for the first time in a few years. He posted a photo of Waikiki with the caption, “I can’t wait!!! My first happy place. I’m coming home!” He never made it.

Shmoo is survived by son, Brandon. Our thoughts today go out to him, and all Shmoo’s surfing families in Hawaii, Australia, and all around the world. We’ve lost another good one.

Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day. 
In Australia: Lifeline 13 11 14; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800; Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
In the US: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1800 273 8255

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