The world surfing community suffered a loss in February when we learned of the passing of former world champion James “Jimmy” Blears. Jimmy was best known on the North Shore for his 25 plus years of service as a City & County lifeguard at Sunset Beach Tower 25. It was in the waters at Sunset where Blears saved the lives of several hundred tourists, military and locals from its treacherous currents. In 1972 Jimmy won the World Surfing Championships held in San Diego, California, making him one of five world champion surfers to represent Hawaii. (Fred Hemmings, Derek Ho, Sunny Garcia and Andy Irons are the other four.)
Jimmy was born in 1948 in Los Angeles and moved to Waikiki in 1950. He was raised on the waterfront near what s near the Duke statue and surfboard racks. His family occupied the upstairs of the Steiner building and spent all their free time surfing and diving in this idyllic setting. Jimmy’s father, the legendary “Tally Ho” Lord James Blears had Jimmy and his mother Lee tandem surfing in front of their house when Jimmy was still in diapers. He attended Washington Elementary School in Waikiki and later Punahou, graduating in 1967. He was regularly seen surfing Queens, Publics and Canoes before and after school.
During his high school years Jimmy became involved in competitive swimming for Punahou School and competitive surfing, in which he excelled. He became a feared competitor in the Hawaii amateur surfing circuit and was nearly unbeatable in any conditions. His successes led to his selection to the team representing Hawaii in the 1972 World Contest along with a young Michael Ho and Larry Bertleman.
Lord “Tally Ho” Blears was also an avid surfer and world famous professional wrestler. He would often pile the entire family into their VW bus and head out to Makaha where they would all take to the waves. Jimmy’s brother Clinton and sisters Laura and Carol were all excellent surfers. In December 1969 Oahu was hit with gigantic swells from the northwest Pacific. On one noted day when the North Shore was 40 feet and closed out (many homes were damaged that day) Jimmy Blears was one of a small handful to challenge the 20 – 30ft walls at Makaha. He is reputed to have ridden a giant wave from the point through the bowl, a feat rarely accomplished to this day.
Around 1977 Blears became a City lifeguard and served for over 25 years at Waikiki, Makaha and finally Sunset Beach. He was ever vigilant and an ace at preventing swimmers from getting swept out in the channel rip. Jimmy was also one of the first true weathermen, able to read the ocean and sky and accurately predict the surf and weather. He was so good it was almost uncanny. One of his favorite pastimes was treasure hunting, whether free diving the shoreline or metal detecting on the steep berm. He was such a professional at finding gold — he was obsessed with it — we often referred to him as Goldfinger!
In 2002 Jimmy retired from the lifeguard service and soon moved to Kauai where he became a regular at the Black Pot Beach at Hanalei Bay. He was no longer an every day surfer, but he always had a good word and a smile for those he met. Much like “Tally Ho”, Jimmy had a keen sense of humor and a firm opinion on just about everythng. Bruddah Jimmy, you are a legend and a champion, and we will always remember the good times we all shared with you.
Rick Williams and the North Shore Lifeguards