Surfer. Disc jockey. Hula instructor. Freediver. Youth speaker. Black belt. Contest director. Lifeguard. Teacher. Waianaie Cancer Research Project Guide. Queen of Makaha. While Rell Sunn didn't deliver surfing to the world as Duke Kahanamoku had done in the '10s and '20s, she gave innumerable youths on Hawaii's impoverished West Side something to live for by delivering them into the world of surfing. Quite simply, from Duke's passing in 1968 until cancer cut her life short toward the close of the century, there was no better Hawaiian representative for the sport of surfing than Sunn.
Sunn lived her entire life on Oahu's West Side. She began surfing at age four and never strayed from the ocean. A dedicated diver, canoe paddler and surfer, she became the most accomplished waterwoman and best female longboarder in the world. She attended the 1966 world contest and, a decade later, played a vital role in starting a world tour for women. During her competitive career, she finished in the top eight in the world seven times, twice reaching number three. Her competitive credentials, while impressive, fail to present a complete picture.
Sunn's boundless contributions begin with her menehune contest on the West Side that she inaugurated in 1976. Every year, she collected prizes and trophies to give children with few opportunities a chance to taste success. She also found surfboards for those who couldn't afford them and guided many young Hawaiians from troubled childhoods into promising careers in surfing. Without her energy and compassion, many of top Hawaiian professionals, from Johnny Gomes to Sunny Garcia, would likely have ended up on the wrong side of the law.The scope of her goodwill was not limited to Hawaii. Since the 1966 World Contest in San Diego, her first real surf trip, her life was a collection of journeys. In 1986, she joined a Surfer magazine expedition that brought surfing to communist China. She traveled extensively, spreading Hawaiian aloha to every corner of the globe and always returning to Hawaii having brightened a few more lives. "Rell's Motel," her quaint home just one minute from Makaha, was a sanctuary for wayward visitors. It was her mission for people to leave with more direction than they came.
In 1983, Sunn was diagnosed with cancer. For 15 years, she battled the disease, surfing nearly throughout and never once complaining or wavering in her positive outlook. In 1995, she married former professional surfer and outspoken shaper Dave Parmenter, her third husband.
While unfailingly happy, her physical condition hit a downward spiral that culminated in her passing on the second day of 1998. Thousands of mourners turned out at Makaha to bid her farewell, each in some way affected by her warm charm. As the world of surfing lost a great ambassador, her spirit remains with everyone she touched. -- Jason Borte, August 2000
a special thanx to the great Surfline.com ( and Jason, of course) for this tribute