Ocean enthusiast left his mark in and outside of Hawaii

Charles “Chuck” Shipman was an avid surfer and canoe paddler who became well established in ocean recreation in Hawaii beginning in the 1960s, although he has also been described as “an adventurer, storyteller and free-thinking philosopher” whose impact reaches beyond the isles.

He died Dec. 28 in La Paz in Baja California Sur. A memorial service and paddle­-out will be held at Sunset Beach Saturday at 9 a.m.


Shipman was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1943 during World War II. His father, Charles Shipman, was a naval aviator, and his mother, Pearl Freitas Shipman, a member of the San Francisco Ballet.

Shipman, however, was raised in Kaimuki primarily by his grandmother Mary Freitas. He graduated from Saint Louis School and later attended Santa Barbara City College and the University of Hawaii.

By this time he had already shown an interest in ocean sports. While a university student in Hawaii, he searched through the Bishop Museum archives to learn more about the history of surfing.

He was a prolific surfer himself, and in 1965 was invited to the World Surfing Championships in Peru, where he eventually stayed for more than a year fixing surfboards, traveling and adventuring.

Shipman is often credited with the discovery of the famous “Chicama” in Peru, described as one of the longest waves in the world, while flying from Peru back to the U.S. He had spotted the waves in formation from the plane he was on and obtained the location’s coordinates from the pilot.

Later, Shipman sent those coordinates to his friends in Peru, and they spent years looking for the area before finding the now-famous surf spot.

Back in Hawaii in the late 1960s, he worked with the City and County of Hono­lulu’s Department of Parks and Recreation and was tasked with creating the Ocean Recreation program to help teach Hawaii’s youth how to swim, bodyboard, snorkel, surf, sail and paddle a canoe.

He had supported youth surf programs as Hawaii became an increasingly popular surfing destination, and had hoped that ocean users would move around in the ocean like early Hawaiians had before.

During his time in Hawaii, Shipman left his mark on ocean activities in a host of other ways as well. He, along with his uncle George Freitas launched Alii Surfboards with former roommate and famous surfer Paul Strauch at an abandoned warehouse near the current location of Ala Moana Center.

Alii Surfboards became a well-known gathering spot for surfers, and it likely was around this time when he developed a deep passion for the ocean.

Shipman also conceptualized the idea of surf reports on the radio, which began as a marketing effort for Alii Surfboards, and was a magazine writer who covered the history of surfing in Hawaii.

Additionally, he was involved with the creation of the Waikiki Rough Water Swim and the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon. Shipman was also an adviser and competition director for the Duke Kahanamoku Surfing Classic.

In partnership with the Polynesian Voyaging Society and Ocean Recreation and because of a fascination with Polynesian voyaging, Shipman held workshops teaching people how to use canoes. He had served as an adviser to the society’s board.

In the early 1970s the sailing canoe, with a history tracing back to the earliest navigators of Oceania, had disappeared, and Shipman was one of a few people attempting to rig them and use them as teaching tools for the public and potential users.

He developed sail prototypes for single- and double-hull canoes, which he tested himself. Those early experimental canoes weren’t immediately successful.

His daughter, Lia Colabello, said, “The first efforts led to hilarious scenes of his then-wife, Phyllis Shipman, swimming after the pieces of the canoe that would come apart after only a few minutes of sailing in the waters off of Kailua Beach.”

Shipman’s work even attracted the likes of master navigator Mau Piailug of Micronesia, who came to Hawaii to study modern fishing. Piailug built his own canoes that he used for traveling and fishing while sharing with Shipman the lore of sailing.

Later in life, Shipman started a real estate appraisal firm and tech company.

Though far from Hawaii, he remained close to the ocean.

Shipman is survived by wife Patricia Echinique, two children and two grandchildren.

Gifts in Shipman’s name can be made to the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

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