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Viper Promo -- 1/3/98
Well, I gotta admit, I was a bit hesitant. I have no delusions of grandeur--I'm a nobody compared to the incredible team of bodyboarders that Fred has put together. However, it would be a great opportunity to show my support for Viper. Who knows, it might be kinda fun... So, after leaving the kid with the in-laws, my wife and I went to check it out.
My wife decided to pass on the festivities and put in a couple of hours of intense shopping time for herself. She knew that I would have a good time with the boys. And I did!
There were lots of team riders there, most sporting the black Viper tee-shirt (myself included). Notable spongers included: Mike Stewart, Kainoa McGee, Spencer Skipper, Jeff Hubbard, Kyle Maligro, Manny Vargas, Alex Kinimaka, Cameron Steele, Seamus Mercado, and a whole slew of amateur riders from both Hawaii and California.
My buddy Ivan Okuda (also a Viper team rider) was behind the camera, shooting for his Oceanic cable access bodyboarding show, "Holy Waters."
Michael Coots, the bodyboarder who lost his leg to a shark on Kauai, made an inspiring appearance. I talked to him earlier in the afternoon, and he's the nicest guy you could imagine. His strong faith in the Lord has pulled him through without a hint of depression and he is looking forward to getting back in the water to eventually compete professionally.
But the showstopper was Mike Stewart's big announcement: he is no longer riding for Morey Bodyboards! They had a parting of ways and as of January 1st, 1998, he'll focus all his energies into Mike Stewart Inc., designing his own bodyboards and accessories.
Kauai boy Paul Asuncion did a great job emceeing the whole thing. His enthusiasm carried through the two hours with ease. He helped give away a total of 18 team boards and 10 Viper fins to the rabid audience.
The signing itself was a bit pushy in the beginning because the good people at Pit Bodyboarding magazine gave out free mags to the first 50 or so people. I, of course, had the dubious job of passing out the mags, stickers and autograph papers. I had to employ some mild crowd control at times, but after a while (after the mags were gone), the crowd settled down nicely.
You should've seen the look on people's faces when they got a chance to meet the boys (and Jenn Marr, the lone girl). They were especially staring and photographing Mike like he was some freak (actually, he is freak--an unnatural talent). Mike would make them totally at ease by talking to them, asking questions like where they surfed and what they rode. He's a great ambassador to the sport.
Actually, I could empathize with the crowd. I felt the same way, way back in '85 or '86 when Mike came to DejaVu surf shop on Kauai for an autograph session. I was helping out on that one too as a shop rider, and was in awe with meeting the man. In my eyes, he was a god. Still is, only more accessible now--maybe a demigod. :-)
There was this one guy who pulled out these old Bodyboarding mags for the riders to sign. Now these were vintage mags from the late 80's/early 90's. Talk about a true fan. You should've seen the one with Kainoa on the cover--taken eight years and over 60 pounds ago!
Then there was Manny Vargas. What a character! After coming fashionably late with some wild colored hair, he started signing autographs and drawing pictures; with three pens at once! Later, he breakdanced with Kyle Maligro onstage, then nearly caused a riot by trying to throw a board into the crowd. He also jokingly gave away a potted plant, compliments of Ala Moana Shopping Center.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable afternoon spent with the Viper gang. Although I am in the extreme periphery of this crew because of age/career/lifestyle disparities, I still consider all of them to be friends.
You may ask if I gave out my John Hancock that day? Actually, one person asked for my autograph--a fellow amateur team rider! If no one had asked, my wife would've--she's still my number one fan. :-)
Aloha from Paradise,