The greatest athletes in the world gathered to remember a loveable larrikin — another victim of the “pandemic raging through society”.
The greatest athletes in the world gathered to remember a loveable larrikin — another victim of the “pandemic raging through society”.

Slater and Johns mourn death of surfing legend

Kelly Slater appeared in the room with a look that the world has rarely seen.

Andrew Johns stood in the back corner and like the rest, wondered if there could have been another way?

Fellow NRL greats Craig Fitzgibbon and Mark Gasnier both found themselves staring vacantly into the pictures on the wall.

Closer to the front, the legendary Tom Carroll sat in the third row.

The little world champion who took on the biggest of waves was wearing rubber thongs and an Hawaiian shirt, hoping perhaps that this day was something far different.

Outside, with the room of puzzled minds at capacity, surfing queen Layne Beachley pushed tears from her sun-kissed cheeks.

On the top floor of Wanda Surf Club, with the turquoise Cronulla beaches behind, one man gathered the greatest athletes in the world together in one room.

And not one of them could hide their anguish and their confusion.

Which as painful as all this sounds, is eventually where this story needs to go.

 

John Shimooka and his wife Lisa in 1995.
John Shimooka and his wife Lisa in 1995.

 

The sporting globe gathered for the funeral of legendary surfer John Shimooka last Tuesday.

An effervescent, life-of-the-party and hugely loved Hawaiian-born surfer who moved to Sydney 21-years ago, Shimooka famously finished runners-up at Bells Beach to his best friend and surfing legend Sunny Garcia in 1995 and proudly rose to No.19 in the world.

He was a fearless boardrider with trademark Hawaiian power and competitive drive.

Much more than that, he was ridiculously funny. That was what they all said at Wanda.

In eulogy after eulogy, they all spoke about the adopted Aussie with more cheek, one-liners and smart-arse than any boys' weekend away.

"Funniest person I ever met in my life,'' his father, Mike, said to the ceremony via video link from Hawaii, unable to attend due to travel restrictions.

"He was in the sixth grade and he came home from school one day and said: 'Dad, look what I got.'

"He showed me this certificate and it said, 'The bearer of this certificate is now considered the class clown.'

"I told him too, that I knew he was absolutely funny.

"And he hugged me - I still remember that hug.''

 

The sporting globe gathered for the funeral of legendary surfer John Shimooka.
The sporting globe gathered for the funeral of legendary surfer John Shimooka.

 

After leaving the tour, Shimooka was only getting started.

He was the flatmate of Bondi Rescue's Rod "Kerrbox" Kerr.

They'd surf all day and then hit the town where Shimooka would spend the whole night moonwalking around the pool tables like Michael Jackson.

Shimooka also found the dedication and energy to become a black belt in jiu-jitsu.

And, wanting to forge the sport of surfing into the hearts and minds of young Aussies, he pushed and promoted as general manager of Surfing NSW.

He loved the Roosters NRL team - emphasised by the Tricolours jersey hanging beside his coffin on Tuesday. Fitzgibbon, the surfing-obsessed Roosters champion, would even slip Shimooka and his Eastern Suburbs mates from Bronte and Bondi into the dressing rooms after Friday night matches.

His mates were the best at surfing, rugby league and jiu-jitsu and he was only known as "Shmoo" to his atlas of friends.

From Cronulla to Bronte, Rainbow Bay to Jeffreys Bay and California to Hawaii's Pipeline, it was his phone book of friends and family who either attended or tuned into the live stream of his memorial at Wanda.

 

Kelly Slater and John Shimooka together. Picture: @kellyslater/Instagram
Kelly Slater and John Shimooka together. Picture: @kellyslater/Instagram

 

Yet not one of them - so respected around the world, so influential, so determined and so desperate did they try - could halt the unimaginable pain and force that led to Shimooka taking his own life last month.

How could someone so amplified on life, so in love with his family and grinning in every Instagram post, do this?

"I was really looking forward to a great Hawaiian winter with John this year, we talked about it a lot,'' a visibly emotional Slater told the room via video link.

"I'll just be there surfing for him and thinking of him."

Shimooka is another victim of an illness that needs to be viewed as a greater priority than COVID-19.

The 51-year-old took his own life just over a year after the death of his wife Lisa. Happy on the surface, Shimooka was churning with mental anguish.

 

Slater, Shimooka, John Warn and Steve Waugh together during a golf day last year.
Slater, Shimooka, John Warn and Steve Waugh together during a golf day last year.

 

His close mate Ben Johnston was one of the few at the memorial who were aware of Shimooka's pain.

He helped Shimooka seek professional help and treatment. But after watching first-hand how the mental health system works in NSW, he believes more needs to be done.

"There is another pandemic raging through society, one which until the past decade or so was taboo to speak about - mental health,'' Johnston said in his eulogy.

"It is real - and our governments need to respond, they need to allocate more resources to fight it.

"Awareness only goes so far, affirmative action is what is required.

"To Shmoo's family and friends abroad, please know we tried … we did all we could, I promise you that.''

 

Mourners line the road to Wanda Surf Club on Tuesday. Picture: John Veage on behalf Surfing NSW
Mourners line the road to Wanda Surf Club on Tuesday. Picture: John Veage on behalf Surfing NSW

Seated inside the surf club, with the world wrapping their arms around him, sat Shimooka and Lisa's only child, 21-year-old son Brandon.

He bravely stood and delivered a loving tribute to his father.

"Dad, I am sorry we weren't able to ease that troubled mind,'' Brandon said.

"I'm sorry that life was not kind to you. I'm sorry that our time together had to be cut short.

"Let your mind be at rest, say hi to Mum and look after her for me.

"I love you.''

A gofundme.com page has been set up for Brandon.

 

Originally published as Slater, Johns mourn death of surfing legend


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