Ben Aipa, Egan Inoue and Roland Leong will officially join the ranks of the Hawai‘i Sports Hall of Fame as the Class of 2020. These three new members will be enshrined into the Hawai‘i Sports Hall of Fame at a ceremony in May at the Honolulu Country Club.
Following is a brief bio on each new inductee:
Ben Aipa didn’t start surfing until his early 20s, when an ankle injury sidelined the 5’8”, 240-lb. linebacker’s semi-pro football career. Shortly after taking up the sport, Aipa was competing at surfing’s highest levels: a finalist at the 1965 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Contest at Sunset Beach as well as finishing fourth at 1967 Makaha International and competing in the 1968 World Surfing Championships. However, it was behind the scenes as a surfboard shaper that Aipa made his impact on the sport. He made the board that Fred Hemmings used to win the 1968 World Championship. Two years later, he founded Aipa Surfboards, and in 1972, Aipa invented the swallow tail, a double-edged notch at the end of the board, which enabled surfers to execute quick turns on the face of the wave. He also added a wing along the board’s rail ahead of the tail to increase the board’s speed. The design innovations helped revolutionize the sport.
Aipa is also credited with contributing to the modernization of the longboard, applying new materials to innovative designs. The resulting lightweight yet stable platform opened the sport to a wider population and enabled older surfers to extend their surfing careers.
Category: World Champion
Egan Inoue is an entrepreneur. He owns a fitness company, with three gyms on O‘ahu, as well as a cryotherapy business. Inoue is also an author and a motivational speaker, who used to be a mixed martial arts fighter. However, before any of that, the multi-talented and multi-faceted Inoue was a two-time world champion in racquetball.
Inoue discovered racquetball as a 16-year-old, becoming Hawai‘i state champ by the time he graduated from high school in 1983. Just three years later, he won the men’s singles title at the International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships in Orlando, Fl. A year later, he won the men’s singles title at the 1987 Pan American Championships. Inoue won his second world title in in Caracas, Venezuela in 1990, the same year he started his own racquet company, E-force, which quickly grew to be one of the leading racquetball manufacturing companies in the world.
In 1993, Inoue suffered a serious knee injury, which forced him to retire from racquetball but left him plenty of time to take up other pursuits.
Sport: Car Racing
Roland Leong’s drag racing career was brief, just 8.01 seconds to be exact. That’s the time it took the then-20-year-old to speed down a Los Angeles-area drag strip at 191 miles per hour and crash when he couldn’t find the parachute release. The accident convinced the Hawai‘i-born Leong that his proper place in the high-speed sport wasn’t behind the wheel but as a member of the pit crew as an engine tuner and car owner. He soon teamed with another youngster, drag racing legend-to-be Don Prudhomme to win both the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Winternationals and the U.S. Nationals in 1965. Leong repeated the double win a year later, taking the prestigious races again in 1966, this time with driver Mike Sinvely behind the wheel.
In the early 1970s, Leong started racing funny cars, dragsters with tilt-up fiberglass or carbon fiber automotive bodies, which were starting to dominate the drag racing scene at the time. His cars, with “Hawaiian” prominently spelled out in bamboo-styled letters on their sides, became a standard to strive for in the sport, as Leong became known as a fierce competitor and perfectionist who left nothing to chance.
Leong eventually duplicated his back-to-back wins at Winternationals with two different drivers. In 1991, Leong and his driver, Jim White, had one of the most dominating performances in history when they won the “Big Bud Shootout” and the U.S. Nationals and became the first Funny Car to run over 290 miles per hour.
These three inductees will bring the total number of Hawai’i Sports Hall of Fame Members to 158.
“The 2020 Induction Class covers a wide variety of pursuits, exemplifying Hawai‘i’s unique and profound impact on the sports world,” said Larry Price, Hawai‘i Sports Hall of Fame’s Chair. “It is our honor and privilege to welcome Ben Aipa, Egan Inoue and Roland Leong to the Hawai‘i Sports Hall of Fame family. We are excited to begin working with them as we gear up for the Induction Ceremony this May.”