This oral history interview is a project of the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The legal rights of this material remain with the Outrigger Canoe Club. Anyone wishing to reproduce it or quote at length from it should contact the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The reader should be aware that an oral history document portrays information as recalled by the interviewee. Because of the spontaneous nature of this kind of document, it may contain statements and impressions that are not factual. A transcript of the video may be found below.
An Interview by Marilyn Kali
September 1, 2017
MK: Today is Friday, September 1, 2017. We’re in the Board Room of the Outrigger Canoe Club and I’m Marilyn Kali (MK), a member of the Club’s Historical Committee. One of the Historical Committee’s projects is to do oral histories of longtime members. Today it’s my pleasure to be talking to Fred Hemmings Jr. (FH). Good morning, Fred.
FH: It is a good morning.
MK: Thank you so much for joining us today. You were interviewed for an oral history in 1985 and that can be seen on the OCC Sports webpage. Today we’d like to update that and talk story about you and the Outrigger. In the first oral history, we talked about your family and your schooling, so we won’t repeat any of that. I know your parents were members of the Club and your older siblings. The Club was still in Waikiki back in those days when you first joined. What are your earliest memories of the Club?
FH: Fond memories, Marilyn. The Outrigger is a very special place, and it was founded on the beach at Waikiki and as I read history, in 1908, it was on the banks of Apuakehau Stream where they emptied the cool waters of Manoa Valley into the Pacific Ocean, so it was a very romantic location. When I was a young boy, the stream had long since gone but there was a Hau Tree outside the surfboard entrance to the beach, and the old Club had a lot of wonderful beach boys working in the Beach Services. So it was really a blend of old time Hawaiian culture with modern day tourism in Hawaii, which was just emerging back when I was a young boy. And it was a pleasant blend of the best of the new, and the old at the old Outrigger Canoe Club. It was a Club that was very functional to its name. It was the Outrigger Canoe Club, and our canoes were all on the beach.
What I remember fondly is some things like, we must have had 10, 12, 15 canoes on the beach and they were all made of koa cause there was no fiberglass. So it was a romantic era of Waikiki and of course of this Club.
MK: Did you surf in any of those canoes back in those days?
FH: Well, I learned to surf in a canoe. There was a little koa boat that regrettably got turned into a salad bar. But its name was Lio Kai — Ocean Horse — and it was a little three-man koa canoe. And all of us that were very young, we weren’t big enough or strong enough to take any of the big koa boats out — the big tourist canoes or the big koa boats out — so we all learned to canoe surf and surf in the Lio Kai. And there weren’t many of us … Few and far between, people that were surfing canoes in those days. But, fortunately, when I was eight, nine, ten years old, that’s one of the things that I learned: how to steer canoes.
MK: Who taught you?
FH: Well, you know, back then, you weren’t often taken out and given specific instructions. People, some of the old-timers, would tell you what to do. Guys, like Dad Center and, obviously Duke Kahanamoku, if they saw you doing something wrong, they’d sure let you know. But, you’d sign the canoe out, and basically go out on your own and through trial and error you’d learn how to do it. No one sat me in a canoe and said “OK, poke on the right, poke on the left.” It was something you just absorbed through your lifestyle.
MK: But, they let you actually take the canoes out at that age?
FH: Yeah, it was a less competitive world in those days. Things weren’t as restrictive because, you know, if a young kid wants to paddle a canoe and learn how to steer, yeah, let him take a canoe out and give it a try. That was the kind of environment that we lived in back then, simply because it wasn’t many people or wasn’t problem with traffic. You go out early in the morning, you’d be the only guy out in a canoe. The tourists didn’t start until 8:00-8:30 when the tourists woke up. So, it was a freer world back then, in my estimation, simply because there was less competition for waves and space and everything else.
MK: A lot less crowded and …
FH: Yes, exactly.
MK: So, if you took risks it was …
FH: If you wiped out, who cares? Bail the boat and get your friends and go get another wave. You don’t hit anybody …
MK: As long as you didn’t damage the canoe …
FH: If you damage the canoe … You learn very early to be very careful, because if you damage a canoe there’d be a price to pay.
MK: You became a member of the Club in April 1956 …
MK: Do you remember who your sponsor was?
FH: One was Dad Center. My dad was great. My father joined when he was a young boy in 1925, I think it was … He was a great admirer of Dad Center. I can’t remember who my second was, but I know that I had the privilege of having Dad Center as my sponsor.
MK: What kind of stories can you tell us about Dad Center?
FH: Well, Dad Center, by the time I was a young boy in the Fifties, was quite an elderly man, and I remember he, along with John D. Kaupiko, and of course our beloved Duke, were men held in great esteem by the sports community and, most especially, the water sports community. Dad Center himself was a good swimmer and was a good competitor, but he exceeded that tremendously by virtue of his coaching and his inspiration. He really was the backbone of a lot of the national efforts in swimming and especially the Olympics and things like that. We kind of remember him as the mentor of a lot of good swimmers and surfers and paddlers of early day Outrigger. He was like the coach.
MK: Did he teach you to swim?
FH: No. I was brought to the beach by my dad as a young boy and I remember this because I was so embarrassed when I was a young boy, you know, four or five years old, I’d roll around in the shore break and my dad, knowing that I wasn’t a good swimmer yet, got a floaty and … In fact, I laugh at it to this day, he called it the football, “Put the football on.” It was almost a football shaped floaty that you tie on around your waist, but the floaty was on the back and I was just smart enough to figure out, if you ever went unconscious you’d be floating face down. So, I had a floaty for the first couple of months until I learned how to swim. You learn how to swim like I learned how to surf and canoe steer — You learn by just going in the ocean and being careful and I started out with my floaty in the little shore break of the Outrigger.
MK: Did they make you pass a swimming test before they let you go out on a surfboard or …
FH: No, no swimming test at all. I got my first surfboard when I was ten. And, I came from a family of modest means, we didn’t have a lot of money. And my dad picked up an old hollow board that was lying around and I kind of took that out and, you know, started to learn to surf with that. My dad soon after managed to purchase an old board for me — A balsa board.
MK: But you had older brothers and sisters who surfed?
FH: Yes, I did.
MK: So, you were kind of following in their footsteps?
FH: Yeah, we (our family) were surfers and canoe paddlers. In fact, I’m very proud. I think, if you look in the trophies in the Outrigger, our family name is on a lot of the trophies because my sisters and my brothers were all champions within their own right. My sister, Cynthia, I think got third place in the 1958 Makaha International Surfing Championships. My brother was prominent in competing at Makaha and my brother was on a winning Molokai — Both my brothers were on winning Molokai crews, as was one of my sisters. So, our family has always been steering and surfing and competing here at the Outrigger.
MK: Did you come to the Club often when you were a little kid?
FH: Yeah. I’ve been a member 61 years now. I joined when I was ten, and this has been a major part of my lifestyle because of my relationship with the ocean. And, there’s no better place in the world — And I really mean that and I defy anybody to tell me otherwise. You know, you have a Club that accommodates canoes and surfing canoes and one-man paddling, now, and standup paddling and surfboards, and racing canoes. It’s all right here and it’s on the beach. I couldn’t canoe surf, because you couldn’t haul a surfing canoe — I mean, you can haul a one-man around, but if you want to canoe surf, like the surf’s good today and I might go out a little later and try to catch a couple waves at the Inside Castles. You can only do it here. I mean, you can’t haul a surfing canoe to some other location or, God knows, you couldn’t be hauling one to Waikiki every day and go canoe surfing. It’d just be too much time and trouble. So, this Club is extremely friendly to traditional Hawaiian water sports — canoe surfing, surfing, and paddling.
MK: When the Club was still in Waikiki, what were your favorite surfing spots?
FH: We kind of grew up surfing, and so, as you grow up those spots expand, but, I think every good surfer of the late Fifties and early Sixties all remember a spot that we called Number Three’s, and it was outside the Reef Hotel and the reef out there. It was, basically, a long, right slide wall that was just almost the perfect wave. On a six to eight foot day, there’s no better wave on the South Shore. It’s a long, beautiful right slide wave, and it was just magical.
And the Outrigger pretty much owned it, because we all went out there. It’s kind of interesting because Johnny Clark who was one of the state’s greatest resources did a book called Beaches of Oahu and he went through all the surfing sites and told about the history and their names. We had Canoe Surf in the middle of Waikiki where the canoes took tourists out, then we had Queens, which was originally for body surfers, then, in front of the Royal, was Baby Surf, where kids like myself learned how to surf in the smaller waves, so they called it Baby’s. Then, outside, on the reef, outside the Royal Hawaiian was a spot called Popular’s and next to it was Paradise. And, I guess, they never got around to naming Number Three, so they just said “OK, this is the third one down, we’ll just call it Number Three’s.” So, it’s interesting how some of these places got their names. The names do change …
MK: Do they still call it …
FH: They still call it, to this day, Number Three’s. And the next spot next to it is called Number Four’s and then, when Kaiser built the channel, they named the next surf Kaiser’s. And then, of course, there was Ala Moana, the famous Ala Moana Bowl, which was the next one down. Each little surf spot has a special name. Interesting, our favorite surf, when it gets big, is called Castle’s — named now for the Castle home — but it had a number of names. In ancient times, it was called Kalehuawehe. It had a Hawaiian name tied to a Hawaiian legend, which is very romantic. And I like to refer to it, to preserve that heritage, as Kalehuawehe.
They also called it Blue Bird’s because when the waves are real big, it’s out near the bluer water, rather than the lighter aqua water near shore, and the birds would dive in … The fishing birds, the iwi birds, so they also call it Blue Bird’s. And they also call it Steamer Lane, because on a real big day, you’re sitting out there, and you’re really far out in the bay, because the waves are breaking so far out. And ships would come out of the Honolulu Harbor and they’d come up the coastline going to the West Coast and it looked like they were going to hit you, because you’re so far out, so it got the nickname Steamer Lane, too. If you were surfing Steamer Lane, that meant that the waves were 15 feet or bigger. It meant big surf.
MK: Do you remember the Beach Boys?
FH: Oh, I remember them fondly. Yes.
MK: Do you have any stories to tell about them? Who were your favorites?
FH: I got a summer job when I was fifteen and I worked as a Beach Boy assistant — I wasn’t a Beach Boy — I was a Beach Boy assistant, which means I was a gofer for the Beach Boys. If boards had to be taken out or if someone had to paddle out and bring someone in, or early in the morning, setting up and bringing all the boards out of storage … I was a Beach Boy assistant. And my immediate boss was James Koko and there were a number of wonderful Beach Boys and what a merry group of men. They were just the happiest and they were very content in who they were. They weren’t trying to be high mucky-mucks or hotshots. They were very content at being Beach Boys. They loved the lifestyle and they had this sense of sharing.
For them, I kind of got the impression that taking someone surfing wasn’t a job, even though they were getting paid to do it. I got the sense that they would have done it anyway, because they just loved sharing the lifestyle. And Menehune, James Koko, a man I have great esteem for, Steamboat (Mokuahi), who took tourists out in the Ka Mo’i, the famous canoe that’s hanging in the bar at the Outrigger Canoe Club. That was his boat. And he was like the king of the Ka Mo’i, which, of course, means “the king”. Those men, besides being excellent surfers and canoe steersmen, were just a merry band of men that lived on the beach of Waikiki. In the Romantic Era.
MK: And they did have romances, too, I think …
FH: They specialized in that, but I think we won’t go into the details of that.
MK: Do you remember meeting Duke Kahanamoku for the first time?
FH: No. I grew up with Duke. I grew up in this shadow and he was … Even when I was a young boy, he was already fifty …. Nearing sixty years old. He already had a sense of grandeur to him. He was basically a modern day Ali’i, in a way, or revered as such. But he had a special gift, as men like him have. He knew no prejudice or no boundaries and he liked to call younger guys like me “boy”. A lot of the local guys would call younger guys, “Hey boy, do this … Hey, boy, do that.”
And he did everything with fondness and affection and he’d often give you tips, “Don’t go out” or “Watch out for this or that”. He was a … He was a mentor without mentoring. He was never, I guess the word would be “pedantic”. He never told you what to do, but you kind of absorbed his influence just by watching and being with him, seeing especially how he handled his relationships with other people. He knew no malice. He never had an ill word for anybody. And so, I was quite impressed with that.
MK: A nice way to model your life.
FH: Very nice way, if you can do it, yeah. It’s very difficult, because obviously you have people that cross your path and do some things that may be harmful to you. Your immediate reaction is to defend yourself and Duke would just say “Oh, OK, bruddah, it’s OK.” You know, he would never get personally offended. In fact, I have some great anecdotal stories about that. One particular time, I was hired by Kimo McVay, who started Duke’s restaurant, and he wanted to publicize Duke’s name and start a clothing line and other things … Duke’s Sportswear was made by Kahala Sportswear so he contracted it and we were all wearing Duke’s shirts and eventually we even had — it’s a cute story — Duke’s sneakers and things like that. But, at one time, we were at the Waikiki Shell, and it was a surf festival or some sort and we were signing pictures. Kimo made pictures of us surfing individually, there’s a team photo that’s now very famous of four of us standing on the beach with Duke. It was a Paul Strauch …
MK: The one that hangs in the bar?
FH: Exactly! Paul Strauch, Joey Cabell, myself, and Butch Van Artsdalen, and in the middle is this man in white, this grand man, Duke Kahanamoku. Incredible picture, just absolutely incredible.
So, we’re in the Waikiki Shell signing pictures at a surf festival and this guy comes up and says, “Duke Kohanawakawi” — Can’t pronounce his name … And the guy’s a middle-aged, Caucasian — obviously a man from the mainland — and he says “Duke, do you remember me? I met you when I was three years old, in such-and-such a spot.” And, you know the guy’s now fifty-something, and the natural reaction by most people would be, “How the hell am I gonna remember you when you were three years old fifty years ago?” Most people would say, it nicely, maybe. And Duke just looks at him and says, “Oh, oh, how nice to see you, again.” So, it was such a wonderful, ingratiating … And the guy’s face lit up like he’d been giving a gift, and he had. He had been given a gift of recognition by Duke. The Duke took his gesture, that was farfetched as it is — “Do you remember me?” — and he turned it into a very pleasant thing for that guy that probably made that guy feel like a champion. And it was just such a, “How nice to see you, again”. The guy’s face lit up and he was so, so happy — “Oh, Duke remembered me!”.
MK: What a wonderful story.
FH: It is a wonderful story. But that’s why, Marilyn, I get called on to talk about the history of Hawaii or talk about Duke. In fact, they’re having a festival in California and I’m going up there to share some stories about old Hawaiian surfing history and Duke. And, I like to say that in the Twentieth Century, we had a number of great luminaries in Hawaii. Great religious leaders, great political leaders, great military — Chester Nimitz, John Burns — people like that, who, really, were instrumental in building modern day Hawaii. But, if you ask the average citizen who the most prominent person and most loved person of the twentieth century was, and his statue’s on Waikiki Beach, it wasn’t these great luminaries or businessmen or tycoons, it was Duke — a surfer. So I think his character left a legacy that we’re all enjoying now.
MK: And still to this day, people revere him.
FH: Of course. Yeah, he’s a revered name.
MK: What was the first surfing contest you ever entered?
FH: Oh, I can remember it exactly. In fact, there’s pictures of it. I entered at twelve years old the Makaha International Surfing Championships, in the Junior Men’s Division, which is seventeen and under. It’s kind of an interesting story if you’ve got a minute.
I was very competitive and I like to think, and this even goes to 1968, when I did fairly well at the World Championships in Puerto Rico 1968 … I like to think that part of my success in surfing and canoe paddling was not just physical ability, but strategy. Back then, they had a rule, you’d go surf in the heat for a half hour, whatever it would be, and they’d add up every wave. So, if you caught ten five-point waves, you’d have 50 points; but if you caught five six-point waves, or five seven-point waves or five eight-point waves, almost up to a ten point wave … You caught five eights, that’s only 40 points.
So, I figured out, real quickly, that quantity beat quality. So, when I went out in the finals of the contest in 1958, it was … It was pretty big, it was about 8-10 feet — a little too big for me to go outside to what they call the bowl and catch a wave, because I was scared. I was twelve years old. So, I stayed on the side and shot in and caught whitewater and then rode the wave after it broke outside. I rode the inside and rode it right up on the shore and I’d paddle back out and do another one. So, I caught a heck of a lot of waves and because a lot of waves added up to more than the best waves, I got third place in this contest. And I’ll tell you what, all the other guys said, “Hey that’s cheating! That’s cheating! He never even caught a big wave!” They were right. But the rule was, you add up all the waves, and I knew the rule, and said “OK.” So, it was kind of an interesting story.
But it bode me well because, I used that same strategy in the world contest in 1968 in Puerto Rico and the rule then had been greatly refined that the surfer who catches the largest wave, rides it the greatest distance, in the most critical part of the wave, would win. So, I knew … And they would only take the top three waves. So, no matter how many waves you caught in the finals, they’d add up your top three, and they would count toward your final score. So, I figured out that three eight-point waves would beat ten seven-point waves, ’cause they’d only take the top three, so three sevens are twenty-one, three eights are twenty-four. The guy that only caught three waves wins, even though the other guy caught ten sevens. And, so, that strategy that I learned as a very young man proved to be successful.
FH: That’s why I say to this day, usually the margin of difference in great athletes is not only their skill, but it’s their mental capabilities and, most especially desire. There’s nothing more important — in anything you do in life — than desire. If you don’t think you can do something, you’re probably right. You probably can’t do it. But, if you think you can win, chances are that you’re gonna do a lot better than you probably deserve.
MK: Good philosophy.
FH: Yeah, it worked.
MK: Who took you surfing at Makaha the very first time?
FH: My dad. My dad wanted his kids to be champion surfers and canoe paddlers because he had such a passion for surfing and canoe paddling. At the Makaha International contest he took my older sister, my older brother, and myself to them, and that’s how I ended up at twelve years old in the Makaha International Surf … My sister was very successful. You know, she got third one year, in the Senior Women against some legendary women surfers. My brother was likewise the same, a finalist in a lot of the Makaha contests, Butchie — Mark Hemmings, he’s known as, now. It was something that we were exposed to by my father, who wanted us to have this lifestyle.
MK: Were you ever scared when you were out there?
FH: Sure. One of the things that … I coined the expression on TV … I used to do commentating for network coverage of surfing events and a commentator asked me as … What they call an expert commentator, “How do you measure waves when they get really big?” And I said, “Once they get over 30 feet, you measure them in increments of fear, not feet.” Everybody has a threshold in fear. Some people don’t get scared ’til it’s 20 feet; when it gets over 20 feet, then you start thinking about, “Maybe I could get killed.” Some people’s threshold is 10 feet. They think, “Oh, my god. Woe is me. I’ll get killed if I … ”
So, we all have a threshold and that threshold, I learned later in life, as you get older and less capable physically, that threshold starts to move down, as you know. I was still riding pretty big waves at Makaha in the year 2000 and I went out there one day and it was about 18-20 feet, which, you know, years before wouldn’t scare me much — “Oh, I can handle this.” — 25, 30 feet you start to think, “Oh, geez. Gettin’ kinda out of hand here.” But, 20 feet, you know, I’ll take a hit, no trouble. But I was scared. My fear level had gone down. My confidence had waned and I felt that 15-18 foot surf was perilous for me. And it was, probably, because I didn’t have the ability and agility that I had when I was a young man. So, it’s kind of a mental threshold more than anything else.
MK: What’s the biggest wave you rode?
FH: That’s always asked and it’s hard to say. Uh, I’ve got pictures …
MK: Where would it have been?
MK: At Makaha …
FH: Yeah, at Makaha, without a doubt, at Makaha.
MK: How big does it get?
FH: Makaha, on a good northwest day, when the swell is breaking at the right angle, and the tide is right, you can ride a wave in excess of 30 feet. And, it was … I’d like to say in excess of 30 … I’ve got pictures, so … Pretty big.
MK: Pretty big … What about your worst wipe out there?
FH: Uh, I got pushed down at the bowl, once. Makaha’s a magical place and it a big, long line, and you sit out on the point and because a wave’s coming from the North Shore, you can see them coming down the coastline as they hit the shore. You see a big set coming … Because you get so used to it, you see it breaking a certain way a half mile up the coast, and you say, “Oh, no.” And you can see the lines coming at Makaha and you start scrambling for the outside.
Makaha’s a big, long wall and there’s a lot of tricks to riding it. You don’t want to bottom turn at Makaha, because if you do, you won’t get around fast enough to make the wall. So, you learn real quickly to kind of turn at the top and start running down the face of the wall as soon as you take off. You keep yourself high on the wave because at the end of the long wall, which is, on a big day, maybe it’s almost a quarter mile ride, is something they call the bowl. It’s because the reef jumps a little bigger there, the wave jumps up and kind of bowls over. And it breaks just a little faster than the wall does, so if you’re not lucky, you don’t make the bowl, and you get your butt kicked.
And so, when you learn how to surf Makaha real well, you kinda look at it and the swell direction of the tide, you say, “Well, this is a 50/50 day.” If I take off on a 20 foot wave, I got a fifty percent chance of making it. Well, this was probably a 70/30 day … I mean a 30/70 day. It’s one of those days where I had thirty percent chance of making it, seventy percent chance I was gonna get snuffed — which I did, and I got held down a real long time. It’s not a pleasant way to die. Of course, if you die, you don’t know how unpleasant it was. But, I came up and swallowed some water and stuff and was lucky to get myself in.
MK: Wished you’d had your little football on … to bring you to the surface?
FH: Oh, man, I wish I had an air compressor on.
MK: What’s the difference between the surf at Waikiki and the surf at Makaha?
FH: Oh, there’s a lot of differences. South shore waves are a lot softer. It has to do with the geographics of surf. The wintertime, the storms in the Asian continent come across the North Pacific and they’re called low pressure systems. Often times, those low pressure systems go on to the continent of North America and become the great snowstorms for snow skiing.
Well, while those storms march across the North Pacific, they generate huge swells and they go out in different directions. Our Hawaiian island’s north coasts are in the perfect place to catch those swells at their epitome, at their highest. And we catch the full impact of a storm that’s 1,000, 1,200 miles away. Sends out a 30 foot ground swell. When it hits our reefs, it’s going full scale. I mean it’s …
Whereas, in the summertime, the storms that create the waves are off New Zealand and way in the South Pacific. So, those waves march five thousand miles sometimes to get to our South Shore. By the time they do, they’re a little softer and not as powerful, and of course they’re not as big because they’ve dissipated a lot of their energy.
And the other thing, too, is the reef contour. On the North Shore, a swell will hit the reef going full bore, and it’s coming out of deep water, and it jumps up real high. Well, here we have a more sloping bottom. So, what it does, is it taxes and slows the swell down a bit, so that when they do break on the South Shore, they’re usually a softer, easy-to-ride wave, because they’re not going full bore. It’s kind of technical stuff, but it’s an interesting thing.
And what’s really amazing, Marilyn, is … A lot of surfers ride waves, and they don’t know this. They don’t know where the wave came from and why it’s breaking there. They’re just riding a wave. It’s really something a good surfer should learn, because it makes your ability a little better to understand why a wave breaks the way it is.
MK: Well, when you started surfing, Makaha and Waikiki were basically the two places to surf. When did surfing move out toward the North Shore?
FH: Well, there’s stories of … in the late forties and early fifties of some Waikiki surfers going out there, and there’s a great legend about a guy named Dickie Cross getting killed at Waimea Bay and that, everybody said, “You can’t ride the North Shore, you’ll die.” And everything was at Makaha because, in 1954, the Waikiki Surf Club founded the Makaha International Surfing Championships.
I think that the North Shore became popular in the late Fifties and early Sixties when the first California surfers came to Hawaii, and a lot of them stayed at Makaha, but they ventured to the North Shore. The North Shore is always a little bigger, because it gets the swell direct, it doesn’t go around Kaena Point, because of the swell direction at Makaha. So, if Makaha’s ten feet, the North Shore’s twelve to fifteen, usually. A lot of the California surfers eventually started going out there a little more, and they ran into guys like Henry Priest, a great North Shore surfer. North Shore got popularized basically cause of Californians coming here and bringing with them cameras and surfing magazines.
MK: Did you do any surfing out there?
FH: Sure. As a young boy, in the early Sixties, mid Sixties, I heard about the North Shore. In fact, I rode the Pipeline when I was thirteen years old, in 1959, and almost drown. My brother (Butchie) said to me, “Damn you, Freddy! If you had died, Dad woulda killed me!” So, he had a good perspective on me drowning on the North Shore. It was known of in the Fifties and early Sixties, and, you know, as a young kid, I wanted to go out there, and, you know, find out about it.
MK: Did you compete in the Duke Kahanamoku Surfing Championships?
FH: Yes, I did.
MK: They were held out on the North Shore.
FH: Yeah, the Duke contest became the premier prestigious event, because it was by invitation. Coincidentally, by the time I was put on the Duke Surf Team, by a man who, really, is not recognized enough … Kimo McVay, Kimo Wilder McVay … Great story that someone should tell, about his life story, but … Bottom line is, he started Duke’s Restaurant and he started the Duke surf team and he started the Duke contest. I was hired by Kimo to be the captain of the surf team and more or less help him with developing the surfing businesses — surfing clothing, surfing sneakers, and there’s a lot of stories we had out of that.
But, I also spent a lot of time with Duke in the last years of his life, because Duke had an office there and I had an office, so Duke and I would spend a lot of time together. Especially when we traveled on promotional tours for Hawaii.
MK: Now, what beach was the Duke contest?
FH: The Duke surfing contest was at Sunset Beach. They wanted to get away from Makaha, and Kimo was able to contact them — a gentleman named Larry Lindberg, who’s pretty much an unheralded hero. Larry Lindberg produced and eventually, when I got my business going, the Triple Crown of Surfing, producing pro events, Larry Lindberg produced and had events … I was producing on all three television networks. So, Hawaiian Tourism Authority likes to think they’re promoting Hawaii, and this was before cable TV. There were only three networks — ABC, CBS, and NBC. We had surfing events on all three networks and I produced them and owned them, but Larry Lindberg covered them and sold them to TV networks.
We kind of pioneered surfing television broadcast. ABC Wide World of Sports, CBS Sports Spectacular, and NBC Sports World. I worked with Bill Flemming, Jim McKay … Worked with a young man who won a couple Olympic gold medals named Bruce Jenner, who’s now no longer a young man. He’s an older woman. So it’s been an interesting ride.
MK: Outrigger has always been a proponent of amateur sports …
MK: Was the Duke Meet for amateurs or was it …
FH: It started out (for amateurs), then Larry Lindberg in 1967 or 8 went to Kimo McVay and Larry Lindberg and literally gave Kimo McVay a thousand dollars — and people don’t know this story — and he said, “You should give out this money to help compensate these guys. They’re going out there, they’re risking their lives, they’re riding big waves. You should compensate them.” So, the first pro event of significance was the Duke event. In ’67 or 8, I can’t remember the year. It was the year Mike Doyle won (1968). I remember I was so jealous of him, because I was still competing. I wore two hats. I was a competitor and then I also got hired by the ABC Wide World of Sports to do the commentating, to be what they call the color commentator, the expert commentator. But, Mike Doyle won. Fair and square, too. Great surfer from California.
MK: Now, was it the winner of the Makaha meet that got to go to the international championships or …
FH: Originally, the Duke didn’t exist. In 1954, Waikiki Surf Club started the Makaha contest and Makaha International Surfing Championships, and it became the defacto world championship of surfing. So, anybody that won that really was considered the world champion. There’s a wonderful club that is really our sister club and its members and its history is deeply tied to the Outrigger in Peru, on the shores of Miraflores near Lima, called Club Waikiki. Club Waikiki was built and mirrored the Outrigger. It was built by Carlos Dogny, who came here in the 1930s and spent a lot of time at the Outrigger and went home and started his own club in, I believe it was 1939, called Club Waikiki, that pretty much mirrored the Outrigger Canoe Club. It had paleta, rather than volleyball, which is a game you play with a smaller ball and a mallet.
MK: Over a net?
FH: Yes, over a net, and they still have it to this day. And the club had a swimming pool. But, most importantly, it had surfboards, so Carlos Dogny created Club Waikiki, which is a surfing club, so … I won the 1964 Makaha contest and the Peruvians had started something called the Peruvian International Surfing Championships in the Fifties. And, they would invite champion surfers from around the world, usually … And you were there total guest. They’d fly you down there … In fact, I’ll never forget, I flew a prop plane down there and ended up flying a Pan American Clipper to the West Coast and then took an airline called Panagra to Lima, and I competed in the 1964 Peruvian International Surfing Championships.
They had a Club Waikiki in Lima, but south of Lima, maybe thirty miles, is a beautiful bay called Punta Hermosa, and outside Punta Hermosa in the middle of the bay was a beautiful break called Kon-Tiki. So they had their big wave contest at Kon-Tiki and this was in ’64. I was at Kon-Tiki and I looked over to the point and I saw this beautiful point surf with beautiful waves peeling off the point, coming into the bay, and there was a right slide, and I said, “God, look at that wave over there. How come you guys don’t surf over there?” And they said, “Oh, you can’t surf over there. Too many rocks. If you wipe out, it destroys your board.” Well, lo’ and behold, in 1965, they moved the world championship, the newly formed world championship, to Peru where it was hosted by Eduardo Arena and … They had the contest at Punta Rojas, you know, the rocky point that I saw, and they figured out, well … What they did was, they hired a bunch of beach boys and if you wiped out, the beach boys would literally wear tennis shoes on the shore, and they’d run down the rocks, and they’d jump in and try to catch your board before it went on the rocks.
MK: What about you?
FH: Well, surfers, you learn how to … You know, there was a beach … There was a point and then there was … Next to the point there was a beach, so you learned how to either swim in gently and scamper up the rocks, which surfers know how to do, or you’d swim into the beach and go around. But, it … It was an interesting championship, it was huge surf for the world championship, it was ten to twelve foot waves at Punta Rojas, and it was quite an event. Little colder water, big jellyfish in the water, and it was … It was challenging.
There’s a cute story, because I was part of the Hawaiian team, and Buffalo Keaulana was on the team, and Buffalo and I roomed together — Buffalo and I are great, great, great, great friends. We drank beer and had a good time down there, but that’s another story for another day. So, the judges sit on this point, and the left slide, the wave it peels into the bay, and you really go past the edge of the bay … The right slide was where the hot part of the wave was, it was like Sunset Beach. So, if you really wanted to score the big points, you’d take the right slide, because that’s where you get the maximum points ’cause it was really … The left was kind of long and boring.
So, we’re there surfing, but Buffalo’s goofy foot, so he goes left better, so he takes off with this huge peak, and he turns left, and he goes left, and he rides into the bay. And, so the judges are going like this, like this, like this (turning head) … And so, later on, I said, “Buffalo! How come you wasted time riding into the damn bay? The judges couldn’t even see you!” And he says, “Freddy, was a good wave. Of course, I rode it into the bay, it was a good wave. Who cares about the judges?” So, that was the kind of fun that we had, and he said, “Yeah, Freddy, was a good wave.”
MK: You went to more than one world championship?
FH: I didn’t go to many. I was … I knew what my limitations were. I went to the ’65 in Peru, and I went to the ’68 in Puerto Rico. I went to the championships that were going to be held in surf that … I’ve never been a beach blanket bingo surfer, is what I used to call ’em. Small, shore break waves. I couldn’t surf at Huntington Beach. Couldn’t surf shore break, and they had a couple world championships, in smaller, beach kind of breaks, which were not my forte. I needed a little bigger wave for my assets to become relevant. Punta Rocas in Peru in 1965 was one. The other one, of course, was Puerto Rico, where the waves were eight to ten on the day of the finals. So, surf that fit my style.
MK: You did travel a lot, though, with surfing. You traveled with Duke and with others all over. What were some of your trips?
FH: We had all kinds of trips. Back when Kimo had the Duke surf team, we actually did a Hawaii promotion in Texas, believe it or not, in the place that, right now, is suffering from all that bad rain — we went to Houston. And we visited the Space Center with Duke, and Duke sat in a space capsule, and we did all the things that tourists would do at the Space Center and got the VIP treatment, of course. And we did a big promotion in the Foley’s Department Store for Hawaiian sportswear. So, we had a lot of fun on those trips …
This is an interesting story. When Kimo McVay started Duke’s restaurant in the back of the International Market Place, it became a gold mine because Kimo hired a young crooner named Don Ho. And, so, people would literally line up and gave a huge door charge and then paid a lot of money for a Mai Tai or two to go watch Don Ho. So, Don Ho became so popular they asked him to come to the mainland, and he debuted at The Coconut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel in Hollywood, in Los Angeles. So, we all went up for that, and Duke had a big suite, and I had a room next to him and Paul Strauch had a room and Butch Van Artsdalen had a room. And we all experienced that great occasion. It was really something. I mean it was … Don Ho just exploded with national popularity, he was such a character.
But, we all experienced that with Duke and we had a great time … In fact, we went surfing, there’s a very famous picture … Kimo would arrange for a press … Press ops, which Kimo was famous for. He put surfboards on a Rolls Royce and we went to Malibu to go surfing, and I sat in the back with Duke, and we all went to Malibu. We went surfing and Duke did one of the things he liked to do best — He took a nap.
Which I also learned very young … We talked about the old Outrigger on the sand at Waikiki … Every afternoon under that Hau tree at the edge of the Club … There was a Hau tree and a lot of the beach boys, including Duke, they’d get those old mats … You know, the material mats, and they’d go take naps. And so, a lot of times, I’d end up sleeping under the Hau tree with the beach boys. I learned how to take a nap. To this day, it’s really funny, because … Fast forward to years later, I was in the State Senate, and I’d often times in the afternoon ask the secretary to not let anybody in, and I’d close the door, and I’d lay on the couch and take a nap. It’s a great habit.
MK: Did professional surfing get started in Hawaii or on the mainland?
FH: You know, that’s an interesting question and I’d like to take the opportunity to say, there’s something in history that’s often lost … They say, Christopher Columbus discovered America. Well, technically, he didn’t. Leif Ericsson and Norwegians came down all the way to New York, so they really discovered the North American continent before any other Europeans. Christopher Columbus popularized North America. Captain Cook discovered Hawaii. No, he didn’t. I’ve got charts and documents that show that Spanish galleons sailing from Mexico to Guam on trade route at thirteen degrees north latitude landed on Hawaiian islands on numerous occasions prior to Captain Cook. That’s why the Hawaiians had capes, like the conquistadors, and their helmets were like conquistadors. They were influenced by these infrequent visits of Spanish galleons 200 years before Cook got here.
So, when you say, “Who started pro surfing?” I think the real question is, “Who made it happen?” And, it happened here in Hawaii, quite frankly. We produced the Smirnoff World Pro-Am here. The money was given out for the Duke, and then in 1971, I started the Pipeline Masters. Then, soon after, in 1976, Randy Rarick and I literally founded the world’s first pro surfing circuit. I called up all the contest directors around the world in the major pro events and said, “Do you want to be part of a pro circuit?” They said, “Yes.” “Well, you gotta do this. Invite these guys. You know, and have a system that rates them and we’ll always have the top guys competing. And they all agreed, so we started the world’s first … So, really the roots of pro surfing come from the Duke and Makaha and Pipeline Masters and Randy Rarick and I founding the world pro circuit.
Now, of course there’s history revisionists would like to take credit for all of that and, you’ll probably get a different version of that, like you’ll do with most history things. I like to say that history usually wears the face of the person who’s telling it.
MK: Yes, I think that’s very true. But, you were involved in the forming of the Surfing Association …
FH: I did do it. We did found it. Randy Rarick and I founded the first world pro surfing circuit in that we did consolidate and we ranked all the surfers, and we awarded, at the end of the year, a world champion based upon the performance in the sanctioned events around the world. So, we literally formed, which could be called the NFL of pro surfing, you know, the association that now is called the World Surfing League. And I have to pay compliments to the people who run the World Surfing League. They do an incredible, excellent job of running the world professional surfing circuit. It’s a difficult task. It’s like herding a crowder of cats … A herd of cats. It’s difficult. Surfers are very independent — by their very nature — minded people and it’s hard to get them all together and on the same page.
And the early days were especially hard because there was no precedence. You know, whatever we did was the first time it was done, so, “Oh, you can’t do that. Here a better way.” So, we’re always dealing with a bunch of experts.
MK: When you started, how many professional surfers were there?
FH: I’d say, there were … 20 to 30 viable, international surfers that had been competing more or less amateurly that stepped into the pro realm and became what we call … We rank the top 32 surfers by ranking. There are 20 to 30 that were really competitive, then there were also intermediate ones — guys that’d come in every once in a while and do well, real well.
You always have people like Jerry Lopez who owned the Pipeline — I mean, no one was better — and Rory Russell was another one. But they weren’t interested in surfing on the world circuit, so you had, you know, a few of the independent guys that were … Could win the Pipeline anytime you held an event, but they didn’t surf much, competitively, much else. So, the early days, or the formative years, were the difficult years, you know. Especially when it came time … One of the reasons Randy and I formed the International Professional Surfing’s what we formed … The first world circuit was to provide an objective way of selecting competitors for events.
Prior to that, I would … Like, the first Pipeline Masters, which is, you know, fifty some odd years ago … I would just sit down, I’d pick six guys that I thought were the best guys to surf Pipeline. Say, you know, “He’s got the best reputation. Jerry Lopez, you’re invited. Rory Russell, you’re invited. Mike Armstrong, you’re invited. Jeff Hackman, you won the Duke’s, so you get invited.” I pick six guys — Billy Hamilton — so those were the six. And I said, you guys are gonna be in the first Pipeline Masters. I’ve got a thousand dollars and we’ll give the money out at the end of the event. I put up a card table on the beach, got some bunting from the Smirnoff contest, put chairs out for judges, and that was the contest. They went out and they surfed for an hour and came in. We’d computated and we gave a check to the winner, Jeff Hackman.
MK: So, how many are surfing today, professionally?
FH: That’s a good question. You’d have to ask the World Surfing League. They have what they call a qualifying league where you work your way up through the amateur ranks. It’s like the farm teams in baseball, and then you get into what they call the big leagues, the top-rated surfers. My guess is, there’s probably 200 plus guys that are in the either the amateur … I mean, not the amateur, but the farm league, and in the major league. There’s about 200 guys that are trying to be professional surfers, competing on to one degree and then the world circuit. And I say, there’s maybe … The top 20 are making serious money. I think the top guy now makes about twenty million a year, between endorsements and prize money.
FH: Yeah, they get huge contracts. Kelly Slater. Well, Kelly Slater, I’m going on September 19th to the unveiling of a wave machine they have in California, and Kelly’s company, with some financial partners, is making a wave machine, which is gonna revolutionize the sport. And that’s another message I have for the sport of surfing, is there’s a lot to be done yet and we’re just scratching the surface of ways to enhance the value of surfing.
One of the things I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve, in my efforts for 30 years, have fallen on deaf ears … I want to create surfing spots where there are waves, and that’s by bottom contouring, and you can do it with very large sandbags, and you do the topo map of a good surfing spot like Queens, and then you take outside where you can basically duplicate that bottom with sandbags, and you make a surf site that really replicates Queens, and you do it in such a manner that is far enough out, that doesn’t create currents and eddies and things like that. We gotta start thinking like that. California has Huntington Beach and that whole coastline, and the waves come in, and they flop over on the beach. The only reason Huntington Beach is a little better wave is because they have the pier, so it makes the wave break a little different. But if you went 100 yards off shore and dropped — strategically placed sandbags that would cause the wave to break 100 yards off shore, you could build surf.
And, you know what you’ll always have when you innovate, Marilyn? And, I’ve liked to think I’ve innovated a lot of things in my life, especially early days of pro surfing … You’re always gonna have critics. They’re always gonna have people, “You can’t do that. You can’t do that. You can’t do that.” But you can do it. And you’re gonna make mistakes, and you just gotta keep doing it ’til you get it right. We can do things like this, but it takes some people — bold leaders with imagination that are willing to do it.
MK: You’ve talked about men. Were there any women professional surfers?
FH: Of course there were.
MK: Back in the early days?
FH: Yeah, and …
MK: I noticed you didn’t mention any of them in the invitations to compete in the meets.
FH: I felt very strongly about women athletes and … The women were kind of an afterthought on the part of a lot of surfing world, because back then, there was a real macho attitude, you know, “Women don’t belong in big waves”, and things like that. And they didn’t, they didn’t surf big waves.
But, when I started the Pipeline Masters, I also started something called the Women’s Masters, and, you know, we started an event just for women, and … Women like Patty Paniccia, who I eventually hired to be Randy Rarick’s counterpart, to organize women’s pro surfing. Jericho Poppler, beloved Rell Sunn, Margo Oberg, who I surfed in Puerto Rico with at the World Surfing Championships … They were the pioneer women’s professional surfers.
I have to say, for the men and the women, being a pro surfer then was a labor of love, because if you added up the cost of traveling around the world, going to these different events, and you didn’t have much sponsorship, you often lost money every year. But they were doing it because they loved it and they believed in the future of pro surfing and so the early pro surfers, both men and women, were great pioneers. And I think the young competitors, like Carissa Moore and Kelly Slater, that are making millions of dollars now, owe a great debt of gratitude to these great pioneer women and men’s pro surfers.
MK: Who are some of these pro surfers that the Outrigger has produced?
FH: Well, I think that, the best surfers … Well, the best pro surfer’s, without a doubt, Carissa Moore, because she rose to the top of the women’s surfing world. Outrigger surfing has waned a bit, as far as the international competition market goes. My son, Heath, won the amateur world championship. And then, back in the Sixties, of course, Joey Cabell and Paul Strauch and myself, we won our fair share of international competitions, including the world contest.
But, modern day surfers, I think Carissa Moore’s the only one of world renown that has really made a mark on world surfing. And I don’t even know if she’s affiliated with the Outrigger anymore, but she started here at the Outrigger, and we should be very proud of that. She grew her roots here at the Outrigger. The Outrigger has been the wellspring of many great surfers as well as paddlers and swimmers.
MK: I want to go back to Duke for a minute. What’s the one thing about Duke that you’ll never forget?
FH: Dignity. He was a dignified man. People have auras, I believe. They walk into a room, and their aura is perceived, although it’s not realized — it’s a subliminal thing. Duke had dignity. Duke would walk in a room, and you sensed that you were in the presence of greatness, and his dignity, I think, was part of it. He just had this aura of dignity and greatness to him. That’s what I remember.
MK: He could be remembered for so many things — swimming, surfing, canoe paddling, he was even a volleyball player … What do you think his real legacy is?
FH: I can summarize it one word. Aloha. He taught me — not, like I said early, pedantically, through telling me anything — but he taught me through the way he lived, that, you know, aloha is more than a word of greeting or salutation or a word of goodbye. It is a lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle of appreciating the things that really matter in life, and Duke lived aloha.
MK: You know, you’ve written about Duke’s great surfing feat, going basically from Steamer Lane all the way to the beach at Waikiki …
FH: I get asked to tell that story around the world.
MK: Have you ever tried to do that ride, to emulate that ride?
FH: Funny you should ask! The Outrigger Canoe Club moved up here in ’64. I think we opened the doors in January of ’64 in Cline Mann. We had a big party. It was 1965, and the Duke team had been formed, and I was employed with Kimo McVay … And, in 1965, early in the summer, there was a big, south swell, and it breaks out at Kalehuawehe Castle Surf, and … I went out there on a big wave board I had called Big Red, and it was … I won’t tell you why Big Red was Big Red, but basically it was a board for real big waves, and I rode it at Waimea Bay and Makaha on the North Shore and … I took off on a real big wave at Castle’s … You could see the walls going across Waikiki Bay, it’s almost like it would connect, and I rode through Castle’s and out … It breaks outside Public’s, so I rode through outside Public’s, and I got to a break outside the Kapahulu Wall called Cunha’s, and the wave caved in. And I had to pull out, and I had to go straight in, and I rode up at the Kapahulu Groin and stepped off of the beach …
A lot of time, in the old days, you always wanted to ride the wave to the beach and walk up the beach. So, it was like, “I did it.” We used to do it all the time at Makaha — ride the shore break and then you’d get on the back … You step off and grab your board, “Hey, steppin’ off on dry land, here.”
So, I stepped off on the beach, and I walked back to the Outrigger … So, several days later, I’m with Duke in the car, and I’m driving to the Outrigger — we’re going to lunch at the Outrigger … I said, “Hey, Duke. I got this ride from outside Castle’s, and I rode all the way, and I got to Cunha’s and the wave closed out,” I said, “I couldn’t … You can’t make the wave nowadays.” And Duke said, “Aw, nobody can make that wave, now.” And … You know, because I was asking him how he got that ride … And, at first blush, I thought, “Oh, it sounded kinda braggadosh,” that Duke was telling me nobody could get a ride like he got. And it wasn’t true at all.
He went on to explain, he says, “You know, boy, back then, in 1917, when I caught that wave, there was no Ala Wai Canal. So, the streams came out … One by the wall at Apuakehau and next to the Outrigger, and, since they closed Ala Wai, there’s a big sandbar over there,” and, he says, “the wave closes out because of the sand bar. You can’t make it anymore.” So, he was giving a very substantial surfing explanation why you couldn’t make the wave, because it didn’t break all the way through, anymore. You could have a powerboat, you wouldn’t make it. Because it didn’t … You know, the wave didn’t line up into the bay like it used to. So, it was a very logical explanation why it’d be very hard, if not impossible, for anybody to duplicate Duke’s ride of 1917. And, as the legend has it, he stepped off near the Moana Hotel. He rode the outside canoes and came straight in.
MK: I know other people have said they have done it, so I was just curious …
FH: I think there’s a lot of lies about that.
MK: Based on Duke’s response it appears …
FH: Well, let me tell you about old surfers. If, in a day in their youth they rode waves that were fifteen feet, by the time they got to be old men, they were thirty feet. The waves get bigger every year, and the rides get longer. I don’t know of, and I would say it would be, pretty much impossible for — Not impossible, I hate to use that word; it’s so absolute — Very difficult, if not impossible, for someone to ride outside Castle’s into the beach at Waikiki at the Moana Hotel.
MK: You just run into everybody … Too many people, even, to do it …
MK: What do you think about surfing at Diamond Head after we moved here in ’64?
FH: Best move we ever made. One of the persons that was, pretty much, laid the blueprint for the move up here and orchestrated it all was John Cline Mann, a dear friend, and a dear supporter of traditional Hawaiian sports. Many great stories with Cline, through our years together.
Before the Club moved, he brought me, and a couple other surfers, and said, “Let’s go up there and see how the waves are,” Cause a lot of the surfers were saying, “We don’t want to move, we don’t want to move.” We had to make a choice between staying, in what now is the Outrigger Hotel, or moving up here. We could have stayed with some kind of deal with the Kelley’s to rent the second floor of the Outrigger Hotel and make that the Club, or we could move up here and lease the land from the Elks Club. So, that decision was being made and, of course, Cline wisely favored moving up here.
But, a lot of the guys said, “Oh, there’s no surf up there. We can’t … ” You know, the guys and the old timers were used to riding canoes in Queen’s and Number Three’s. So, Cline brought myself and — I forget who was with us — a couple of us up here. We walked through the lot, and there were some old houses on this lot … Came to the thing, and paddled out around the reef, there was really no basin … And, we went out to Old Man’s, and, fortunately for Cline and the rest of us, it happened to be a good summer day, and so the surf was like six feet at the bowl — and it was great surf. You know, we’d take off on these six foot waves and go right and left. “God, Cline, that’s really fun! That’s way better than Waikiki!”
So, word got out that it was good surf and, then, finally we got some canoes out there and figured out we could canoe surf it, too — although you have to be a little better canoe steersman at the bowl that you have to do canoes in. So, we really laid the foundation for surfing up here and being a reason — another reason why it’d be a good move. And, quite truthfully, it did beat it. We’re much better off. We would never survive surfing in Waikiki, now. It’s just too damn crowded. This is pretty much our neighborhood break. We go out there, and we know everybody in the line up, and if we don’t we find out who they are. It’s kind of like … It’s kind of like an Outrigger break for us.
There are some … And I have to say this to be candid … There are some inherent flaws in the design of this Club that make water sports a little more difficult. But, all in all, this is a treasure, this Club.
MK: Are you still surfing?
FH: No. No … Number of things … I don’t want to be an elderly man, complaining about my health issues, but to make a long story short, I have orthopedic problems. When you get old, you can’t pop up quick and when you catch a wave, you gotta jump up real quick, in order to get going before the wave overtakes you, and I can’t pop up quick, so … I pretty much … I canoe surf, because I don’t have to stand up, I just sit in the back of the canoe and … Surfing canoes on bigger waves is a real challenge and very dangerous. I canoe surf also, because if anybody gets in my way, I can run them over. I don’t have to worry about fighting any of these kids for waves. I don’t surf much anymore.
MK: Well, let’s talk a little bit about canoe surfing. We haven’t touched on this topic in our oral histories very much, and you’re certainly the one that knows the history of it here. Tell us a little bit about our surfing breaks and how we got into canoe surfing.
FH: Well, you know, canoe surfing is as old as canoes. I often give great credit to the ancient Hawaiians who, basically, with all the Pacific cultures, island cultures, designed the art of riding waves, and, more sophisticatedly, riding waves in canoes, so by the turn of the … In fact, I like to think that the Outrigger Canoe Club, which was founded in 1908 … And, by the way, I want to correct something. Hui Nalu was founded in 1911, not 1908. It was actually incorporated in 1911, because I have the incorporating documents that were passed onto me, and I took them to the Archives, and anybody who’s interested in history should go to the State Archives and look up the Outrigger Canoe Club and Hui Nalu to see the legacies of both those clubs.
But, we surfed in canoes in Waikiki. So, when we came up here, it was natural and … At that time, what I call the DaVinci of surfboard and canoe design, was a man called Joe Quigg, a member here. Joe had designed a couple surfing canoes, and we made fiberglass surfing canoes, and, so … Canoe surfing became very easy and convenient here at the Club. We started riding Old Man’s, and, then, finally, when Castle’s would break, we’d get a few intrepid people along, and we’d go ride bigger waves.
Of course, surfing all the time, you want to push the envelope. You know, you ride a ten foot wave, you want to ride a twelve foot wave. So, we got to the point where we were riding very, very large — 15 foot size waves at Castle’s … And, the only difference between surfboards and canoes is, it’s a hell of a lot more dangerous when you wipe out. Especially if you ride that canoe to the bitter end. It can be very dangerous. There’s pictures of us in the Archives, you know, of us riding fifteen, eighteen foot surfing canoes.
MK: That’s here in front of the Club?
FH: No, it’s at Castle’s.
MK: At Castle’s, yeah.
FH: What happens is, every surf site had margins. It has a size where it starts breaking good and a size where it closes out. Waimea doesn’t start breaking until it’s ten or twelve feet and it closes out about thirty feet, where it gets too big to ride. Old Man’s you can surf on the sandbar when it’s one to two feet, but around eight to ten feet, it starts closing out — it just walls up all the way across — so, you really can’t make the wave. That’s just when Castle’s start to break, so … If you really want to surf, you don’t go to Old Man’s, you go to Castle’s. So, we started board surfing there, as I said, when talking about the Duke ride. We started surfing canoes there, and have ridden some pretty big waves in a canoe.
MK: Oh, you just kind of answered … I was going to ask you how big the surf is at each those spots.
FH: Yeah, Old Man’s closes out at six to eight, may a little bigger. Depends on the swell direction of the tide, but about eight feet is what is maxes out. And then, just about that size, Castle’s starts to break at eight feet, then goes … Castle’s can go up to twenty feet or more, but it’s very rare — what they call 100 meter swells, they come once or twice in a lifetime.
MK: How important is the steersman in canoe surfing?
FH: Ninety percent. The guys in the boat — and I was always very careful of bigger waves to pick the right guys … They have … First of all, they have to be safe. They have to be able to take a pounding on a fifteen foot wave and keep themselves safe.
They also have to be a little knowledgeable on how to balance a boat. You know, how to lean into the wave, how to pull the ama up or down. We usually tell them what to do, but … Ninety percent of the strategy of canoe surfing and the actual function of it is done by the steersman … Of what wave to catch, how to ride it, what angles to take, and a good crew will help you trim the boat. Some of them will be knowledgeable enough to do it on their own, but most of them have to be told — lean on the ama, lean the other way, move to the back of the canoe, jump out.
I tell guys that, when we’re riding real big waves in canoes, “If at any time, you feel imperiled, jump out. I don’t want to be responsible for you getting hurt. So, if you feel scared, jump out.” And, of course, what happens with macho men is, we don’t jump. We don’t want to be the first to jump. My friend, who’s a snow skier — never surfed in his life, he’s from Calgary, Canada and eventually moved to Denver, Colorado — owned a football team, Denver Broncos, Pat Bowlen — he was probably the best guy I went out with. He sat in the number one seat and he was such a hardheaded, competitive guy, he would not jump out. He’d say, “I’m not jumping. You jump.” We’d ride some just deadly waves, and, occasionally we’d make them, because he didn’t jump out.
MK: Have you jumped out?
FH: Yes. Not often, but when common sense overcomes stupid stubbornness …
MK: Outrigger has so many talented watermen and canoe paddlers. Who are some of our other really great canoe surfers?
FH: Well, the late, great Tommy Holmes was certainly in that league. Mike Holmes is a really good steersman. Of course, the pioneer was Duke Kahanamoku. And there were a number of beach boys that were good canoe steersman, especially in Waikiki. One of the greatest ever was Rabbit Kekai, who was not only a beach boy here, but he was a beloved member for many years. He really was a special guy. So, we’ve had our fair share of great canoe steersman here at the Outrigger. And women. Kisi Haine is absolutely incredible, as you saw …
MK: As a canoe pad … As a … Canoe surfing?
FH: I would say, of all the women I’ve seen surfing canoes, which there are not many, Kisi’s probably the best. She’s … I saw her one day at Old Man’s on a six foot bad day and she was just smoking the waves. She’s really good.
MK: Just becomes part of it?
FH: You develop a sixth sense for it and it gets pretty good.
MK: Well, Outrigger has a surfing contest every year and they’ve added canoe surfing as part of that. But, really, there’s not a lot of competitions for canoe surfing …
FH: No, not at all.
MK: Buffalo has his out at Makaha, and that’s about it. Do you think there should be more or should it just stay a recreational sport?
FH: No, I think there should be more competitive canoe surfing. When I started pro surfing in the late Sixties and early Seventies, Surfer Magazine asked us to write a couple of articles, and there was an article that chastised me for prostituting surfing, starting professional surfing — it should be an amateur sport, and how dare anybody make money off surfing. Of course, nobody cared about guys making money off selling surfboards or selling surfing magazines, but heaven forbid that Fred Hemmings makes money or pro surfers make money off surfing competitively. My attitude was, if you want to be a surfing artist and not surf competitively or not compete professionally, especially, good on you. You don’t have to. But if you do, you should have that right. So, there’s often times some unnecessary arguments about things like that. Hopefully, common sense, as it has, will prevail.
Let me tell you about professionalism. What it does is it grows the borders of whatever sport it is. Professionals get paid for what they do, so they don’t have to work at some other job and do it secondarily. That’s why the Tahitians do so well in the Molokai race, to give you an example — because they’re pros. They get paid by Shell Va’a to do some — not even work, but they train morning and train … So, they have the time to really develop their skills. And, in professionalism, you also have the time and money to develop the techniques. You can experiment with things that haven’t been done before, because you’re getting paid to do it, so you have the resources to really expand the horizons of the sport, because you have the time and resources to do so. Otherwise, you’re worried about getting home on time to feed the kids before they go to bed, or your wife’s upset with you because you’re out paddling a canoe rather than … And they don’t have that problem with Shell Va’a, because they do it all day long because they’re getting paid. And they win Molokai every year as a result.
MK: Outrigger has been the catalyst for so many of the Hawaiian sports. What do you think our legacy is in Hawaiian ocean sports?
FH: Well, you’ve just said it. We are the wellspring of modern day Hawaiian sports, along with Duke Kahanamoku. We preserved, on the beach at Waikiki, canoe paddling, canoe racing … Outrigger members were instrumental in starting the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association. Outrigger members like Toots Manville started Molokai to Oahu Canoe Race. So, a lot of the preservation, cultivation, and promotion of surfing and canoe racing comes from the Outrigger and, I have to be fair, Waikiki Surf Club. There were some great men like Wally Froiseth and people at Waikiki Surf Club who pioneered surfing and canoe paddling within their own rights. And Hui Nalu, also, I have to say. So, these clubs really are the backbone of modern day surfing and canoe paddling.
MK: How should Outrigger be remembered?
FH: That’s a question I ask myself, and the Outrigger has to be very careful. We have a little dark page in our history at the Outrigger with who we let in the Club. There was an ethnic component to it that’s a very sad … But, that’s long since changed, but, to this day, a lot of people consider Outrigger, quote, unquote, a haole club. And haole, quite frankly, in certain terms, can be a derogatory comment. We aren’t. We should be remembered for what we really are. We are one of the greatest … I think I can say this, and it’s one of the branding things we should try … We’re probably one of the greatest water sports clubs in the world — if not the greatest. I hate to say “the”, but one of the greatest water sports clubs in the world.
We have more Olympians, we have more world champion surfers, and we have more world champion paddling teams. We pioneered canoe surfing in big ways. The Outrigger has been the home of great innovation and champions for generations in the tradition Hawaiian water sports. That really is our legacy, and that, really, should be our image. I think we don’t do a good job at the Outrigger of projecting that image. The Cub should be laid out in such a manner that when you walk into the Club and when you walk out of here you don’t say, “Oh, that’s a great Ossipoff club, designed club.” A shrine to an architect. People should walk out of here by the way we décor our Club and say, “Geez, did you go in that Ka Mo`i” Outrigger has the world’s best canoe paddlers and won Molokai thirteen times!”, “Did you go in the Duke Kahanamoku Room? Do you see how many Olympians the Outrigger has? I bet the Outrigger has as many Olympians as any other club in the country!”, “Oh, did you go in the Surf Room? Did you see Joey Cabell and Paul Strauch and Duke Kahanamoku and did you see all those great surfers? Outrigger has the best surfers ever, of any club!”
But that’s what people should leave this Club with, that, “Hey, that’s just not a beach club, where people sip Mai Tais and sit under umbrellas. That’s one of the greatest water sports clubs.” That’s my plea to the Outrigger members, to be aware of that and elect directors and elect people that are going to do that. Elect people that aren’t going to spend $700,000 on furniture, but are going to spend $700,000 in enhancing the layout of this Club to accommodate water sports. This Club is great as it is — it’s got some inherent design flaws. It’s not a shrine to Val Ossipoff — God bless Val Ossipoff, I admire him as much as anybody.
Basically, we’re an Outrigger Canoe Club and we keep our canoes in a garage out near the street, we keep our surfboards in there. We didn’t design this Club like the old Club on the beach at Waikiki, that I grew up in. All the canoes were right on the beach. The beach frontage was canoes. The beach frontage at the Outrigger is drinking and dining. And we can have the best of both worlds. I know drinking and dining help support the Club, but they could have been on a second story. It’s not too late. It’s not too late to strategically plan over the long haul to make the Club more accommodating.
I put a proposal together three years ago. There is a planter along the Colony Surf, at the edge of the Snack Bar to the Beach Desk. It’s twelve feet wide and has plants in it. Aesthetically it blocks a blank wall of the Colony Surf. Make the planter four feet wide. Get rid of the bench, make it four feet wide, keep the plants, keep the aesthetics, but you’d gain eight feet of space, times the length of it — it comes out to almost 500 square feet — you’d gain for better access to canoes and you wouldn’t have a hard time getting canoes from the garage out to the beach.
So, anyways, things like that — that’s just a small one — but there a lot of things that could be done to enhance the function of the Outrigger Canoe Club to keep it tuned to what we’re here for. This is the Outrigger Canoe Club, not the Outrigger Mai Tai Bar. Not that I got anything against Mai Tai’s, I want young ladies to drink as many as they can.
MK: You mentioned Cline Mann.
MK: Someone who’s dearly beloved by most of us. Tell me a little bit about Cline and some of the stories you have about him.
FH: Oh, I have about a hundred stories about Cline Mann. I can tell you something I don’t think many people have really became aware of. My estimation is that Cline had a photographic memory, and I’ve never met anybody with it. To give you an example, we were sitting out here … Cline had a corner where he’d sit out there and drink Budweiser — and he called it Corinthian Corner, because sailors, Corinth, you know, Greece … Corinthian Corner … He’d sit out there, and we’d all tell great lies about ourselves and our lives and our water exploits.
So, we’d sit in Corinthian Corner all the time and Cline would sit there and … This is like, maybe 1980 or something, or 1979 … Cline would say, “Freddy. You remember what we were doing just about this time in 1964?” I’d say, “Well, actually, Cline, no. I don’t remember what we were doing on November 12th, 1964 at five in the afternoon.” He says, “Well, we were at Napili and we were preparing for the Lanai to Lahaina canoe race — paddle board race. And you were x number of year old, and we were just sitting down for a steak dinner … ” And he’d tell us in detail what we were doing at one specific night, twenty-five years prior to that night.
He had literally a photographic memory, and what people don’t know about Cline was, he was a land surveyor, but his real talent — and I regret to this day that someone smart did not get it on tape or record it properly — but, he had remembered a lot of … The ancient Hawaiians didn’t have a written language, and a lot of the land use was by chant. They’d tell you where Waimea Bay was from the rock at such and such a site, below this, and blah … You know, go to the brother. So, a lot of their land use was done by chants. They would chant the boundaries or land. Cline knew a lot of them and he had them memorized, in Hawaiian. He was somewhat of a genius. I don’t think he, because of his lackadaisical style, wasn’t recognized for what a profound man he was. He really was a treasure. We are remiss in not recording more of the knowledge he had to be passed on to future generations.
MK: Yeah, he was an amazing person.
FH: Yep, he really was.
MK: And he, was not only a sailor, but he also — even though he never paddled — he became a tremendous asset to the canoe racing program. He built the trainer for them to practice in, he created change charts … Do you …
FH: I’ve got the original paperwork for it all. He created … Prior to that, you’d race at Molokai and they went from six-man going all the way nonstop to nine-man, with only six in the boat, so you’d have to change periodically. It was haphazard, prior to change chart. The coach would basically watch you and when you ran out of gas, they’d put another guy in. Well, some guys that could last a long time, they’d burn them out. So, they give them a change over, you couldn’t put them back in because they shot their wad, they were basically useless. So, Cline devised a system where you were in for two changes, then you’d get out for one, then you’d go back in. So, it became a nice cycling of … It was a change chart, and he put it all down on paper. You’d follow this rhythm going across a channel and it worked tremendously well.
He innovated things like that that were quite instrumental in, quite frankly, the success … Like I said earlier, often times, the physically most talented team in a lot of sports — or the physically most talented individual — doesn’t win. Someone else wins because they’ve got a better strategy or a better game plan, and Cline was very much a factor in the success of the Outrigger in a number of Molokai races, among other things, simply because of his innovations.
MK: Have you go any favorite Cline stories?
FH: Yeah, I got one really good one. We had a Outrigger relays once, and there was like a run-swim-run relay. We had teams. You’d paddle a surfboard around a buoy, then you’d swim around a buoy, and you’d come back to shore and run up the beach. It’s called a run-swim-run. So, Cline was on a team, and he had the swimming leg. I had a swimming leg, too. Cline was a competitive swimmer at Punahou School — captain of the Punahou team — which he subtly let us know.
So, this race starts. We swim around the buoy, and I’m a little behind. Well, you swim out the channel, you swim back in, but as you well know, the channel has a little dog leg to it. If you leave the beach, you kind of go out to the right, then you go out to the left to go out the channel. Well, Cline swam around the little pin at the edge of the reef, staying in the channel. Well, I was behind, and I did what I do well — I said, “Well, hell with this, I’m going across the reef.” So, I swam right over the reef, and a couple times it was a little shallow, and I’d get up and run on the reef. And I beat Cline to the beach and he was just livid!
He wrote … We had a big exchange of letters and he likened me to a walrus lumbering across the reef, while this sleek baracuda was in the channel where it … It was just the greatest exchange. Twenty-five years we argued about it, and finally, he made a proposal to me that would settle this for once and all. I said, “Well, how are we going to settle it?” He says, “We’ll have a twenty-five yard underwater swimming race.” I’m so competitive, I said, “You’re on! You’re on!” And before I could figure out who in the hell is going to settle a swimming race by a twenty-five yard underwater swimming race.
You know, I should’ve known right away, “Something’s fishy here!” I said, “Yeah, OK, you’re on.” He said, “OK, we’re going to meet next week at the Punahou pool and go twenty-five yards underwater.” I said, “Yeah, OK.” He said, “Mark Buck and Johnny Sutherland, you’re going to be the witnesses to this tie breaking event that’s going to settle this dispute of twenty-five years.” It was really twenty-five years — ’64 or ’65 to ’89 or whatever it was. We get up there in the morning at 7 o’clock in the morning, the waters a little chilly, the birds are chirping, and it’s early morning …
MK: You sneaked in over the fence, as I recall.
FH: We sneaked in. Yeah, you know, the pool was locked and nobody was there. We had to climb over the wall and sneak in. So, we’re down there and they have those starting platforms in the pool and stuff. It’s twenty-five yards of this long, blue crystal clear, cool swimming pool. And, Johnny Sutherland said, “Alright, swimmers take their marks. Ready. Set. GO!” And I dive in, and twenty-five yards under water is a long way to swim under water. I’m swimming under water, like a frantic, as Cline would say, walrus that I was. I get to the end … I hit the wall, and there’s Cline, right next to me, and he hit the wall before me. Johnny, “Cline won! Cline won!” Johnny’s jumping up and down like he just won the Super Bowl, “Cline beat you! Cline beat you!”
We come back to the Outrigger for breakfast and Cline had alerted everybody. The Manager comes up to me and says, “Mr. Hemmings, we have a Sports Illustrated reporter that wants to talk to you on the phone about the race that you just lost.” Guys were coming up, waiters, and members, “Oh, Fred, I hear you just got … ” I mean, he’d alerted everybody that, you know … He obviously knew that he was going to win ahead of time. What I found out later is that — and this was much later, by the way, after stewing in my loss for a long time. I could say, “How the hell could I lose … ” In fact, I said, “How could I lose to a bloated bag of Budweiser gas.” Referring to Cline, in the exchange of letters.
I later found out, that as I go in the pool, Cline jumped off the platform — the starting block — and ran along the side of the pool and dove in at the end. I stewed in my loss for years before it was revealed to me how he managed … He outsmarted me. God, we had so much fun. He just … He was relentless. We have an exchange of letters that, as you know, about it all, and it’s actually quite humorous.
MK: Well, how did it wind up in a legal format?
FH: Well, Cline was like that. Cline had a way of … Because he was a land surveyor and often times he’d have to document everything he’d do it in legal format. So, he had, in goading me in the early years of it, he wrote up an affidavit, signed in legal form, an affidavit, an oral testimony. You know, like you would have a court reporter record, and then you have it stamped by the court as an official document, because this is true … He had one allegedly written by Jon Sutherland, and I have a copy of it, telling me his version of the race, that here, this great, sleek under water racing horse, Cline Mann beat world surfing champion Fred Hemmings in an underwater swimming race, and … So that was done in affidavit form and sent to me. It managed to do the task that Cline wanted. It upset me very much and it made the challenge and the twenty-five year bickering even more intense.
MK: Well, what’s even funnier is the Historical Committee had a time capsule that it buried on that 25th anniversary of our being here at this site. And we opened it recently to make sure everything was water tight in it. There was an envelope in there that wasn’t on our inventory, and when we opened it up, it was the affidavit. We don’t know how it got in there, but it was in there. I was surprised, as I was reading it, to see that I had signed the affidavit.
FH: Yes, you had! In fact, I think I wrote you a scathing letter that … Calling you … You and Kehau Kea signed it. I said … I called your letter a fantasies of … Right, or something like that. Something insulting, I’m sure. But, Cline was like that. Oh, God, that is so funny.
MK: Well, you’ve also been a long time canoe paddler. You did everything from kids’ races all the way up through Open, and then Masters. How many years did you paddle?
FH: Started paddling when I was a young boy in 1956. I paddled pretty consistently into the Eighties, then kind of off and on. I’ve since retired, because of my orthopedic situation. One thing I’m very proud of is … There was a Lanikai (long distance) race and I took what I call the … Back then we called them the baby guns, and I told a bunch of young kids, like sixteen, seventeen, eighteen year old boys and raced them in the open race. So it was the first time that we had a second crew, and I took a bunch of kids. We trained so hard, and these kids were so fired up, we ended up getting third place in the race, you know, with kids, basically. At one point we were ahead of the race as we headed to Makapuu Lighthouse. These kids were just champions, and, of course, they went on to become just that. They became …
MK: Who were these kids?
FH: Kids like Johnny Mounts. Brant Ackerman, I think, was a young one — he’ll tell you about it. There were kids that were, like, five, six, seven years younger than me, so they were like fifteen, sixteen. Basically, the top paddlers were twenty-one, two, three, four, five, and these were teenagers, basically. They called them the guns — the baby guns, we called them.
MK: You were on several winning Molokai crews for the Club.
MK: What was your most memorable race?
FH: Most memorable race was the race we didn’t finish. It was in storm craft conditions in twenty foot ground swell. We swamped mid-channel.
MK: That was 1966?
FH: Yes. They wouldn’t hold the race, nowadays. I mean, it was literally … As we rounded … We went up the coast of La’au Point. La’au Point had a swell coming around it, a big north swell. North swells come out of the northern hemisphere and that, combined with storm warning trade winds, created ground swells twenty, twenty-five feet. A wave coming around the point would, by that time, turn from a swell into a well-defined wave, at maybe fifteen feet. You paddle up to get around La’au Point. The channel was … Every wave would hit you sideways and you’d get pushed sideway. You’re constantly fighting the sea, and it’s kind of hard for a steersman to hold the line, and there’s strategies in that that I won’t go into, but …
What happened, was, Marilyn, we had canvases on canoes, so they were more like kayaks. The canvases were designed and had a zipper on them, so you’d zipper them up and you were pretty much stop the water from coming in the canoe. A big wave would break and roll over you, and the water wouldn’t, much water, wouldn’t come in. You had to bail a lot because the canvases weren’t totally impermeable. So, number five would often be bailing.
We were fighting our way in the high seas, and we were ahead. This one guy, which we did not know, was deathly afraid of rough water. We trained in calmer waters. You’d never make a Molokai run training for it. So, you’d train in calmer waters. So this guy was alright in calmer water, but when he got into rough water, he was deathly afraid of surf and big waves. So, he went to get out of the boat and he was, I think it was in four seat, and they said “OK, we’re changing numbers two and four next.” He jumped out of the boat and he didn’t unzip his zipper completely, and it broke the zipper. Oh, big trouble.
They took him in the escort boat, said, “You unzip that zipper completely, otherwise we’re going to sink!” So, we were taking water, and we spent a lot … And we started to slow down because we were fighting, not only the ocean, but fighting a boat that was gathering a lot of water. Well, they put him back in, and in his panic, he took the zipper — you lean back … You learn techniques about zipping and unzipping, so you lean back and you unzip like this … You try to keep the canvas taut so it’s easier to unzip — and, he pulled the zipper right off the track.
MK: In a different seat?
FH: Yeah, in a different seat, of course. And, we went down, and we never got up. And, so …
MK: Were you steering that year?
FH: Steering and paddling, Mike Holmes and I. We fought the ocean, couple hours, trying to bail the boat. We tried everything — sinking the bow — we tried every trick we knew, and we couldn’t get it un-bailed. Kai Oni had also swamped, and they tried to tow their boat back, and they tied rope around their boat, and every time the boat would jerk, it tore the boat apart. The pieces of Kai Oni’s koa canoe washed up on the beach.
I could see that we were going to do the same thing if we did the same. So, we had an escort boat call the Hula Kai, a big escort boat. I told Cline and the skipper of the Hula Kai, Sherry Dowsett, “Let’s just try to get the canoe and put it in the back of the Hula Kai, and bring it back. It was big enough that we could, if we could get the boat up the transom and just lift it in … And so, we got a knife and Mark — I think it was Mark Buck and I — we cut the iako off the pepeiau, where the outrigger connects to the canoe, and we cut the … We took the ama and iako and put them in the canoe. We turned the boat upside down and it was going like this … And, we got to the back of the Hula Kai, and Sherry kind of kept it idling, so it was kind of pulling, and we got the boat, and we reached down, and we lifted the boat up the transom, and, you know … Myself and a couple of others, we stood on the nose, so the boat would tilt up, and they grabbed it, and as they pulled it up into the Hula Kai, it got hit by a couple waves, and it broke the gunnels off.
But, the bottom line is, we got the canoe back. It had a lot of damage, but we did not break the hull or break the canoe. We got it back, but it was a tremendous tale of survivorship in the Molokai Channel, so that … That’s the most memorable event. The following year … And we would have won the race, had it not been … I think we would have won it, we don’t know … Had it not been for swamping. The following year was just the opposite. It was absolutely glassy, smooth water and we won going away, paddling. It’s interesting stuff.
MK: Did you ever run into sharks out there in the channel?
FH: Never. Never ran into a shark. I spent a lot of time of my youth in the water, and only ran into sharks twice. Once was surfing the point at Makaha on about a twenty foot day, real big surf. We’re sitting out on the point, a couple of us, and Buffalo was with us. You kind of sit outside the point, and the bay of Makaha’s like this, and the coastline’s up on your left. I looked up the coast and coming down the coast is a big shark, and, you know, you could see its fin and stuff, and as it got closer, you could see it … “Buffalo, what are you gonna do?!” He said, “Don’t worry Freddy, that shark’s not looking for food. It’s just going somewhere.” And the shark just swam by us on the inside. We just kept surfing. Buffalo said, “Don’t worry Freddy, that shark’s not looking for food. It’s just going somewhere.” It just swam by us, on the inside and went down … Who knows where it went.
And then, once, I was with my brother, Aka. And Aka lived, summer, oftentimes, in Wailau, Halawa Valley, on the north side of Molokai, and from Halawa Valley, on the eastern shores of Molokai, to Kalaupapa are all these huge valleys — Papalaua, Wailau, Waikulu, Pelekunu — and, huge valleys. Huge, huge … Like, Wailau Valley’s way bigger than Manoa … With fresh water stream and stuff. And we’d paddle down the coast line, and we’d drag rafts with some food, and we’d boil water out of the streams. There’s opae in the streams — shrimp — and then fish whatever fish we’d catch. My brother lived by himself in the valley. All by himself.
FH: That was my brother. Aka’s not here to tell us why, but that was the way he was. So, I’m paddling down the coast with him, and we camp at Wailau. Some friends of mine came in out of Boston, and we all camped on the beach. You’d cut bamboo and you’d build kind of bamboo huts. After a couple days, living there, and living off the land, we’re going back to Kalaupapa to catch a plane. You could catch a little inter-island airway or whatever it was called out of Kalaupapa Airport. So, a boat came to pick everybody up and said, “You guys go ahead, I’m gonna paddle.” I had this big, long eleven foot — basically an old, big wave board. I’m gonna paddle to Kalaupapa just to say I did it. You know, it’s a pretty long paddle, a two hour paddle. I said, “Wait for me and we’ll go to the airport and catch the plane back.”
So, I got on the board and I had a big Bowie knife that I’d take with me on these trips, you know, for cutting things in the valley and stuff. I took the knife out of its sheath and, because it was an old board, I stuck it in the board, because if I … I thought to myself, if I run into a shark or anything predatory, but mostly sharks, I want to have the knife where I can just grab it and be able to fend it off, you know, poke it in the nose or something. So, I’m paddling down the coast, and, God dang … As I’m paddling down the coast something comes out of my peripheral vision and literally bumps the board as it goes by, and I see the gray and I see the fin. It goes down in front of me, and it circles around. I see it going around, and I turn the board to shore, maybe twenty or thirty yards off shore. There’s no beaches there, and I was near Pelekunu … What happens is a surge goes up the rocks, and then the surge will go out. If you’re a good water man, you know how to get up the side of the rocks on the surge, and then jump up as soon as the surge goes out and run up.
So, I rode the surge up onto the rocks, grabbed the rocks. The surge went out, I grabbed my board, and went up and stood on the rocks, and I watched the shark. It kept going and circled around. It came around again, it obviously knew I was a good meal. It wanted to see if I was dumb enough … I don’t know what the shark was thinking, but it was obviously looking to eat me. I was scared to death. I just stood there, I wouldn’t get back in the water. I knew the boat would come back, and pick the rest of the guys up, and sure enough it came back. I jumped in the boat, took the boat back. That was real close. And when you’re by yourself, I mean, you’re dead. If it bites you, even if it doesn’t kill you, you’re going to bleed to death before you get help. That was my perilous encounter with a shark.
When you think about it, it’s interesting because, I’m certain, every day for years, in deep water, Waimea Bay, North Shore, Makaha … All over, and I never ran into sharks except twice and once was that close call. It was amazing.
MK: You mentioned your brother, Aka. He was a member of the Club, he was an active waterman in all areas. Tell us about him. He was into some really great projects before he passed away.
FH: Aka was unheralded for what he did, but they have an organization called Access Surf, now, and Aka was really the first person to put together a program to take infirmed people surfing or in canoes. He especially did it with canoes. He’d take quadriplegics and people that had learning disabilities and other challenges, and he’d take them out in a canoe, and take them for a paddle, and sometimes he’d take them and catch a wave with them. He took lots of them on tandem boards.
One of the most moving times I had was, he asked me occasionally to help him, and I went down to Kailua Beach, and he had a canoe — four man canoe — and he asked me to take a quadriplegic girl out, that was infirm and she was paralyzed, basically and in a wheelchair — spent her life in a wheelchair. So, we put the girl in the canoe, and he had a seatbelt, and he’d tie them in the canoe, and well knew how to get the kid out of the canoe in case we tipped over or something. But, we’re very safe.
We took her out for a paddle, and her little face — she must have been ten, eleven years old — it lit up like it was … When we came in, her mother was just bawling like a baby. That’s the most exciting thing that child had ever done in her whole life. The child had spent her life in a wheelchair, and for that child to go in a canoe and have the mental joy of riding a canoe out from the shore and out into the ocean and being in the clear sky and beautiful sea was quite moving.
But, Aka did things like that. Aka had the same problem I had. He wasn’t very good with resources, so he never turned any of it into a business or anything like that. It was just out of the goodness of his heart, he did it. It set the stage for Access Surf and all these other programs, now …
MK: The Wounded Warriors?
FH: Wounded Warriors, yeah. Aka was instrumental in that, too. So, he really laid the ground … And, he doesn’t get the credit for it, which is really sad. He really was a pioneer in that whole movement to take people that have problems — I don’t think you’re supposed to use the word handicapped these days, but had challenges — out into the ocean and give them an experience they’ve never had before.
MK: Well, he as also very active in giving steering clinics to, I guess, lots of people. He did a lot of them here, but I know he was doing them other places, as well.
FH: Yeah, we started that at Hui Nalu Canoe Club years ago. We’d have Saturday steering clinics. We’d teach people the basics of steering. There’s a lot of … You know what, it looks like a simple sport. Six people sit in a canoe and paddling — but when you get down to it, it’s a very sophisticated — the rhythm of a boat, how you sit in the canoe, how do you apply the energy, the rhythm of the stroke, when you put the force in, and then steering is even more sophisticated because, besides being able to keep the boat on course, if you’re a good steersman, you know how to work the ocean. You know how to work the swells, you know how to angle the winds, you know when to put the juice on to catch a wave, when to back off — so you have all these techniques that involve being a good ocean person, a good wave person, that added to being a good steersman.
So, it’s more sophisticated than you look at a bunch of guys just paddling a canoe, that looks easy. It’s not. It’s a very complicated — and especially a steersman — difficult sport, and Aka was one of the best.
MK: He also was into canoe surfing.
MK: There’s a picture of him on the face of a very big wave that we’ve all seen. Do you know where that was?
FH: I know the whole story. I was asked to go. Tommy Holmes was a great aficionado of canoe paddling, canoe surfing, and he was writing a book — The Hawaiian Canoe — and I recommend anybody, young or old, that is interested in canoe paddling … If you want to read the bible of canoes, read Tommy Holmes’ book, because it also traces the heritage — our canoe heritage, and our … But also gets into in-depth canoe surfing and all the more subtle aspects of canoe paddling and canoe surfing, and the canoe in the history of the Hawaiian Islands. Even has something called canoe ladders on the Big Island where Hawaiians would land canoes on ladders — wooden ladders — on rough coastlines with just rocks — so that’s how sophisticated the Hawaiians were. But, Tommy pretty much pioneered a lot of things with canoe surfing and canoe paddling, and was one of the great documentarians of the sport.
MK: Tell me about the big surf … The wave that they caught. I guess it was at Makaha?
FH: Tommy wanted to ride the biggest wave that’s ever been ridden in a canoe. There are tales told of Duke and a lot of the old time Hawaiians and beach boys taking an old koa boat, bigger than the Ka Mo’i called the Princess, I think it’s in Mission Museum now, that thing was like, 48 feet, or just a huge, big thing.
And they took them out to Castle’s and they rode a big wave at Castle’s in the canoe. But Tommy wanted to ride the biggest wave that’d ever been ridden in a canoe. So, they came to the Outrigger and said, “We want to take the surfing canoe out to the North Shore and ride it.” And the Outrigger said no. So, Tommy said, “Oh, OK.” Several weeks later, when the waves were big, Tommy came down at five in the morning, took his trailer to Kaimana Beach, came over to the Outrigger, stole the canoe. He, Aka, and Dale Hope, went to the North Shore, took a photographer along, and rigged the boat. Took it out to a spot called Avalanche. They had a Boston whaler, or a chase boat, with a camera in it, and … Avalanche is like twenty-five foot surf, it breaks outside Haleiwa in a really big swell.
They tried to stroke in the wave, and they just got smoked. And Dale Hope shattered his arm — it was like it was one of those open fractures where the thing’s bent because the bone’s so broken. So, they said, “Hey, too bad, Dale. We’ll take you in.” They take him in, they drop him off, so they go back out! You know, the canoe survived the wipe out, and they bail the canoe.
So, it’s Aka and Tommy go back out, and there’s a sequence of pictures of them, and they’re now very famous. The canoe’s lifting up on the wave and because the wave jumps so fast, it’s like jumping off a cliff in a canoe, you know. So, Tommy Holmes, when he sees this is bad, he rolls out of the back of the canoe, and Aka plummets down the face of the wave, and Aka’s leaning on the ama, and the last shot in the sequence is the lip of wave is about three feet over Aka’s head about to hit the canoe, and the lip of the wave — because it’s a big wave — you know, what’s gallon of water weigh? Sixteen pounds or something? And this wave is three feet thick, it’s just like having the side of a building fall on you. Damn near killed Aka, according to Aka, and he survived, and the canoe popped up, and Aka finally popped up, and they got Aka and Tommy Holmes, and they brought the canoe in.
It is the most famous sequence of canoe surfing, I think, ever. It is by far and away the biggest wave ever attempted to be ridden in a canoe. Tommy and Aka did it.
MK: You say they rode it, or …
FH: Well, they tried. Tommy got out early and Aka rode the wave to the bottom of the wave, so, you know …
MK: And the canoe wasn’t damaged?
FH: No. Canoes are very sophisticated. What canoes have the ability to do is, with the rigging, is they’re flexible. So they’re able to flex a bit without breaking. It’s a great lesson to be learned. One year a mainland team came with a nylon cord — nylon doesn’t have any give to it, it’s plastic — and we use cotton cord to rig our canoes because cotton can give, gets wet and it gives. And so, the mainland crew rigged their canoe with nylon cord, and as they were racing the boats constantly going like this and it just worked loose. Because it wouldn’t give, it just managed to work the rigging loose, and of course the rigging came undone and the crew swamped. So, there’s a great amount of genius to an outrigger canoe.
The outrigger canoe explored the greatest expanse of water in the world — the Pacific Ocean. We learned cultures came out of Southeast Asia and migrated into the whole Pacific Islands and the last place in the world to probably be settled was about thousand year ago were the Hawaiian Islands with Polynesians coming from the Marquesas and Tahiti and they came in canoes. How many Santa Marias, Ninas, and Pintas are there left? None. How many canoes are there left? We’re still using and riding in and enjoying and surfing on canoes that are basically like they were a thousand years ago. And the great genius of it is you can cross a great expanse of ocean on them, but you can also cross a reef and you can also bring them right up to the beach. So these are ocean-going vessels that you can ride up to any coastline, that has a beach or a shoreline. And, of course, when you’re a good seafarer, and when you know the oceans, you know how to spot the places where they’re best to go in.
Anywhere fresh water enters a bay, there’s usually not a reef because coral doesn’t grow well in fresh water, cooler water, so if you’re ever looking to get in to a South Pacific atoll and you’re looking at a place where there’s a deep valley, where there’s probably water coming out … That’s why Waikiki’s the way it is. There’s no barrier reef in Waikiki at Canoe Surf, because that’s where Apuakenau Stream used to empty. You get up to Public’s or up to Popular’s and there’s much more bursome reef. So you learn these things being a good steersman or a good surfer. Lots to learn.
MK: Can I get a little update on your own family. How many children do you have?
MK: And how many grandchildren?
FH: Six, and you’re not going to believe this, but my daughter Kaui is going to have another child, so I’m going to have seven.
MK: That’s wonderful.
FH: So we’re very excited about that. I like to think I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I … Have not been successful in marriage, but I have a wonderful relationship with the women I was married to and we have some beautiful, beautiful children. My son, Heath, is a wonderful young man, a great water sportsman, champion surfer and paddler within his own right. He has three great children. My daughter Meaghan lives on the mainland, she’s a certified financial planner, has a beautiful daughter, who’s the number one athlete in her school for her class — boys and girls, beats them all running. She’s a super athlete.
My daughter Kaui has two beautiful children. She’s the one that’s expecting a third child, but she’s quite renowned internationally. She wrote the book called Descendants. Her husband’s a popular lawyer in town. And then, my stepson, Gordon, is entering his junior year in the Air Force Academy and he’s on his way to becoming a very prominent leader in the military community. I suspect he’s going to be a four-star Air Force general someday because he’s just that talented, motivated. He’s really good at physics. I kind of kid him when he says “No chance, no way”, but I want him to be the flight engineer on the first trip to Mars.
MK: Oh, wow! Sounds exciting.
FH: He laughs at me. Someone’s gotta do it, why not him? The timing’s good, because he’ll be up there twenty years from now when they send the first expedition to Mars.
FH: Gotta think ahead!
MK: Absolutely! Is there anything that you would like to add to this oral history?
FH: Yeah, I’m hoping that people that watch this realize how proud they should be of the Outrigger Canoe Club — in my opinion, the greatest water sports club in the world. In my opinion, the Club is largely responsible for preserving and protecting a great heritage of canoe paddling and surfing. My opinion is that a lot of the great citizens of Hawaii‘s roots go to surfing and canoeing, and the patriarch of modern day Hawaii, Duke Kahanamoku included and he leader of it. So, I think we have quite a lot to be proud of here at the Outrigger. I’m hoping that we never lose sight of the fact that we are the Outrigger Canoe Club – a Club devoted to and founded for the preservation of canoeing and surfing.
MK: You’ve been a member for more than sixty years …
MK: What has your membership in the Outrigger Canoe Club meant to you?
FH: Health, happiness, good times, family — all the things that count in life.
MK: All wrapped up in one little package.
FH: I can also be a little more practical about it. Good parking. Great showers with great hot water. Great snack bar. And, when I was younger, some nice cold beer and other frivolity.
MK: Great bartenders.
FH: Yeah, great bartenders. Oh, yeah. And that’s the other thing I think that I recognize and I’m appreciative every day, for some reason, the Outrigger employees are like family. They are a special group of people. It must be hard working here, because, you know, there’s a lot of nice people here, but there’s also some hard-asses and people that, you know, must be hard to deal with. And our employees are just incredible people. They serve for a lifetime. To Outrigger’s credit, when some of our long-standing employees retire, we make them members. I think that’s a great thing for Outrigger to be proud of, that our employees are part of our family and when they retire from working here, they become members.
MK: We still want them around.
FH: We still want them because they’re part of our family.
MK: And they want to be here.
FH: And what’s nice about them is, while they’re working here, they never cross the line. They’re always employees. They never think they’re privileged because they’ve been here for twenty-five years and they’re part of our family. They still remember what their job is, but when they retire, we say, “You’re part of the Outrigger family, you’re a member.” Domie’s (Gose) a good example. Domie’s been married to Lisa in the snack bar. When he retired, we made him a member and he comes down … Domie is a Hawaiian treasure, because he is one of the world’s leading experts in working with koa wood and fixing koa canoes and he’s made a lot of the model canoes you see here. It was made my Domie. He’s got a real talent. It almost comes to him naturally, because God knows he didn’t grown up in a Hawaiian koa wood canoe family, he grew up, I think in Kalihi.
FH: Philippines, OK, there you go. Wasn’t even born in Hawaii. So, we have a great group of employees that I think I want to personally thank for all they have done. And our managers have also been great, great leaders and great men. This is a hard place to manage. You know, to make an example, a Club like this is like a herd of cats. It’s hard to get them to agree to anything and go in one direction. I forgot what you call a herd of cats … A clowder. A clowder of cats is what you call a herd of cats. Not a gaggle, that’s geese, a clowder. This Club is very well managed and the employees are amongst the best.
MK: Thanks, Fred, for doing this.
FH: My pleasure. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’ll see. Thanks, Marilyn. Thank you for what you do. It’s invaluable.
MK: Thank you.
1958 Makaha International Surfing Championships, 3rd, Junior Men
1961 Makaha International Surfing Championships, 1st, Junior Men
1963 Makaha International Surfing Championships, 1st, Junior Men
1964 Makaha International Surfing Championships, 1st, Senior Men
1964 Peruvian International Championships, Lima, Peru, 1st Place
1965 Makaha International Surfing Championships, 2nd, Senior Men
1965 World Surfing Championships, Peru, 5th Place
1966 Makaha International Surfing Championships, 1st, Senior Men
1967 Makaha International Surfing Championships, 2nd, Senior Men
1967 Peruvian International Surfing Championships, 2nd Place
1968 Makaha International Surfing Championships, 2nd, Senior Men
1968 World Surfing Championships, Puerto Rico, 1st Place
1969 Peruvian International Championships, 2nd, Place
1969 Duke Kahanamoku Surfing Classic, 5th Place
1969 Makaha International Surfing Championships, 2nd, Senior Men
1969 Haleiwa Sea Spree, 1st Place
Moloka`i Hoe — OCC Crews
1966 DNF (Leilani Damaged)
1967 1st Place Overall, 1st Koa
1968 1st Place Overall,1st Koa
1969 2nd Overall, 2nd Koa
1971 2nd Overall, 2nd Koa
1972 6th Overall
1975 1st Place Overall
1982 3rd Overall, 3rd Koa
1984 3rd Place Overall, 1st Masters
1981 Edmonton Marathon, Canada
1983 Hilo Marathon, 3:13:23
1983 Volcano Marathon, 3:47
Athletic Awards and Honors
1964 Honolulu Quarterback Club Athlete of Year
1969 Winged “O” Outrigger Canoe Club
1969 Duke Kahanamoku Sportsman Award
1989 Association of Surfing Professionals–Service to the Sport of Surfing
1991 International Surfing Hall of Fame
1994 Punahou School Athletic Hall of Fame
1997 Legends of Surfing Award, Biaritz, France
1999 Inducted Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame
2000 Sports Illustrated Top 50 Athletes from Hawaii 20th Century
2000 Osmar Legend of Surfing Award, Brazil
2002 Waterman of the Year, Surf Industry and Manufacturers Association
2009 Walk of Fame, Surf City USA, Huntington Beach, CA
2010 Waterman Hall of Fame, Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation
Outrigger Canoe Club Board of Directors
1975 Coordinating Director, Athletics
1976 Coordinating Director, Entertainment
OCC Club Captain
Canoe Racing Committee
1972 Canoe Racing
Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation
1990 Member, Board of Directors
HCRA Championship Wins
1958 Boys 15
1959 Boys 14
1961 Boys 15
1964 Boys 18
1983 Junior Men
1987 Masters Men
1961 Football–Junior Varsity team Co-Captain; Interscholastic League of Honolulu champions, Edward Beggs Award, Most Inspirational Player
1964 Football–Varsity team Co-Captain; Interscholastic League Champions, Harrison Halsted Award, Most Inspirational Player
1964 Interscholastic League All-Star Football Team, Honolulu Star Bulletin
1994 Punahou School Athletic Hall of Fame
1976-1979 Hui Nalu Canoe Club
1985 Association of Surfing Professionals, Honorary Life Director
1987 United States Surfing Federation (Amateur surfing), Honorary Life Director
1984-2012 Denver Broncos
1969-1974 Smirnoff World Pro-Am Surfing Championships, Producer
1971-1988 Pipeline Masters Surfing Classic, Founder, Owner, Producer
1975-1988 World Cup of Surfing, Founder, Owner, Producer
1976-1980 World Team Surfing, Founder, Owner, Producer
1976 International Professional Surfing World Tour, Founder, Producer
1983-1988 Triple Crown of Surfing, Founder, Producer, Owner
The Soul of Surfing is Hawaiian, 1997
Illustrated Surfing Encyclopedia, co-author, 1979
Surfing, Hawaii’s Gift to the World, 1977
Local Boy, 2017