Joined OCC: June 1908
Elected to Winged “O”: February 1970
No history of the Outrigger Canoe Club would be complete without inclusion of the name of George David “Dad” Center. He was one of the men who made the Club what it is today. He was a leader and a teacher. But to many of the boys and girls who later matured into Olympic champions, business leaders, and Club stalwarts, he was affectionately known as “Dad”.
Coach, Club Captain, Director and friend of the youth of our Club, he encouraged physical fitness, team effort, sportsmanship and loyalty in all.
“Dad” Center coached swimming teams as early as 1912 when Duke Kahanamoku went to the Olympics to return to Hawaii a world champion. Others like Sam, David and Sargent Kahanamoku, Gay Harris and Mariechen Wehselau Jackson followed in Duke’s footsteps.
Although his interest was primarily in swimming, outrigger canoeing was his personal love, and many a day he spent taking youngsters, tourists and all who could wield a paddle out to the surf in his koa canoe Miss Vedol.
“Dad” was born in Kipahulu, Maui on Christmas Day 1885, one of the children of a sugar plantation manager and grew up on Maui and in Honolulu. Always active in athletics, he participated in all sports, but was most active in swimming, surfing and canoeing.
“Dad” paddled for the old Myrtle Boat Club in the early days of rowing in Honolulu Harbor, but joined the Outrigger Canoe Club in 1908 and from then on served the Club unselfishly and without monetary compensation until he died in 1962.
“Dad” coached and ran on the Outrigger track team as early at 1919; organized (with Dr. Paul Withington) and played on our football team; coached the U.S. Olympic Swimming team in 1920, was coach of the Outrigger swimming team and took a team to Japan in the early 1920s.
As Club Captain for 34 years (1913-1915, 1918-1931, 1933-1942), Dad was in complete charge of all athletic activities and was actually the guiding spirit that encouraged our young members to participate in the athletic program that was the purpose of the Club and is perpetuated to this day.
After a slate of officers were elected to the Club in 1917 who favored an athletic club to a social club, “Dad” was responsible for recruiting and forming winning football, basketball, baseball, volleyball and swimming teams, as well as the surfing and canoe racing that were the Club’s heritage.
“Dad” was also credited with starting the sport of sand volleyball in 1915 on the sandy beach in front of the Outrigger Canoe Club to entertain Club members on a day when there was no surf. He brought out the volleyball, strung the net, and the rest is, as they say, history. Outrigger members competed against each other for many years due to lack of competition, developing intense rivalries in open men and women and mixed tournaments. A century later, sand volleyball is played at high school, college and professional levels, and has been an Olympic sport since 1992.
“Dad” was also the person responsible for the Club acquiring its famed koa canoes the Leilani and Kakina in 1936. He was an employee of Theo H. Davies and had been sent to Kona to oversee the take-over of a bankrupt lumber yard. He found the canoes sitting in a shed there and asked the Club if they wanted them. The Club agreed and began a fund-raising campaign to purchase them. “Dad” loaded them on a barge and they arrived in Honolulu Harbor along with a third canoe, the Malie (later renamed Malia). OCC chose the Leilani and Kakina to take home, and “Dad” took the Malie home and kept it in his yard until Waikiki Surf Club was formed and they bought the canoe from him years later.
To all who had the honor and pleasure of knowing him, “Dad” Center is remembered as a shining example of what the Outrigger Canoe Club stood for. A quiet, modest man, “Dad” had the leadership that inspired all of his charges to do their utmost, not only for the Club and themselves, but for “Dad”; and for them the greatest reward for winning was a “well done” from him.
The Outrigger Canoe Club didn’t just happen. Dedicated men of “Dad” Center’s ilk have played important roles in the success of our Club. For his many contributions “Dad” was elected to Life membership in the OCC after his stint as coach of the 1920 Olympic team which had such great success with its contingent of Hawaiian swimmers that were coached by “Dad”.
“Dad” passed away in October 1962.
In 1979 fellow Winged “O”s Mark Buck and Tom Conner believed that women were able to paddle longer distance races and started the first woman’s long-distance canoe race. They named it for the man who contributed so much to Outrigger sports: the George “”Dad” Center Memorial Canoe Race. The initial race course was from Hawaii Kai to the Outrigger Canoe Club Beach and was won by the OCC women. The course has now been extended and starts at Kailua Beach Park and ends at the Outrigger. The race is held every August and draws more than 50 entries each year.
Two perpetual trophies were donated for the race by fellow Winged “O” and paddler Tiare Richert Finney: one for the first place finisher and the other for the first koa crew to finish. A third perpetual trophy honors the winning masters crews, and a fourth, is for the first place junior crew. The trophies may be viewed in the Trophy Display Case in the OCC Lobby. Naming the race for “Dad” Center was a fitting tribute to the man who meant so much to the men and women athletes of the Outrigger Canoe Club.
“Dad” Center remains a fixture of the Outrigger Canoe Club. His photo and paddle are placed prominently behind the bar in the Ka Mo`i Lounge. Members, old and young, toast him on a daily basis to say thanks for making the Outrigger Canoe Club the sports club that it is today.
Dad was elected to the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation Hawaii Waterman Hall of Fame in 2014 for his many contributions as a paddler and coach.