Joined OCC: 1935
Elected to Winged “O”: August 20, 1982
Bob Fischer was born on January 11, 1911 in Warren, Ohio, and arrived in Hilo as a 13 year-old school boy with his parents in 1924. He graduated from Hilo High School in 1929 having participated in football, basketball and track.
From 1927 to 1931 Bob was active in the racing and rowing of barges in Hilo Bay. In those days, canoe racing was a relatively minor sport generally practiced in Honolulu Harbor and off Kealakekua in Kona. Canoe racing almost died off before World War II and the last race of significance took place in 1938 in Kona.
As a adult, Bob moved to Maui as one of the first radio telephone operators in the Territory, and then to Honolulu in 1935 where he became a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club.
At OCC he played volleyball, winning the two-man Club Championship with Harry Schupak in the late 1930s, played on the softball team and paddled canoes. He served as Club Captain from 1943 to 1945 and when the title was changed to Athletic Coordinating Chairman in 1946 he held that job until 1949. He was a member of the Entertainment, House and Grounds and a Special House Committee, and was elected to the Board of Directors in 1949.
If you had asked Bob about his accomplishments, he would always tell you that he worked with someone else who deserved most of the credit. What he wouldn’t tell you was that other people achieved what they did because he worked with them so well, so diligently, and so thoroughly.
This is true in his efforts with Tommy Kiakona when they began to teach the first women’s crew in Hawaii in 1935 to paddle, steer and surf outrigger canoes on their own. This continued until 1943 when as Club Captain, Bob worked with Bill Mullaney and John D. Kaupiko to begin modern canoe racing as we know it. They put six crews together, and along with Hui Nalu, held the first Walter J. Macfarlane Regatta at Waikiki Beach on July 4, 1943. The event was successful and other groups became interested in forming canoe clubs.
Bob then helped the military, and others begin racing on both Oahu and in Hilo Bay. There was always someone who needed his help, and used it as the catalyst to make things happen. Bob worked with fellow Winged “O” Bill Capp to form what was first called the Hawaiian Canoe Racing and Surfing Association, later to become the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association. The Waikiki Surf Club, again with Bob’s help, organized to handle many of the surf events.
For 16 years Bob’s title with the HCRA was race starter. Anyone who knows the facts will tell you that he was not just the man who fired the starting gun, but the arbiter of disputes, the organizer of events, the able and willing coach, especially for women’s crews who could find no help elsewhere, and the chief advocate of the sport with the county, territorial and later state governments.
Quietly and without a lot of fanfare, Bob helped the Outrigger Canoe Club to take a leading role in modernizing the sport. It was he who was in the first battle over the use of fiberglass canoes. It was Bob, again, along with Louis Kahanamoku, who quietly helped establish Moku O Hawaii, the canoe racing association on the Big Island.
Bob and another Winged “O” Bill Capp were instrumental in setting the minimum weight for racing canoes at 400 pounds. This kept the koa canoe from being compromised to the stronger, lighter fiberglass canoes. As president of HCRA he presided over many hours of debate even after the rule was established, where the members of the association argued over which was heavier, one pound of koa or one pound of fiberglass.
In 1975, 1976 and 1977, with sadness, he watched canoe racing outgrow the original structure he had helped to establish in the HCRA, and again with only the best interests of the sport and our Club in mind, he was instrumental in fighting a tough political battle to unseat the entrenched leadership of the HCRA, and allow the formation of the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association, while elevating the HCRA to a statewide organization.
In every one of these activities, Bob helped build a bridge between other canoe clubs and OCC. He was responsible more than any other individual for the long term good relationships that exist between Outrigger and the other individuals who made up the real leadership of the canoe racing association.
Bob was a stalwart supporter of our own programs, in addition to helping others. He never considered a job too demeaning, and never failed in an undertaking. He was a swimming coach, surfing coach, organizer of countless other Club events, as well as the first president of the Hawaiian Surf and Lifesaving Association. He was the glue that held organizations together, always working, never tiring, and never asking for compensation.
Bob was elected to the elite Winged “O” in 1982 and was elected to Life Membership in the Outrigger Canoe Club in 1989 for his many years of service to the Club.
In 1977 he was the recipient of a special award from Kailua Canoe Club for his many years of outstanding contributions to the sport of outrigger canoe racing. In 1988, the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association dedicated its Oahu Championships to Bob for his untiring support of canoe racing.
For many years Bob advocated for a world-class canoe racing course and competition center at Ke`ehi Lagoon. He worked diligently with the State Department of Transportation, OHCRA, Hui Wa`a and HCRA to lobby Legislators to set aside the land at Ke`ehi Lagoon and budget funds to build the facility. Although he didn’t live to see it completed, his dream was realized in 1992 when the $2.4 million Competition Center, the first phase of the Ke`ehi Lagoon Recreational Master Plan was completed. Outrigger and others urged the Hawaiian Canoe Program Advisory Council to name the Judge’s Pavilion for Bob, who was one of the motivating forces behind the resurgence of the Hawaiian sport of outrigger canoe racing and the development of the Ke`ehi Lagoon Canoe Facility. They opted instead to name the pavilion Ka Papahale O Paka`a. Bob wouldn’t have minded; he would have just been happy that paddlers no longer had to deal with the dirty beach and shallow racing lanes at Ke`ehi Lagoon.
Bob moved to California to live near his adult children in 1989 and died there June 21, 1991 at the age of 80. He exemplified the true meaning of sportsmanship, leadership, team and giving.
On July 4, 1991 a silver cup donated by the Hawaiian Brewing Company for the original 1943 Walter J. Macfarlane Memorial Canoe Regatta Women’s 6 event was returned to perpetual competition in memory of Bob Fischer. Fischer had put on the first Macfarlane Regatta and coached and steered the winning OCC women’s crew to victory in the race. The trophy is awarded to the winning Novice B women’s crew. The Bob Fischer Memorial Trophy may be found in the Trophy Display Case in the OCC Lobby.
In 2005, Bob’s friend Anita Brightman donated two silver cups to the Club that were won by Bob in swimming races as a teenager. The Canoe Racing Committee had the cups set on a pedestal, atop a koa base to serve as a new perpetual trophy. The Bob Fischer Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the Club’s Outstanding Junior Boy and Girl Paddler. The winners are chosen at the end of the regatta season by the Club’s Junior paddling coaches. This trophy may also be found in the Lobby Display Case.
Bob gave his time, talent and heart to revive the sport of canoe racing in Hawaii and would be proud to see how the sport had grown in popularity and reached all corners of the world. All of our Club athletes should strive to walk in Bob’s shoes.