Joined OCC: August 19, 1966
Elected to Winged “O”: March 23, 1987
Tom Conner earned his Winged “O” membership for his contributions to Outrigger Canoe Club as both an athlete and a coach.
Tom joined OCC in 1966 at the age of 12 and won his first state canoe racing championship the following year as a member of the novice men’s crew. As he worked his way through the paddling ranks, he won many more state canoe racing championships; in 1968 with the freshmen men, 1974-1977, 1980 and 1981 with the senior men; 1984 and 1984 with the junior men and 1986 with the open four.
Tom paddled in 20 Molokai Hoe races beginning with a win in 1968 and continuing in 1969-1970, 1974-1975, 1977-1980, 1984-1992 and 1997, winning seven times in 1968, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1986-1988 and 1990. The ultimate steersman, Conner steered the entire race in the 1986 winning effort. The Club used Tom’s Manu’ula fiberglass canoe for its Molokai wins in 1977 and 1979.
Conner was also a member of numerous winning crews in summer regattas and during the long-distance races.
However, his interest in canoe paddling was not limited to being a paddler. He began coaching in 1974, the same year he co-organized the first women’s long distance race—the Club sponsored Dad Center Memorial Canoe Race from Portlock to OCC. The OCC women won the first Dad Center race and Tom went on to coach many more winning men’s and women’s crews at the Club.
Without a doubt, Tom is the winningest coach of women’s long distance crews in Hawaii. He coached the OCC wahine paddlers to victories in the Na Wahine O Ke Kai, Molokai to Oahu race in 1979, 1981, 1984 and 1985. Tom coached the OCC men’s crews in the Molokai Hoe in 1975, 1977, 1978 and 1980, collecting wins in 1975, 1977 and 1980. His men’s and women’s crews won nine state championships.
Although he’s known primarily as a canoe paddler, Tom was an active participant in kayak racing, and later one-man canoe racing. The world of one-man outrigger racing, as we know it today, would not exist if it were not for Tom Conner, who outfitted his C-Ski with ama and iako, and surfed to victory in the 1991 Kaiwi Challenge. He and his relay partner demonstrated that single bladed propelled one-man’s could surf the bumps just as well as surfskis. After this Molokai to Oahu Relay Race, everyone wanted a bump riding one-man and demand for them exploded, which revolutionized the sport of outrigger canoeing to where most of us now have our own personal canoe. Mahalo Tom for help starting a lifestyle we all enjoy today.
Tom was also a member of Club volleyball teams in 1967-1974 “before the knees and ankles began to go.”
In 1977 he was a member of Club’s winning Mauna Kea 200 motorcycle championship team.
Tom passed away on April 12, 2013.
He was elected to the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation’s Hawaii Waterman Hall of Fame in 2013 for his many contributions as a paddler, coach and designer of one of the first 6-man fiberglass racing canoes.