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 complete transcript may be found below the video.
An Interview by Marilyn Kali
June 2, 2017
MK: Today is Friday, June 2, 2017. We’re in the Board Room of the Outrigger Canoe Club. 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 is my pleasure to be talking to Albert Lemes Jr. (AL). Good morning, Al.
AL: Good morning.
MK: Thanks for taking time from your vacation to do this oral history with us. Where are you living now?
AL: Irvine, California.
MK: When did you move away from Hawaii?
AL: March 1990.
MK: That’s quite a while. How often do you get back?
AL: Once every other year.
MK: What took you to California?
AL: Money. My wife, both of us, 1990, we came. It was the recession in Hawaii. My wife found out that she could get a job. She was with Merrill Lynch. Her same position in California was paying 50 percent more than she was making here or more than that. I have a friend of mine, a high school friend, that has his own real estate company up there. I knew I had a job. That’s why we moved.
MK: It was a good economic reason for moving.
MK: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family? When and where you were born, and where you grew up.
AL: I was born here at Queen’s Hospital (1933). Primary residence was Nu’uanu, Upper Dowsett.
MK: Your parents were born here?
AL: Both parents were born here.
MK: When did your grandparents come?
AL: My grandparents, one set came in 1882. That was my father’s side. Mother was born here. My grandmother and her husband brought their family here on a vacation. I was told that my grandfather wanted to go to China. He found out that there were about as many Chinese here as were in China. They came here. He didn’t have to go anywhere. Then, he died. Mother was two years old when he died. I never met him.
For my father’s side, my grandmother, my dad’s mother was born in Koloa, Kauai in 1884, something like that. They had a seven-year job at the Koloa (Sugar) Plantation. One was at, I think, it must have been a pine plantation, I don’t know. When the seven years was up, everybody moved to Oahu, except one of their uncles stayed up there. The funny thing, because the family had real roots on Kauai, I think I was at a college where I was working, we had a job on Kauai, and I walked into the Coco Palms, and there were a whole bunch of guys sitting at the table. They’re City Councilmen of Kauai. One of them was my father’s patient. He called me over. I walked over. He introduced me to all these guys. He told me, “You move up here, and you run for the City Council. You have so many relatives up here. Slam dunk, you’re in.” I didn’t do it.
MK: Yeah. Your dad was quite an athlete. Can you tell me a little bit about him?
AL: Yeah. Yes. Part of the reason, he got into Punahou on a scholarship was because he was a good athlete. He wanted to get out of Dodge where he lived. He had a chance to go to Punahou. I think he befriended or a local Portuguese dentist, befriended him. I think he paid for his tuition for him, which was really lucky for our family because he was a great football player. He ran track, played baseball. He played semi-pro baseball under an assumed name so he could still play in high school and college.
MK: Amateur athletics was very big back in those days. They really tried to make sure you kept your amateur status. Your dad won a track meet for the Outrigger. He was the hero of the meet. He set a record in that, and won the AAU championship. Quite a feat. Did you follow in his footsteps in track?
AL: Maybe a couple of steps back. I’ve played football and I ran track. That was my only two sports.
MK: What kind of a football team did Punahou have in those days?
AL: Punahou was going through a transition of no teams to a good team. They did some strange things. The junior team had two guys coaching, O’Brien and (Don) Coryell. Coryell later went on to coach the San Diego Chargers. He’s in the Hall of Fame. Punahou fired him. O’Brien went to a junior college in California and did very well. We learned from these two guys. Then we had an Episcopalian minister as a coach for our football team. He was not good.
MK: Not Father Bray?
AL: No. That’s ‘Iolani.
MK: Right, I know, but he was also a minister.
AL: I think I’ve scrubbed his name from my memory. I forget his real name (Fritz Minuth). He was in the church downtown, St. Andrews Church downtown. That was his church. He was terrible. Then, they got a guy who was a good teacher as a coach for the next year. He lasted one year because we didn’t do very well at all. Then, they brought in (John) Godfrey, and assistant coaches were two experts, Ackerman and Monahan. It was wonderful. We played really, really well. From zero to almost the championship in one year.
AL: No. Two years maybe.
MK: How many teams were in the league by then?
AL: There was seven, eight, eight teams, I think.
MK: This included Farrington and Roosevelt?
AL: Right, McKinley.
AL: There is ‘Iolani, Punahou, St. Louis.
AL: Kamehameha. That’s it, the seven teams. I may be missing one, that one high school team (Kaimuki), but that was it. It was fun. One thing about playing at Punahou, you have to play your best game every time you walk on the field because you knew everybody in the stands hated you because you were from Punahou. They have rivalries. They used to say Punahou-Roosevelt was the biggest rivalry. Wrong. Everybody. St. Louis was the worst rivalry. That was it. The guys at Roosevelt got along. About a third of them were from Papakolea and they were nicer guys than St. Louis.
MK: What year did you graduate from Punahou.
MK: Your two sports in high school were football …
AL: And track
MK: … and track. What position did you play in football?
AL: I played a corner back, a running back, and an end. It depended on who the coaches were. See, we went from first team one year at cornerback, to safety to almost not making the team next year. I switched positions so I could make it.
MK: What about track? Your dad was a broad jumper. Did you run or did you do the pits?
AL: I ran. I ran. I found out early that I wasn’t as good as my father jumping. I was better running, so I ran.
MK: What events did you run?
AL: I ran quarter, half, and mile. I hated the mile. I never trained for it. We trained for the half. Nobody else ran. I was the best miler on the team, so I got the job. I didn’t like it at all.
MK: You went not a marathoner in later years?
AL: I did some triathlons. While I was doing those, you swim at lunch. You bike in the afternoon. Next day, you swim at lunch, you run in the afternoon. That just kept on going. I had fun. Placed pretty well.
MK: Did you go to college?
AL: I went to UH and San Jose State.
MK: What was your major?
AL: Just getting out of school.
MK: Tell us a little bit about your business background.
AL: Business-wise, insurance and real estate.
MK: Did you have a company or did you work for a company?
AL: No. I worked for different companies.
MK: Different companies.
AL: First Insurance was the insurance company. Then, a couple of real estate companies.
MK: When did you first join Outrigger?
AL: What was that date? ’48 or ’49. ’48, yeah.
MK: Do you remember who your sponsor was?
AL: No. When you asked me that question, I was guessing. Ward Russell and my father were really good friends. Maybe it was Ward Russell.
MK: What got you interested in joining Outrigger?
AL: Because a lot of friends of yours will come to the beach. When they come, they say, “Wow. This is pretty good.”
MK: Now, when you joined, the Club was still down in Waikiki.
MK: What are your earliest memories of the Club down there?
AL: I was trying to surf, trying to play volleyball. Surfing in those days, nobody taught us how to surf, period, zero, nobody. We used to be able to borrow some of the older guys’ boards and go surf. The boards, 10 to 12 feet long, either hollow or balsa redwood. The balsa redwood is really good but it took two of us to take the board on to the ocean because, I don’t know, they were heavy.
MK: It weighed as much as you did probably.
AL: Yeah. You ‘Jan Ken Po’ (rock, paper, scissors) to see who’s going to surf first on a promise that you’d only ride a couple of waves, and come in, and you switch. You could go out, but that’s how we learned through just … It was …
MK: Did you go to baby surf.
AL: No. We went out to Canoes.
MK: You didn’t get kicked out by the beach boys?
AL: No. If you’re paddling, I don’t know. Surfers are going to get upset with it first if you can’t surf pretty well. It’s in the waves, but they didn’t take us that long to learn how to surf. Sometime condensed. You get the small or shorter period of time it takes to do anything in the past. I don’t know how long it took.
MK: Did you enter any surfing contests?
MK: Did they have them back then?
AL: No. Not when we were little. Makaha was the first one. I think it was in the ’60s.
MK: Who were some of your pals back in those days at the Club?
AL: The guys that you see in pictures of me here. It was (Jack) Mattice, good friend. Peter Balding and Tommy Balding. There’s other guys. (Dickie) Ludewig and (Tommy) Schroeder, (Paul) Dolan. Schroeder and I were of the same age. We did things together. We had a common interest.
MK: Do you have any memories of Duke Kahanamoku at the Club?
AL: Duke Kahanamoku and Dad Center were my first coaches. They were brutal. He took us down to Gray’s Beach where the beach wall is there with the old Von Hamm Young property, tied a rope around the back mount, and tied it to a coconut tree. We got in a canoe, and we paddled out about five feet until the rope got taut, and it’s just your paddle. As little kids, you put the paddle in and the paddle just coming back like this, and they yell at you, “Pull, boy.” I said, “Really, I have.” You went a whole year and you didn’t get to race. It was like you’re an apprentice for a year. Then, you got to race.
MK: What was the first age group for racing?
AL: It was 17 and under. I think it’s 17 and under (14 and under). That was it. That’s when it started.
MK: Then, they had a 15 and under, I remember.
AL: That was later. In the canoe races, there was the kids, freshmen. No. Freshmen, junior, senior. That was it. Then, they had a four-man. We had four-man junior and four-man senior. That’s all the races there were.
MK: What age did you start paddling?
AL: Where was I? 16 or 17.
MK: You waited until you were a teenager before you …
AL: Yes. That’s the first race. I had to wait that long to qualify. It was fun.
MK: You stayed in for a long time. Now, you mentioned Duke and Dad tying the canoe to the tree. How else did they coach you? Was that the only way?
AL: Because as a kid, you have no clue how to paddle, so they taught you how to paddle. Memories of growing up in the canoe and paddling has faded away. I didn’t know that we had races. When I got out of that age group, and went up to freshman, this is a realization of how the rest of the kids at canoe clubs worked. Most of the races started on the beach at Waikiki. Five guys will be sitting in the canoe, and your steersmen were in the back. When a wave came up, and it came right up, you pushed the canoe into the water, and you paddled off where-
MK: A Lemans start.
AL: Yeah. We were sitting there. First freshman race, I was so stoked. The (Waikiki) Surf Club was next to us. Before the race started … I got here and I felt that everybody was my age. We’re sitting there. Some little kid runs up to the Surf Club and says, “Good luck, Daddy.” All of us, “What?”
MK: How old were you at that point?
AL: 18 or 19.
MK: Do you have any other memories of Dad Center?
AL: Not really. They were there. They were also at the Club.
MK: They were supportive of …
AL: Yeah, they were nice guys. Really nice. Duke’s brother was there.
MK: Which one?
AL: Sarge, always with a golf club in his hand. That’s why you can remember him.
MK: How did you feel when the Club moved from Waikiki to where we are now?
AL: You had to move. We’re going to lose the lease, the Queen’s Hospital lease in the property. We had to move. You were bitter, but you had no choice.
MK: Was the surfing as good here as it is down there.
AL: It really doesn’t matter where you are in Waikiki. At the old Club, we would surf from Number Threes to Castles. You just paddle over. It didn’t matter where you were. Over here, if you want to go back to Canoes, you could, but surf here is like … Canoes is a little bit better. The waves have to get up out here, but you get to go down to Publics, surf Castles or Publics, go out there. Diamond Head you drive there.
MK: Do you have any favorite surfing stories that you can tell us of the old Waikiki?
AL: I think the only stories I remember in Waikiki when we were lucky enough that the surf came up, big. I think there were a couple of times in the ’50s where the surf here got up over 15 feet. You’d go out. We’d go out to Publics or Castles, and surf. The other good spot was Number Three, which is outside of, now, Halekulani Hotel. The best right slide in Waikiki. Ala Moana was the best left slide, so we could paddle over to Number Three. It got its name because Canoes is one, Paradise is two, and the surf next to it was Number Three.
MK: It never got a regular name.
AL: Everybody called it Number Three.
MK: The first canoe racing team that I could ever find you on was in 1948. It was a boys’ 14 crew.
AL: Is that right?
MK: You paddled in the Kamehameha Day race, which was on June 11th, which was one of the few races we had back in those days, along with the Macfarlane. Let’s see. Your teammates were Tommy Schroeder and someone named Taylor, Mullahey Jr.
AL: Mike Mullahey.
MK: Von Platen, and Ludewig.
AL: Hugo Von Platen.
MK: Do you remember their first names?
AL: Dickey Ludewig. Hugo Von Platen. Dickey Ludewig. Mike Mullahey, but I don’t remember Taylor’s first name.
MK: You mentioned earlier, your first coaches were Duke and Dad.
AL: Yeah. Yes.
MK: You paddled. You won the races at 14.
AL: See, I don’t remember that, what age group I was even when we started.
MK: Then, you went up to the 17s. Did you paddle all the way through high school then?
MK: You were one of the Club’s earliest distance paddlers. You paddled in the 1955 Molokai. Now 1954 was the first year that the Club had a crew. The crew was only four Outrigger members, and the others were all military. You were the very first all Outrigger crew to ever enter the Molokai. I know you’ve described it as brutal. Tell me about that race.
AL: Kawakiu Bay, you launch. You wait for the surf to stop, so you can launch your canoe. It’s a north-facing beach, so sometimes you have to wait for sets. When I counted the sets, it’s up to eleven waves in a set, so you wait. When it died down, everybody went or tried to go. Usually, two or three. Anyway, I don’t know if it was that year or the year after. There was a canoe on our left, and they tried to go, but they waited too long. They hit the shore break, turned the canoe over like this, and came upside down up the beach. When they flipped the canoe back, the number five seat was still in it.
MK: Oh my gosh.
AL: That’s what you went through at Kawakiu Bay, and the racing start. What I remember about that is it was horrible. We paddled in the Hanakeoki, over five hundred pounds. The canoe was used for some training but the beach boys used it for surfing. It was a big and long, long enough, but it was heavy, very heavy. That year, we were all going to go the whole distance, and there’s no more substitutes.
AL: Ironman, everybody. The canvasses in those days was canvass. The area where you slip into was inner tube rubber. The inner tube was cut in half. It fit up here. We had to slide in it. You were lucky enough to still have skin on two sides when you got out because the rubber just rubbed. Some guys bled. Some guys only got strawberries.
MK: You paddled the entire thing, Ironman, in this rubber tube?
AL: No, I didn’t go the whole way. The guy in front of me, (Harry) Schaffer, you have his name in the picture. About halfway across, he went down on the gunnels like this holding his paddle. I yelled him to get out. Everybody was screaming at him to get out of the canoe. He was a big boy. He was over two hundred and something pounds. The rest of us are skinny little kids. He wouldn’t get out. He kept crying, “I’m afraid of sharks. I can’t get out of the canoe.” I watched him lean in front of me for a while, for about a half an hour or more, prompting him to get out. I finally said, I went, “I’m out.” I jumped out.
The two guys, Billy Baird and Frenchie Lyons (the substitutes) hardly paddled at all because they knew they had a trip to Molokai, and they were just coming back. Halfway over, Baird had to get in a boat. About half an hour after that, somebody else got upset with Schaffer not getting out, so he jumped out. Frenchie had actually had one or two hooches on the boat. They had Bloody Mary’s, and he was drinking Bloody Marys. He had to get off the boat and paddled over. I got on the escort boat. In fact, the guys were upset that they had to pull you out of the water. I got on the escort boat, I wanted to drink water. They said “How about juice?” I grabbed some tomato juice and drank it. They screamed at me, “That’s for the Bloody Mary’s.” “Okay. Give me some water.” That’s Schaffer.
MK: Did he ever get out?
AL: Never. He couldn’t get out. He had to go. He was afraid of sharks. After the second guy came in, he decided, maybe he had to paddle because there were no substitutes. That was it.
MK: It was limited substitution.
AL: We trained. Actually, we trained with six people. Once in a while, Baird or Frenchie would come out in the canoe. They were there. They were in good shape just to go in a short distance race. After that, there’s nothing. They had nothing. I got out of the canoe. They took us up to a stand for awards. They gave you pigs for the winners. You had fruit, papayas, pineapples, stuff like that. I weighed myself afterward at the Outrigger. I had lost thirteen pounds. I had no water in me.
MK: Sweated it all.
AL: That’s why I didn’t look at another canoe for years, distance-wise. Short course is okay.
MK: This was the first time. I guess they didn’t know quite what to do and how to prepare for it.
AL: Toots should have. He started this thing. The first year, they went across with just Hui Nalu and Surf Club, and somebody else (Molokai Civic Club), and Hui Nalu, went all the way without a change. That’s where you say, “If they can do it, we can do it.” Voila.
MK: Toots was your coach for the first time?
AL: Yes. Toots was the visionary of distance racing, Molokai. There’s a couple of distance races because of Toots, even after Toots stopped. He was the impetus behind it.
MK: He started the Catalina race.
AL: He started the Catalina. That’s right, I forgot that. When he started the Catalina Race, introducing canoe paddling up in California.
MK: Yeah. They’re about to honor him at the IVF Championships in California as the starter of their races and bringing canoe racing up in to California.
AL: He did. He did a good job in that he wanted to expand canoe paddling. He talked to me once. He said, “I think, for my next one, I’d like to paddle on the Mississippi River.” I said, “That is about a thousand miles. Maybe 800 miles. I don’t know how you’re going to do that?” He wanted to do it. He had about zero interest from everybody else on that one.
MK: He didn’t have much support from Outrigger when he first started the Molokai race. The escort boat, it was like a what? A whaler? What kind of?
AL: No. Our escort boat?
MK: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
AL: It’s a big fishing boat.
MK: A fishing boat. How did you get into the fishing boat from the water?
AL: They cut the engine and you climbed up the back.
MK: There’s a ladder?
AL: There’s a ladder there.
MK: Did the canoe come to a stop when you did changes?
AL: No, no.
MK: It’s like today where you just lean out and the next guy comes in from the other side.
AL: That’s how it always was.
MK: That’s how it was?
AL: Actually, it got really good with … I think it was Cline Mann’s brilliant idea or, Sherry Dowsett who was our escort a number of times, to take a two-man raft and tie it to that. We had a 14-foot whaler, so you could go down the raft, get in the whaler, and the whaler would drop you off in front of the canoe. Minimum of work and the whaler sits right there. You can’t lose anybody because a year before that, they lost a kid for close to an hour in the channel. It was pretty rough. They’re just lucky they found him with other escort boats crossing back and forth.
MK: This was an Outrigger person?
AL: No. This wasn’t an Outrigger. It was somebody else. To mitigate that problem, Cline came up or Sherry came up with the idea. That’s what we did. Everybody, other canoes saw it and said they wanted to have us disqualified because Outrigger was cheating because we developed a system of changes where we wouldn’t lose anybody.
MK: Which seems very important.
AL: Very important.
MK: They didn’t feed you on the escort boat?
AL: Actually, you could eat bananas, and that’s where you got your liquid. After that, then we started again. You got as much liquid as you wanted. We started, I think, before Gatorade or what? It was Gatorade, but we used to take Coke bottles and shake them so that there was no carbonation in it, and you just drink-
MK: The syrup?
AL: Yeah, you drink that because that’s got all the sugar that you need.
MK: You said that you’d had enough for a while and didn’t paddle the Molokai again for five years until 1960.
MK: What brought you back then?
AL: A different coach. Different coaches. Very different.
MK: Who coached you?
AL: George Downing was coaching. My brother (John Lemes) was in that canoe too, that race. Not the first one, but he was. We had two Lemeses in that race. We did pretty well.
MK: You came in second in 1960.
AL: Right, right. We were only about maybe a minute or two behind first place.
MK: Had the race changed basically in those five years?
AL: Yeah. More people started racing. It was still basically the same, but people trained harder. They understood training a little bit better. It wasn’t as horrible an experience.
MK: They believed in hydration at this point?
MK: Was it also limited substitution or was it?
MK: It was unlimited.
AL: No, it’s unlimited. George was good for training, but, like most guys who hang around the beach or surf, he had no clue about ocean currents, zero. The year before that or when the Surf Club started winning the Molokai race they lucked out with the tides. They’d go north. If you go north far enough, you can see Kailua Beach. Then, you come down the coast. If the tide is coming in, you’re lucky. If the tide is going out, forget it. The tide goes out at Maunalua Bay, something like two or three knots speed or maybe more. George gave us the northern route, but everybody else went south. We spent the rest of the day catching everybody except Surf Club. It was terrible. We really paddled but that was …
MK: Then, you didn’t race again for another five years.
MK: You came back in ’65, and you won the race.
AL: Outrigger had some problems getting coaches for some reason. I think during that time, there wasn’t much backup from upstairs for paddling. After that race, the next year, I didn’t paddle. I went out. The ocean was huge, huge. The next year, the guys at the Club said, because we’re paddling during the summer, the guys said, “Let’s go. Let’s go in Molokai this year.” “Molokai is in three weeks.” We said, “No. That’s okay. We can do it.” I said, “Go ahead.” I did one more in there (1962) in that time frame before ’65. Rabbit was steering.
MK: For Outrigger?
AL: Yeah. Who was in the boat with us? I can’t remember all the guys. Freddie Lowery, Bob Johnson. Maybe (Doug) Kilpatrick. That’s about all the guys, and Rabbit. There were others but Rabbit was terrible. Very narcissistic. Everything was about Rabbit. He’s more interested in making up stories that he would tell you. He had more stories that were unbelievable. On our way up to a summer race at the old airport, I was next to Rabbit. He turned to me, and the Pan-Am plane took off. This is how outrageous his stories were. He turned to me and said, “I used to be a pilot.” “Oh? The money is good so why quit and go to be a beach boy?” He says, “Once you have the sand between your toes, you can’t leave the beach.” I said, “Hallelujah.” Then, he went to other coaches. Charlie Martin was a coach. He was not bad. Not too many guys liked him for some reason. His nickname was White Rat, but he was a better coach than we’d had previously.
I got upset with him. Here I am, back home, paddling freshman for Jackie Cross, and we were winning two years in a row. I was asked to go in the crew. Somebody else didn’t want to paddle. I thought, “This is really great.” The next year, I said, “Maybe I can go to junior.” Martin pulled me right up to senior, started me in the boat in seniors. I said, “I don’t want to be here. I don’t know anybody up here.” That’s how I got to senior, unwilling.
He was so bad, I had bad vision. We’re in Honolulu Harbor. We’re racing there. All the lanes were, I don’t know, about eight lanes, maybe. Maybe not yet. Yeah, there were four senior boats in the race. We had lane four. On the third leg down, third leg down or second leg down, I kept telling him, “You’re drifting out. You’re drifting towards Sand Island. We’re not in lane four anymore. We’re in lane five, going to lane six.” He said, “I have it. I have it.” We turned on lane eight. Went seven, six, five, four, turned to go down the next. When we went back he found out where lane four was and came back. We got out of the canoe, put the canoe up above. I turned to him and said I quit. Guys rebelled. They wouldn’t paddle anymore. He spent time begging. About two races later, I got back in a boat again. I said, “At least, this race was sandwiched between two canoes. He can’t wander.”
MK: Now, what seat did you sit in the canoe?
AL: All but six. Did most of the time stroking. One, two, three, four, five. I didn’t have too much time in three seat. I was mostly in the three seat when I was a freshman. I stroked most of the time. Here’s the deal with canoe paddling. My two kids wanted to paddle. I told them, “When you paddle, you’ll be a steersman.” I said to them, “But your Uncle Mike (Lemes) is the best steersman in the State of Hawaii.” I said, “Talk to him. You go out with him in a canoe.” He taught them how to steer. He steered. I just said, “This is it. When you win, as a stroke and a steersman, and everybody else takes credit. We all won. When you lose, it’s either the stroke’s fault or the steersman’s fault. You got to remember that. Sometimes, the stroke will get blamed but you always get blamed for it.” That’s how canoe paddling is. It’s still like that.
MK: It still is, yes. You were the coach during the infamous 1966 Molokai race when the ocean was so rough and the Leilani was nearly destroyed. Tell us about that race.
AL: That was big. After ’65, we didn’t have the same guys but as we were training them, I knew we were good. I’m sorry. I’ll go back. Sherry Dowsett’s flying bridge was about 15 feet above water, above the ocean level. I was looking up at waves like that. The Leilani looked like a little pencil out there coming down the face of the waves. We left Molokai and there were a lot of canoes. We were somewhere fourth or fifth. Then, we started moving. We went by everybody, gone. Surf Club, who won the race, we went right by them like they were standing still. Gone.
We made a change, and a kid in four seat jumped out without unzipping, without undoing his zipper, broke the canvass, the cover. I had Mark Buck go in and try and sew it up. It just kept a little water out but not much. I lectured the kid that broke it. “Relax,” because he didn’t pay attention enough when we shouted the number, the two numbers that are getting out of the canoe. The steersman yelled at it, yelled over and over again. Everybody in the crew knows, one and four coming out. One and two, two and five. We staggered it. He didn’t pay attention. He went back in. He wasn’t going to make a mistake. Next time, he took the zipper, and went through the stop. The canoe filled with water. We knew we couldn’t bail it out, so we’re going to take it out. Sherry Dowsett cut his engines. We got closer to the canoe, but we couldn’t save the boat. Actually, the canoe, had about a 30-foot crack in the hull. We turned the canoe upside down, and put it into Sherry Dowsett’s boat. We couldn’t get it all in and there was about eight feet sticking out of the stern. Most of the canoe is right up to the cabin, and when we came in. it had one big huge crack in the boat.
The kid who did this, nice kid, but maybe a little slow. The guys nicknamed him “Midget Mind.” I never saw him again. He left the Club. I never saw him again. The guys were so upset, but not as upset as I was upset. Everybody involved in the canoe race was upset. Sherry Dowsett was upset. They just got all over Midget Mind, “Thanks a lot Midget Mind.” The kid left, went off to the Big Island, and then lived with his grandmother. Sometimes, it’s a little brutal what they did.
MK: As a coach, your first year of coaching.
MK: Your second year of coaching.
AL: You gave Nick Beck credit for the ’65. No, he was not there. Nick Beck and I, friendship, was like oil and water when it came to coaching. He wasn’t there. In fact, in ’66, he stole an ama from us to take with him to Surf Club. It was a new shaped ama. Cline Mann, I think, threatened to sue him, and the ama came back.
MK: Do you have any favorite memories of the Molokai Race?
AL: You know what, ’65 was all a great memory. Part of ’66 is great. Paddling is good. Paddling with my brother, John, that was good. There were good guys in that crew. Winning in Kona was great because we dethroned the heroes. One thing, usually in those days, I don’t know if it has changed, the Hawaiians didn’t treat this as a race. It was a religion. A lot of people just didn’t like Outrigger. For me, it was okay because the other guys didn’t like Punahou either. You’re used to that. It was great beating them. The only guys that came to congratulate us was the crew we beat, Surf Club’s crew. They all came up and shook our hands. I hope everybody around this beach sees this because this was never heard of before.
MK: Was George Downing their coach then?
AL: Yes. George stroked. I was two seat. It was (Jody) D’Enbeau, me, (Bob) Moncrief, (Henry) Hollinger, (Dodd) Balock, and (Doug) Carr.
MK: George wasn’t coaching Surf Club then?
MK: He was still at Outrigger.
AL: Yeah. He was still at Outrigger.
MK: Who was the coach at Surf Club, do you remember?
AL: Probably, I think it’s a group of Blue Makua, Dutchy Kino. They did a lot of the coaching.
MK: They were good guys?
AL: Blue is iffy. Dutchy was a nice guy.
MK: Yeah, and Wally?
AL: Wally Young, I forgot –
AL: Wally, yeah. No, Young, he was an Outrigger guy. Wally Froiseth, he was a really nice guy, really nice. He was probably the head coach because he was a steersman for most of the time.
MK: How did you get involved in coaching?
AL: It was probably through my track years. You can almost say, the way you train is like how you should train in canoeing. I ntroduced different things like sprinting. You do one mile sprints, rest, warmup, sprint, rest, warmup; instead of just going forever. You do that. Then, you go forever. It takes some time. I got a tire, a car tire, and a rope, and tied it to the back of two canoes. We’re going out with two canoes because we had twelve guys going for Molokai. This is Molokai. We dragged this tire. It was like weightlifting. The sprints weren’t that long.
I had a rule. I had a rule that when one canoe got a boat length ahead, stop. The sprint would stop. I’d switch a guy from one canoe back. One day, I got it so even that I just had to call a stop because it just kept on going, and going, and going. There’s only about one or two seats’ difference, so we’d move up. That’s how I started the tires here. I had tires, a small tire. One day, the tires disappeared. I said, “Where is the tires?” “We don’t know.” I went up to this Chevron Gas Station and got tires, old big, saggy tires that opened up like balloons. Strangely enough, the small tires arrived somewhere. I just did that kind of thing. Then, I introduced the running and other things here. The guys hated the run.
MK: You did cross training?
AL: That’s early primitive cross training. You run around the park. Guys would think running around the park was like a marathon. How about running around Diamond Head. Oh my God. I had to get in a car to make sure. There’s a couple of guys who wouldn’t run that far. They would hide and then come back. It was good. I talked to Cline Mann about getting a rope at the volleyball courts with the fence like this. I’d put a pipe over here, and hung a rope. and they had to rope climb. The guys didn’t like that either, but it was great because you’re using the same muscles. You’re going up the rope like this, and back down.
MK: How many years did you coach?
AL: I didn’t coach that long. I coached two years Molokai, two, three years. Do you know the most fun I had coaching? I told Mark Buck I’m through coaching. I got two little kids. I convinced him, and talked to Cline, and others and said Mark Buck should be head coach. Mark became the coach. In, I don’t know, ’68, he said, “I wish you’d come back and help.” I said, “Yeah. Just take me the last two weeks before the race.” It wasn’t just Molokai. It was on races in the island, around the island of Oahu, the Kona race.
I took his second string, and they nicknamed themselves. Did it twice. The one up in Kona, they nicknamed themselves, the Castoffs. Freddie Hemming steered it. We had this second boat. We started the Lili’uokalani race up in Kona. There was the water. The escort boats and the canoes, and the water was so choppy. I lucked out. They got a Japanese fisherman and his boat to escort us. I turned to him and said, “If you were paddling, where would you take us? Where would you go? You’re the coach now. Tell me where to go.” He said, “Go right next to the cliff.” We went from fifteenth to fourth overall. Outrigger’s first crew was second. We were fourth.
AL: Those guys were so happy, they got a presentation. Everybody is on stage. Everybody yelling. They loved it. The other time was in ’68, I think, or ’69, here to Waianae to Makaha, Waianae Harbor actually. Those guys called themselves the Dregs. It was the most motley crew. We had guys who were 6’2″. Other guys were 5’1″. Nat Norfleet was. Bruce Ames steered it. They gave me Cline too. Another thing, Cline did going back. We sat down and developed a change chart, so there’d be no watching the canoe. When a guy looked like he was dropping dead, then we’d change him. That’s how George (Downing) did it when we were there. You got your first change an hour and forty-five minutes into the race. This is that, and it was a fifteen-minute interval. Sometimes, you’d take it to twelve. It’s hard. If you say twelve, it’s going to be fifteen because of the ocean and the water.
We had a chart. You change two people at a time, two paddlers at a time. You don’t change three because it slows the boat down too much. You don’t change one because you’re just losing another guy. That’s how we changed. You look at a piece of paper like this, and you have the whole race laid out in squares. You know who is going in. There were variations during a race, depending upon how the paddlers felt. That’s how we did it. Nobody paddled more than thirty-five minutes at a stretch because of the fast changes. That’s another thing that Cline helped develop.
MK: We found some of his old change charts-
MK: … in a bunch of memorabilia that he left to the Club. It’s just fascinating to look at. It’s so detailed.
AL: You get to the Dregs. I’ll jump back to Cline. We’ll go to the Dregs. We started this race. My favorite canoe was the Kakina. We won in the Kakina. I don’t care if it was Waikiki surf or flat water. It was the best. I don’t know why it was one of the shortest boats, but had the least amount of drag. The Dregs started this race. We had a small boat for an exchange boat. I sat on the side of the boat with my legs dragging in the water, Cline was in the back. We couldn’t get too close to the canoes. I kept the canoe about 20 feet away. I coached everybody, the whole way. With the change chart, I coached them the whole way. Some of these guys started paddling better. They’d come every week. We turned at Barbers Point going down to Nanakuli. The guys would come in on a change. This started after we made it going down the Waianae Coast.
They got in the boat were peering in the front, “Where are they? Where are they? Where are those guys?” I let to go for a while. “We can’t find them.” I said, “Turn around.” We won first place. Everybody was there. Outrigger’s first string was in the back of us, everybody. They got so enthused, nobody caught us. We ended the race. The Dregs won the race. When Outrigger’s first team came in, Nat … Maybe we shouldn’t use names, but Nat Norfleet gave somebody a ton of grief in a senior boat. It was a guy who could give them a ton of grief. The guy was chasing Nat around the canoes. I’m telling you, it’s-
MK: They weren’t first.
AL: Yeah. For a very short period of time, I got to do, but all these guys were better paddlers than they thought. Another thing you asked, who were the best paddlers I paddled with. This is a team sport. There’s no individuals in a crew. One guys can look like he’s super, but he might not be, but you need everybody in the boat. I know guys would always say, “This guy is the best paddler around.” You don’t do it that way. You don’t want to say two guys in this crew are the ones who pushed you to first place. That’s just wrong. Everybody in the boat gets to first place.
MK: There were some crews that were better than others that you …
AL: Yeah. Crews who are better than others.
MK: Do you have a favorite crew?
AL: No. Never had a favorite crew. Maybe the pleasure from the Dregs but …
MK: It sounds like it. And your winning Molokai crew.
AL: Yeah, of course. That ’65 crew, the talk on the beach was we were nothing, nothing because we had one novice paddler in the boat. We had guys who had never paddled junior or senior. We had some senior paddlers. We had novice paddlers. Billy Danford was eighteen or something like that. They knew we were toast. Winning that was great. I paddled it. It’s hard. Thank God for the change chart.
MK: You coached and paddled then?
AL: Right, right. My coaching actually stopped during the race. Not totally, but when the race started, I’m just a paddler. I thank God for that change chart.
MK: Thank you, Cline. Has canoe racing changed, do you think, over the years?
AL: Yeah, I think so. Of course, I haven’t seen a canoe, but it’s changed. There were very few clubs. There was Waikiki. There was Hui Nalu, Healani, Outrigger, Surf Club. Then, there was Lanikai, Kailua. Then other teams started. Let’s see. What year was that? I just came to help Mark on a state race, just to help logistically, and I had nothing to do with anything else. Outrigger, it was ten or thirteen races. That was all. We won ten races, a second and a third. There were twelve races. ten wins, one second, one third.
MK: Now, we have forty-six races with fourteen lanes filled in most of them. That’s a huge sport now.
AL: How many races?
AL: I’m not talking distance races either.
MK: No, I’m talking about regattas.
AL: You’re kidding. Right. We have two a week?
MK: No. forty-six events in each regatta. There are nineteen upper division races. There’s about six or seven masters, plus all the kids.
AL: I see. Those days, didn’t have masters.
MK: Then, we have mixed masters. We have mixed open. There’s forty-six events. Regattas last until six o’clock at night. It starts at 8:30. Very different.
AL: That part of it changed a lot, but there’s still six people in that canoe. You made fourteen lanes, and the currents would move the flags. The flags are lined up like this, but pretty soon, they’re lined up like this. It’s tough.
MK: It’s tough, right.
AL: I know at one time, they were thinking about splitting it. Half one Sunday. The next Sunday, another half.
AL: You beat. You got this. They have less lanes, but they didn’t want to do it that way. This made sense. There were too many crews.
MK: We have two associations on Oahu now. Each one has fifteen to eighteen clubs in it.
AL: They had two. How far back did they have two associations?
MK: Into the ’80s.
AL: Yeah. Actually, they got upset because the association we’re in used to beat them all the time.
MK: We required Koa canoes and they didn’t.
AL: Yeah. They had fiber glass canoes, right? Yeah, that’s right.
MK: Yeah, they couldn’t compete unless they had koa in our association.
AL: Right, right. It takes some time to get a koa canoe.
AL: It does.
MK: To get money, to buy one, do you have to raise it, or have somebody donate it?
AL: What does a koa canoe cost now?
MK: Ten thousand (actually one-hundred thousand) or more.
AL: It’s more than that. It’s more than that. It was about that when I was coaching. It must be about $30,000 to $40,000 now.
MK: Yeah, expensive. It’s very difficult. You mentioned you and Mark Buck were on teams together. You coached together. How have –
AL: Really, really coached together. Yeah. We were on a couple of teams, yeah.
MK: You’ve been friends over the years, I assume.
AL: Yeah. Most people in the Club are your friends. You may not like somebody as much as another person. I don’t know if there’s any people who have enemies, but personalities can conflict. I don’t see much of that.
MK: You were talking about training for canoe races. Now, we use lots of one-mans for training. You didn’t have anything like that. It was all six-men training?
AL: Most two canoes, six men, or whatever. That’s when people started moving to the Ala Wai to train because you knew distances. In the middle of the ocean, you had to take times. The downside of Ala Wai, it’s filthy.
MK: Was it back when you were a coach?
AL: In 1952, my father was on the Board of Health. He got appointed to the Board of Health. They wanted to condemn the Ala Wai in ’52. The governor refused to do it. You think it’s gotten any better? This is how bad the Ala Wai is. You could paddle in there, and watch rats running on the side of the canal. Yet, you’d be down there. We had one Micronesian that used to swim in it. He looked like a midget. The guys would say, “You swim in this, you see how tall you’d get?”
MK: Were you involved in the renovation of our canoes?
AL: No, no. To the extent, we watched. We’d go down and ask questions because I’m not a carpenter. If you want to know about that, Tay Perry or Tay Perry’s father, or a guy named Bright. A couple of Hawaiians did it. We’d go up and check the canoe and looked.
MK: Who maintained our canoes back then?
MK: The shop?
AL: No, the shop didn’t do it.
MK: They sand them, and varnished them, and?
AL: Yeah, they do that. Of course, they would do that.
MK: That was before Domie?
AL: Long before Domie.
MK: Yeah. Any memory of who it was that did it?
AL: A guy named Bright. One guy had a shop up in Pauoa Valley (George Blanchard). Tay’s father had a shop. He was good. Tay was brought up watching his father and learning from him. He had other guys in town that would do it. One guy in Hilo was Puakea. He did some stuff.
AL: Johnny’s father.
MK: Bobby, yeah. Bobby Puakea. You mentioned that the Kakina was your favorite.
AL: Kakina is, right. It’s not the same Kakina. They lengthened it.
MK: They did.
AL: The Leilani is not the same Leilani. The Leilani, its drawback was that the stroke seat was too narrow. You had to wedge into the seat. It hurt your hips. George Downing did help do that. They split the front by the manu all the way up, and he widened it. It became a better canoe. He did some other work to it too. At four hundred pounds, it’s about like this. We always had trouble with cracks in it. You always had to have a carpenter around. Domie did some of the repairs later on.
MK: Yeah. After he came here, he did it.
AL: Yeah, right, but four hundred pounds in weight.
MK: Was the Club supportive of canoe racing back in the ’50s and ’60s when you were involved or did you have to fight for everything you wanted?
AL: Yeah. Karl Heyer III was the Club Captain. He helped. Of course, Cline and certain presidents helped. Without those key figures, zilch. It was really necessary. When I first started paddling, they had very few races. They didn’t have a sophomore race. They didn’t have. It’s just kids seventeen or whatever it was. Freshmen, junior, senior. They had three girls’ races. Then, they started adding them. It wasn’t just being in Waikiki. When I first started, they even had a two-man race where it was horizontal to the beach in Waikiki.
MK: Right, because they wanted the finish line in front of the bar at the Outrigger, so the judges could sit in the bar.
AL: Actually, that wasn’t true.
MK: Not true?
AL: No, because if you are outside of the bar of the Outrigger, you run into baby surf where the water is about here.
MK: Darn, that’s a good story though.
AL: Yeah, I know. It had to be. They may have changed it. I don’t know. There was also a bar at the Moana Hotel.
MK: That was more in line. Did you ever paddle for any clubs other than Outrigger?
MK: Who did you paddle for?
AL: I paddled for Healani. I wasn’t paddling. That’s when I was running. I was running up the Ala Wai once. I heard my name yelled from a canoe. I turned around and looked. Here’s three guys I went to high school with in a boat, “Come. Come.” I said, “I have to ask my wife.” She said it’s the biggest mistake I ever made. I started paddling with them, just over forty.
MK: When was it? What year was that?
AL: It was in the ’80s, early ’80s. Yeah.
MK: After we got masters paddling?
AL: Yeah. I coached Lanikai. I think it was in ’74.
MK: Regattas or?
AL: No, just distance.
AL: Friends of mine were paddling at Lanikai. They said, “We need a coach. We don’t have a coach. Old man (George) Perry quit coaching. I” went down and coached them. We won Molokai.
MK: Was Tay (Perry) on the crew then?
AL: No. It was a fun experience. I don’t know if Tay was bitter but I don’t think he was around. He may have been in school, but he wasn’t down there paddling. It was just other guys. We did pretty well. They changed the Dad Center race from here to Kailua because going up through Koko Head is miserable when you’re paddling. Build water over the canoe because you’re diving in. They changed it from Kailua here. We came up on Kailua, and we were right behind Outrigger. If you’re paralleling surf, your canoe tends to go this way. When it goes by, it goes this way because of the wave action. First is this. Second is this. First, second. A lot of guys canoeing would be going like this. We’re right behind my brother. He said nothing. That canoe didn’t move an inch one way or another. I said, “How are we going to beat this guy?”
AL: Did we beat him? I don’t remember. I just remember him. I said, “Okay.” I kept thinking, I tell my brother, “Why don’t you go to Molokai? You have to paddle Molokai.” “I won’t do it.” He just paddled short courses and around Oahu, but he won’t go to Molokai. (Brant) Ackerman told him, or somebody else told him, he moaned later tell me, he’s a Winged “O” and I’m not. My wife told him, “Because you didn’t go to Molokai, that’s why.” He was unbelievable. That canoe did exactly what he wanted it to do. It was like he never made a mistake. I started coaching early, didn’t I? I coached my brother, and never coach your kids. I was harder on my brother than other people. A guy said, “You’re really hard on your brother.” I said, “I don’t want to be accused of favoritism.”
MK: You never coached your kids?
AL: Never. The only time I said something to Mikey was she went to Healani. I think something happened at the Outrigger and she went to Healani. She was steering at a Dad Center race. She said, “What should I do?” I just told her what course to take, and I said, “When you come down to Diamond Head, you just pass inside of the buoy. There’s a break, and it goes deep, and has a break. Everybody will go outside of this. You go through the middle. You come out the other side about four boat lengths better.” She did that. She said one of the coaches on the boat yelled, “Where are you going? You can’t do this.” She shut him back, “My father told me to take this this way.”
MK: My father said, I did. Do you have any other favorite stories about canoe racing at the Outrigger?
AL: I think I’ve covered most of them, most all of them.
MK: You were bestowed one of the highest honors that the Club has for its athletes, the Winged “O” in 1968. In fact, you were one of the original eight recipients along with Duke, Tom Arnott, Mark Buck, Tom Haine, Cline Mann, Ron Sorrell, and Wally Young. That’s a huge honor that goes only to our best athletes. The Winged “O” has only been awarded fifty-one times in the 109-year history of the Club. What do you think was your biggest contribution to the Club?
AL: What have we been talking about? It’s just I’ve been paddling. I did play volleyball, but I was just one of the other players. It’s been paddling.
MK: Your paddling spanned from the time you were a kid with the fourteens through coaching.
AL: We used to catch a bus home after paddling from the old Club.
MK: You only coached Molokai two times?
MK: Then, you assisted with other crews over the years.
AL: Right, yeah. Yeah. We could come down here, catch a ride down here when we were in high school or before paddle, and get on the bus to go home up Nuuanu to Dowsett.
MK: Those were good years.
AL: Oh God, those years, the bus cost a nickel for a kid in those days.
MK: How long did it take?
AL: A long time.
MK: In the ’70s, the roads were all paved. Some of the roads that are going toward Kahala weren’t paved until the ’50s or ’60s. There were a lot of unpaved roads.
AL: Kalanianaole was paved before that. Kahala was paved. The only one in Kahala that wasn’t paved was Farmers Road because they’re farms.
MK: Yeah. There were farms on all of those places.
AL: Right. They had to do some work after the ’46 tidal wave because it took the road off and Sandy Beach disappeared. The bridges at Hawaii Kai now, gone. If you lived in Portlock, you had to go around the Pali to get to town.
MK: Are you still active in athletics?
AL: Absolutely not.
MK: You are an observer.
AL: Yes. I do work out because you can’t stop. You wait until you’re eighty, all of a sudden, your legs disappear, the muscles that … I don’t know. Even if you work out, it’s just. Then, the knee gets hurt or something like that. You have to keep working out or everything goes, everything, starting with your knees, starting with your back, starting with …
MK: Just a few questions. I’d still like to ask about your family. You’re married?
MK: You have children?
MK: What are their names?
AL: Michael and Jonna. Two girls.
MK: Did they grow up at the Club?
AL: Yeah. Yes.
MK: They paddled for Outrigger growing up?
AL: They steered.
MK: They steered. Are they still involved?
AL: No, no.
MK: You said Jonna lives on Kauai?
AL: Kauai. She’s a massage therapist. She graduated as a shrink from college. She just moved to different area.
MK: What about Michael? Where’s-
AL: Mikey is a sergeant in the police force out at Kapolei.
MK: Are they still involved in paddling at all?
AL: No, no.
MK: Not at all.
AL: Here’s this funny story when Mikey was … She was in town, and went to Kailua first, and then came back to town. When she went back to the Windward side, she went out to Kahuku. The police got a call, a disturbance. She got there. There was a couple of other officers. One of the participants of the disturbance walked up to her and looked at her badge and says, “I’m your cousin.” She said, “After that happened, it was really easy.” She said to me, “Who are we related to over there?” “I have no idea.”
MK: Is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t talked about-
AL: Oh my goodness.
MK: … important memories you have about the Club?
AL: I’ll just say the Club almost becomes your second home. You always have great or good memories. Then, there’s always the greatest bartenders.
MK: That’s funny. That’s the very first time anybody has ever mentioned the bartenders in an Oral History, but it’s so true.
AL: Anzai was the best. In fact, I got a tongue-and-cheek thing when Sorrell was getting names for the Winged “O.” participant list. “I submitted Anzai’s name,” because I said, “Who has helped more athletes or served more athletes than had the bartender at the Outrigger?” I said, “I know we can’t do that.”
MK: It would have been fitting.
AL: It was funny, honorary.
MK: I have one last question for you. You’ve been an Outrigger member for nearly seventy years. What has the Club meant to you?
AL: A lot, a lot. Yeah. It becomes, “Where are you going?”, “To the Club.” That’s it. It’s like people say, “You live in California, the City of San Francisco. The Club is here.” This is real. This is a unique Club. It’s not like other. It’s not like Waialae (Country Club). It’s not like Oahu (Country Club). It’s just different. There are people here who start becoming members at fourteen or younger, and they’re still members in their eighties. Some of them were great. Some would get bitchy. Maybe it comes with age, but you can go out there. The old ladies are still playing bridge and mah jongg. Guys are playing cribbage now. They’ve been here forever. They come to the Club. This is what makes it so good. What’s so sad here is I don’t know what they’re going to do, what the Elks are going to allow us to do. I don’t know if they’re going to let us buy the place. I don’t know how good a chance that is. I hope it is because there’s no place to put this Club. They made one big mistake trying to go down to Aina Haina. I remember talking about it before that. We’re going out in the Club. What are you going to do with the canoes? We paddle from there. Have you been there at low tide?
MK: You can’t get them out.
AL: Yeah, there’s coral. That was a huge mistake, but it’s still the Club even with the new furniture.
MK: It’s meant a lot to you and your family.
AL: Yes. We’ve been away for twenty-seven years, and we’re still members. My brothers are not members anymore. They’ve been away. John’s been away longer than that. He’s got the whole family up in California. My brother, Mike, moved to Milwaukee because that’s where his wife’s from. She’s a physician up there. He’s a retired school teacher, and he moved there. It’s still the Club.
MK: The Club. Thank you very much for taking time away from your vacation to do this oral history. It will be a treasure in our archives.
AL: It will. I was really surprised that I got asked. I thought, “Maybe when you get to be eighty you get some perks.”
MK: Thank you again.
Athletic Contributions to the OCC
1955 5th Place Overall
1960 2nd Place Overall
1965 1st Place Overall, 1st Koa, Paddler and Coach
Macfarlane Regatta Wins
1952 Freshmen Men
1954 Boys 17
1957 Men Open 4
1965 Senior Men
1966 Senior Men
1986 Men 40+, 5th (with Jim Monahan and Jim Stahl)
1987 Men 40+, 2nd (with Bill Danford and Russell Allen)
Canoe Racing Committee
1965 Co-Head (with Nick Beck)
Committees Served On
Athletic Sponsors Committee
Water Polo Committee