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 full transcript of the video may be found below.
An Interview by Marilyn Kali
September 29, 2017
MK: Today is Friday, September 29th, 2017, and 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’s my pleasure to be talking to Bill Bright (BB). Good morning, Bill.
BB: Good morning, Marilyn.
MK: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family, when and where you were born, and where you grew up?
BB: I was born in Honolulu in 1949, grew up in Honolulu actually, went to Kahala Elementary School, and then went to Punahou for I think 4th, 5th, and 6th grade. From 7th grade through 12th grade, I was a boarding student at HPA (Hawaii Prep Academy) on the Big Island in Kamuela.
MK: Were your parents and grandparents born here?
BB: My grandparents on my mother’s side immigrated here from Scotland around the turn of the last century, immigrated to the Big Island, where they worked. My grandmother was a nurse, and my grandfather was a luna, supervisor, on different sugar plantations on the Big Island. My mother was born on the Big Island, as well as her sister and two brothers. She graduated from Kohala High School I think in 1937, and moved to Honolulu in the ’40s, where she met my father.
My father came over to Honolulu in 1941. He was in the Air Force. He was a navigator on B-17s. He was scheduled to fly in on December 7th, but because of the attack, they got held up a couple days. He came in the following Wednesday, his flight of B-17s. He was stationed in the South Pacific and at Hickam for the remainder of the war.
MK: Were they members of the Club?
BB: My father became a service member in 1941. His initiation I think he said was $5, $25. It was basically nothing.
MK: It was a good time to join.
BB: Very good time to join, yeah.
MK: Do you have siblings?
BB: I have two brothers. One of them is deceased. My brother Robbie died in 2008 and my brother John lives on the mainland.
MK: Were they members of the Club as well?
BB: They were both members of the Club.
MK: You told me about going to school at HPA. What year did you graduate?
MK: Were you involved in any sports in high school?
BB: At HPA, it’s a small school, so you’re always involved in sports, yes. I played football, track and field, basketball, things like that.
MK: What did you do in track?
BB: I was a long jumper and a high hurdler.
MK: Wow. You’ve got long legs so that’s a good thing.
BB: I had back then.
MK: Where did you go to college?
BB: I ended up going to Middlebury College in Vermont, which if I had to do it all over again, I probably wouldn’t have. It was out in the middle of nowhere, somewhat like HPA was. I don’t know how that choice happened. I spent four years there. A little different than here. The weather was a lot colder.
MK: Yes. That’s a big jump for a Hawaii boy to go with the snow and-
BB: Yes, it was a long way to travel.
MK: Were you involved in sports there?
BB: My sport there was trying to keep from being drafted, just staying in college. That was a bad time to go to school. It was ’67 through ’71. It was a very tough time to be a kid I think.
MK: What was your major in college?
BB: I ended up majoring in American literature, not out of more choices, just that I had enough credits there that I could graduate in four years.
MK: Did you come home during the summers in college?
BB: I came home for a couple summers. For a couple summers I actually stayed up there and worked.
MK: Did you get involved with the Club during those summers?
BB: I really didn’t get involved much with the Club until after I graduated from college. I don’t know why when I was younger I didn’t get down here too much. Part of it was my father was a workaholic, so on some days when you would take the kids down to go surfing and everything, he was working. Getting the opportunity down here, I just didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. I was a member since I was fourteen.
During high school at HPA, HPA also had a reputation where the kids that got kicked out of other schools ended up at HPA, and so we had some Outrigger misfits. We had Gary Vietch, Johnny Glesner. There was a lot of bullying up there. I remember being bullied by Gary Vietch. I wish he was still alive today so I could punch him in the nose or something.
MK: He was one of what do they call them, the gremmies here?
BB: He was just a terror. That maybe was something in my subconscious that kept me away from Outrigger. When I came back from college though, I just, “I think I’ll go down to the Outrigger and I’ll paddle,” and that’s where it started.
MK: Tell us a little bit about your business background.
BB: My business background, basically I have a strong real estate background. I became a real estate broker in 1974. I actually worked with, I don’t know if you know Jim Dahlberg, I think he’s a Club member. He’s from Hilo, but he had a business here. I was his broker in charge for several years, have kept that license going. In the mid-’70s, with my brother, we formed a business where we actually were selling and servicing mopeds in Hawaii. We operated that for ten years where we probably sold over 5,000 to 10,000 mopeds.
Unfortunately, that’s very labor-intensive, and you have employees. It was a real pain. We ended up selling the business in ’85, which was great, but we kept the corporation. We had real estate in Kakaako. We had sandwich leases which were very, very good for several years until Bishop State renegotiated. After that I did some industrial property management of property that our family owned.
In approximately 2001, I joined H&R Block as a tax preparer, became an enrolled agent, and ended up being in what’s called a premium office, which is an office they have in every state, where we prepare more complex returns. I’ve been doing that since 2001 all the way. I did not renew my contract with H&R Block, at the end of 2015. I’m now on my own. I still do income tax work, but I do it on a semi-retired basis.
I still have my real estate broker’s license. I’m under contract with Aqua Hotel, one of their subsidiaries, where I’m a broker in charge of one of their subsidiary management companies.
MK: You’ve had a busy, busy life.
BB: Yeah, but trying to slow it down a little right now.
MK: You said you joined Outrigger in 1963 when you were fourteen.
BB: Fourteen, correct.
MK: Do you remember who your sponsors were?
BB: I have no idea. Don’t remember at all. No idea.
MK: Did you surf growing up?
BB: Not as much as my brothers. I did a little and surfed a little at Tonggs. I remember I had this surfboard, it was an 8-foot 6-inch Greg Noll that I could barely carry. It was huge. I really wasn’t into it that much. I wasn’t a very good surfer, didn’t have very good balance then.
MK: No favorite surfing spots?
BB: The only spot I usually surfed at was Tonggs.
MK: You didn’t surf around the island like a lot of the surfers do?
MK: Let’s move on to canoe racing, which seems to be dear to your heart. What got you interested in paddling?
BB: I don’t know, I think it was just somehow, and it was in 1974, I just decided I would come out and try to paddle. I started as a Novice B, ended up paddling with a member in my crew. I remember Chris Crabb steered my crew. I paddled with Chris in 55s and 65s, so much later in life. That year I moved up to Novice A, and then went into the distance season, which was great, and ended up being on the first team Molokai crew.
MK: How in the world did you go from Novice to Molokai in one year?
BB: I think I was just strong. I was strong and I was in shape. I think one of the things that did it, we did, what were called time trials. You’d have a steersman and a paddler, and I remember one of our time trials was in the Ala Wai Harbor, and I was up against Marshall Rosa, who the year before was a Novice B paddler who also paddled in the Molokai as a Novice, and I almost beat Marshall in this time trial. That opened a lot of eyes. That’s where it started.
MK: That’s how you started. You also were named Paddler of the Year that year.
BB: Just because going from Novice B to first crew in Molokai.
BB: No, we didn’t win. We should’ve won. We were in the Leilani. We were headed to La’au Point, and right after there the Leilani cracked. It cracked. It had been repaired by George Perry before the race, or modified, and one of the patches sprung, so it was like a flap that hung down on the front. Under two seat, water was rushing in, and we had a paddler bail the entire race.
It was also a really interesting Molokai. It was the first one I did. The first one you’re not tired at all. You’re really excited. It was overcast the whole way, overcast and rainy. I remember a cloud cover opening up maybe ten or fifteen miles off Makapuu. You could see Makapuu. Then it was completely overcast, couldn’t see anything. We almost ran into the Koko Head Cliffs. At that point we were in second place. I remember going into to Maunalua Bay, and there was a blinker buoy that was towards the end of the bay, and we actually ended up inside this blinker buoy. Then we had to swing south to get back, and Kailua passed us then, so we came in third.
MK: That was quite an experience for your first one.
BB: Oh yeah, the first one was always the most fun.
MK: Do you prefer regattas or distance?
BB: I prefer distance, of course.
BB: Much more fun. More varied water. It’s just a longer distance. Most people do. Distance takes a lot of effort.
MK: You were on seventeen state championship regatta crews for the Club. How many years have you paddled regatta season?
BB: I don’t know.
MK: Since ’74?
BB: No, there were several years I didn’t paddle. There were many years in between I didn’t paddle. Sometimes in the ’80s I’d hurt my back and didn’t paddle, sometimes in the ’90s didn’t paddle. I probably in the 2000s didn’t paddle that many years. Maybe out of the 17, and then there were a few other second or third-place regatta finishes, so maybe only 25 regatta seasons.
MK: Only. What seat do you sit usually?
BB: Seat two. I can sit two, three, and four. I have sat five. I have sat one.
MK: Your favorite seat?
BB: I think two seat I’m just more comfortable in.
MK: What’s the job of two seat?
BB: You’ve got to stay in time with one seat, so you’re helping set the tempo of the canoe. Paddling, it’s six people have to do the same thing. It’s hard to be an individual in paddling.
MK: You paddled on novice crews. Did you go up to upper division?
BB: Novice, and then went into sophomore men. Sophomore men for several years. I paddled junior men, senior men, masters. You can go back down to different … All over the place.
MK: What’s your favorite distance race?
BB: I like the Lanikai race, because you’ve got all types of different water. It’s not that long. It’s a three-hour race. You’ve got rough water, you’ve got flat water, you’ve got surfing water.
MK: It’s the first distance race of the year.
BB: First distance race of the year. Another great race is when you race down in Australia.Hamilton Island, that’s a real treat to be down there.
MK: They do lots of different races, don’t they?
BB: There are sprint races. There’s an around-the-island race. It’s an iron man race. Then there’s a 25-mile distance race that covers all different types of water. At this point it’s no more. That event has been canceled. They couldn’t get enough participation.
MK: Is that why they canceled it?
BB: They just can’t get enough-
MK: Now people are going to Hong Kong and-
BB: They’re all over. There’s just so many different venues for canoe racing right now, so hard to compete.
MK: Wow. How many Molokai races did you do?
BB: Twenty-five Molokai races.
MK: You did twenty-one at Outrigger.
BB: Twenty-one, one for Team Hawaii as a masters 35 crew when we didn’t have a masters crew at Outrigger, and then three for Team Bradley, 55 men.
MK: When again, Outrigger didn’t have a crew?
BB: We didn’t have enough. We didn’t have a crew.
MK: In the ’70s when you first started paddling the Molokai, what was the training like?
BB: I can remember the first year we used to paddle something we called the triangle. There used to be a buoy down in Ala Moana called Wreck Buoy. You did Wreck Buoy out to the far channel buoy to the inside channel buoy. Those were training days where you would … I remember doing several of those triangles in a training day. I really don’t remember. Sometimes for long-distance we’d paddle down to maybe Honolulu Harbor or Kalihi Channel, things like that. As the competition got better, the training got harder. I can remember training runs going way down to the Reef Runway and things like that.
MK: Did you do landside training as well, or was it all in a canoe?
BB: In the canoe. If you wanted to run, you would run on your own or lift weights on your own.
MK: How has paddling changed now as a masters crew? Is the training still as intense?
BB: No. Your body can’t take that kind of pounding anymore. When you get older, your training’s gotta … Masters 35 you could still do the same stuff, but as you’re starting in the 55s, the 65s, you’ve got to cut it down a little bit. The races are different. As you get older, in 55 and 65, the distance races are twelve-man races, so you basically have two crews of six, so the strain on your body is not so hard.
MK: Makes a difference.
BB: Yeah. Molokai race you might only be in the canoe for three hours.
MK: What was your most memorable Molokai race?
BB: Probably the first one we won. I think that was 1979. It was just on paper we really didn’t have a top crew. We had a mixture of sophomore men and junior men and some senior men, really hadn’t spent a lot of time training together. Our competition in Molokai was California. It was Balboa Bay Club, which the year before, under the name Blazing Paddles, had won Molokai, a bunch of Olympic paddlers that paddle out of Newport Beach, California. In ’79 they paddled for Balboa Bay Club, and they became Offshore.
It was an interesting race because they brought their canoe down from California, which was a foam-core canoe. We had here a canoe called the Mana Ula, which Tommy Conner had made originally from a Tahitian boat that had won Molokai in ’76. I remember we stayed at Kaunakakai the day before the race, and we were paddling off the pier, just training in the boat. I can remember the Balboa Bay guys were on the pier, and I heard one of them say, “They don’t look that good.” It was interesting.
We started, had the race from La’au Point to Hale O Lono. We ended up, as we got into the channel, we were behind them. We were in a solid second place behind them. It stayed that way maybe up to a half a mile behind them at Portlock Point. At that point, Mark Buck, he was running the crew. He was given the authority to coach the crew during the race. Marshall Rosa was driving the escort boat, setting the course.
At that point we switched the crew around. Mark pulled Steve Scott out, who was actually the coach of the crew. He was steering. Pulled him out of steersman and put Tommy Conner back in to steer. We also positioned our escort boat outside, our big escort boat. We kept our small escort boat inside. We ran inside, an inside course, inside the off shore, whereas Balboa was outside. Tommy, he had built the boat, and in that kind of water just was able to steer it. We ended up catching them right at the lighthouse, coming from the inside.
Then it was brutal, it was the hardest thing I can remember ever doing. I remember getting out of the boat around Suicides (surf spot) or on a relief change, and I couldn’t even climb in the escort boat. Marshall had a big helper, a big guy helping him. He was pulling us all in. We couldn’t climb in. That was a good race to finally win it after trying for five or six years.
MK: It was fun to win.
BB: Yeah, it’s always fun to win.
MK: How many did you win?
BB: Won five.
MK: That’s remarkable. Who else was in the crew that year?
BB: We had Steve Scott, myself, Murray Hixson and Dale Hope from our sophomore men. I think we had Ed Pickering and Jimmy Dean, Tommy Conner, Tim Guard. Am I missing somebody? We might’ve had John Finney. I think that was the line.
MK: Good crew. A lot of them are still paddling.
BB: Yep. A lot of them still paddling.
MK: You think that was the race that meant the most to you, the first win?
BB: Yeah, the first one you win always means the most to you.
MK: When you’re out on the channel and you catch your first glimpse of Oahu, what goes through your mind?
BB: You actually see Oahu when you’re on Molokai.
MK: Some days.
BB: Yeah. If you’re in the channel and you see Oahu, it’s weird, but it looks like Diamond Head is a separate island. You can’t see the land on the inside of Diamond Head. You see what looks like a blank space and you see the hotels on one side. It’s interesting. What happens is you see Koko Head. That’s what you’re seeing. Koko Head at some points just doesn’t seem to get any closer. When you finally get there, there’s a lot of current out there. It seems to take forever sometimes just to get by Koko Head and get to Maunalua Bay.
MK: What goes through your mind while you’re doing all that?
BB: Really, when you’re in a competition, you’re not really thinking about maybe when you’re not paddling, going through, you might can think, but when you’re in the canoe, you’re just trying to concentrate on your breathing and make sure your technique is good, just try to make it. It’s fairly simple when you’re competing.
MK: What does it take to have a winning crew?
BB: Sometimes it’s just you have to have the athletes of course. There has to be some sort of blend between the athletes. You can have all great athletes, but if they’re all different paddlers, they don’t blend together, that’s not gonna work. Somehow the technique has to be matched for everybody. Also it takes a good course, and that’s luck.
MK: How do you choose whether you’re going to go north or south?
BB: Sometimes you’ll have a game plan. It’s a lot easier now because you have GPS, you know exactly where you’re going. When we first started there was no GPS. You’d use a compass heading probably. You’d set your compass heading, but you get the drift, and a compass can pull you way off course. Then there was something called LORAN, which was a satellite navigation system, you’ve got a unit on the boat. Now with GPS you know exactly where the straight line is. You might have a game plan, “We’re going to stay north of the straight line,” or, “We’re going to go south of it,” but the ocean does things to you that you can’t … It will suck you one way or the other.
Then your competition does things too. If you have a crew that you’re racing with, and maybe they’re going north, you’ll want to go north to cover them. You don’t want to do something that gives them the opportunity to get by you. If you’re behind, you can take some chances, but when you’re in front you’ve got to cover them. Sometimes, I remember when we won the Molokai in 1980, the boat went north, not intentionally. That was the only way Tommy Conner, who was steering it, could get it to run. It went north, which was luck for us because that was the best line. The other crews had gone south, and they couldn’t get in at Diamond Head, while we were inside and able to get in.
MK: You’ve mentioned Tommy a couple of times. Unfortunately, he left us far too soon. Tell me what kind of a paddler he was.
BB: Tommy Conner, he was a very technical paddler. He was a hard trainer who believed in hard training. He was a hard guy to paddle with sometimes. It’s not that he liked to win. He didn’t like to lose. Sometimes if he was steering he could be derogatory towards a crew if you weren’t doing well, but he was a very good Molokai Channel steersman, also a very good paddler. He was a very strong paddler. He used to sit two seat with the senior men before he became a steersman. Very good paddler.
MK: What about a leader?
BB: Sometimes he could’ve led better. His communication skills were not as great as they could be, but proof is in the pudding. You get the victories, so obviously he did well.
MK: He did what it took.
BB: Yeah, he did what it took, and more than it took. He was very, very good at putting winning crews together.
MK: You paddled in the longest Molokai race …
MK: … 55.6 miles. Wow. Tell me about that race.
BB: That was a hard race for Outrigger, because twelve guys, and we had three people who were in our top state championship senior men’s crew who quit the crew.
MK: Before the race?
BB: Before the race, yes. We ended up with a lot of young kids. We had freshman men in that crew. We had to bring Mike Holmes in to steer us. It was a really hard race. We just had a bad line at the start. At La’au Point we were in thirtieth place. We ended up finishing seventh. In that case it was really good. We caught twenty or so many crews to get up to seventh place, twenty-three crews to get up by the finishing of the race. It was a hard race. Once we got where we had to, the crew paddled really well.
That was the year the Tahitians swept the race. They also had a canoe that they had brought down from, it was either from Kona that it was made, but it was a much different canoe than the Hawaiian canoes, so much faster.
MK: That started all the controversy on what is a-
BB: This is a great story. They’d left that canoe, it was stored in the Outrigger canoe alley. One night Tommy Conner came down and made a fiberglass shell of it, and that’s where the Mana Ulu came from, created a huge controversy.
MK: Then some of the Big Island crews used …
BB: There were different rules. Up in the Big Island there were different rules. The Big Island, you go up to the Kona race, the rules were you could use the boats that were legal up there, but Oahu crews coming up had to use Oahu boats. This is very unfair. There were a couple years we didn’t race the Kona race. There was an alternate race because of that. Now they’re fairly standard. All the boats are fairly similar.
MK: At least there was some common sense after that long race and we went back to the …
BB: That was a horrible course. You have sixteen miles of flat water from Kaunakakai to Hale O Lono. It was just like, “No.”
BB: Yeah, why?
MK: You paddled the Molokai in both Koa and fiberglass canoes. Any preference?
BB: I’ve won in both of them. I don’t think a Koa canoe has won for a while because they weren’t … Now they’ve been remodeled. The design is probably as good as the fiberglass ones. If you put the Tahitians in a Koa canoe, they’ll win Molokai. There’s a lot of tradition. It’s nice to have won in a Koa canoe. ’83 and ’84 we won in the Leilani.
MK: We won in the Kaoloa, it was the last one.
BB: Kaoloa was I think 1990, and prior to that, the last win I think was 1975 in the Kakina. A Koa canoe has not won the Molokai race that many times.
MK: They were all Koa in the beginning.
BB: In the beginning, yeah. They were all Koa in the beginning.
MK: Have you ever had any shark encounters in the Molokai race?
BB: In the Molokai, in the race, no. I’ve never seen a shark in a canoe race. I’ve seen them paddling a surfski several times. We’ve paddled in the Catalina race, and we had a big hammerhead following us in 1985 right behind the canoe for quite a while.
MK: What race was that?
BB: Catalina, in California. Molokai gets all the escort boat noise or things like that. I’ve seen some in surfski.
MK: Who are some of the best paddlers you’ve paddled with?
BB: I’ll name four people. Obviously, Marshall Rosa. If somebody would say, I can remember, “Coach, what kind of technique do you want me to use?” Tommy Conner would point to Marshall Rosa, “Paddle like him, you’re in the crew.” Marshall was a special paddler. Tommy Conner was a special paddler. The other two people who I have paddled with that really impressed me were Mark Rigg and Courtney Seto, very, very good paddlers. Those four to me are heads above the other people that I’ve paddled with.
MK: Some good names there. Do you have any other stories about the Molokai you’d like to share?
BB: Molokai, some of the stories I can remember are paddling with Ed Pickering. Unfortunately, he’s passed away. Ed could sleep anywhere. He was a fighter pilot, under high stress. We could have a change, he’s got his fifteen-minute or ten-minute rest in the Molokai Channel escort boat, he falls asleep. That’s sad. It happened several times.
I also remember one of the funniest stories, it was one of the masters races I’d paddled. I can’t remember, it might’ve been, in the ’90s somewhere. We were off Black Point. Brant (Ackerman) was steering us. If we got into calmer water, he wanted a smaller paddle, wanted a paddling paddle rather than a big steering paddle.
On the escort boat, Mike Fox was driving and Rob Muller was his helper. I was resting. Brant wanted his smaller blade. Rob Muller was bringing it in. Rob got on the back of the whaler to bring the … Then he got his shorts hooked up on this cleat on the back of the whaler, and he’s hanging there with the paddle, screaming and thinking he’s gonna fall into the engine. Mike Fox and I were laughing so hard we couldn’t do anything. Just a stupid story in the middle of the channel. Most of the time in the channel you’re just paddling, you’re resting, you’re paddling. That’s how Molokai is.
MK: You got involved in coaching.
BB: Yeah, I started coaching I think in 1975 or ’76. I started coaching women. Coaching’s like, “Hey, we want you to coach.” They can’t find anybody else. Sometimes it’s that. Most paddlers end up coaching. I ended up coaching women for a while. It’s tough coaching women when you’re married. You don’t want to be coaching women. Other than that, I had met some really good friends from coaching, really had a good time doing it. Then I coached kids. I brought my kids up through paddling. To me that was more fun when you’re coaching your own kids. Now to see these kids that I coached when they were twelve years old and they’re in their thirties now, it’s exciting.
MK: It’s fun.
BB: I brought my kids all the way up from twelves to eighteens and several state championships that they won on the way with other members of their crew. It’s rewarding. I think you should give back. It’s a great way to give back to the program, or being on the Canoe Racing Committee. A problem down at the Outrigger is ten percent of the people do ninety percent of the work. It’s just the way it’s been. You’ve been involved in public service down here since I can remember. You enjoy doing it, but it’s nice to give back. I don’t have the opportunity or that time to do it like I used to. It’s not just coaching. It could be on committees or being on the Board or whatever it takes.
MK: You’ve done all of that. We’ll talk about that in a minute. Have you been involved in any renovations of the canoes?
BB: No. I haven’t been involved in that design, in the design aspect of it, no.
MK: Do you have a favorite Koa canoe?
BB: I’ve paddled several Koa canoes. My first Koa canoe I paddled was the Paoa. I don’t know if you remember the Paoa we used to have when I was a novice. I have a lot attached to the Kakina. Even though it’s been remodeled, it’s not the 37-foot canoe that it was. Attachment to the Leilani, I haven’t paddled the Leilani since it’s been remodeled last. I would love to do that just to get at it again. We didn’t use it at the regatta season, or at least I didn’t have the opportunity to use it, but I would like to. Before I pass away, I would like to paddle the Leilani again.
MK: You were on the Canoe Racing Committee.
BB: Several times.
MK: What was your job?
BB: I don’t remember. I don’t know if I had a specific job. I can’t remember.
MK: Just do whatever?
BB: Yeah, you do whatever.
MK: Do you have any other favorite memories about paddling at the Outrigger?
BB: Paddling, it’s a teamwork sport. It reminds me a lot of playing football when I played football in high school. You’re with a team. That’s I think the attraction of paddling. You can get on your surfski or you can get on a one-man canoe and you can go by yourself and not worry about anybody, but when you’re with a team, it’s just a collective input. I think I enjoy that. I think if you ask anybody who paddles, it’s such a real attraction. Memories, there’s hundreds of them, but trying to put them all into special focus, no, I can’t do that.
MK: How did you get involved in ocean kayaking?
BB: It actually started probably in 1980. I think the Molokai kayak races started in 1977, and in 1980, Joe Quigg had made these two, they were actually probably the first one-man Outrigger canoes. They were these seventeen-foot paddleboards with scooped out foot wells and a foot-controlled rudder, and you were sitting on a pad, seats. Gaylord Wilcox had one. It was about seventy pounds. Dale Hope had the other. It was about fifty pounds. Dale and Gaylord were going to paddle the Molokai race in 1980. Gaylord said, “I’m not going to go. You want to go?” A couple weeks before that, he let me use that one man. I did a couple Hawaii Kai runs with Dale and decided we’re both going to do the Molokai one-man race. It was very brutal. It was a channel that was completely flat.
I think the day before the channel, I remember Jimmy Pflueger and Marshall Rosa drove up from Hawaii Kai in Jimmy’s scarab. They got to Hale O Lono Harbor in about thirty minutes. It was that flat. The next day it was just flat, calm, and Dale and I went into that race, and it finished at the Bathhouse in Hawaii Kai, which is thirty-three miles, whatever, it was well over six hours or in the six-hour. It was very, very hard. I said, “I’m not going to paddle a one-man.” Right then the surfskis were coming in. Mark Buck, I think he was working. Wayne Faulkner was the beach captain working. They were making these Australian surfskis here. They got a mold. I ended up getting a surfski and started paddling that. That’s how that happened.
MK: What’s the difference between a surfski and a kayak?
BB: There’s really no difference. A surfski you’re sitting on top. They’re kayaks. You’re paddling with kayak paddles. They’re ocean-racing boats.
MK: I know we use the word interchangeably.
BB: We call it kayaks, but it’s kayak paddle, kayak stroke.
MK: They’re basically the same thing.
BB: Yeah, they’re the same thing.
MK: How does an ocean kayak differ from a flat water kayak?
BB: Ocean water kayak won’t sink in the ocean. A ocean water kayak is just built for the ocean. A flat water kayak is like an Olympic kayak, very specialized, certainly too unstable to paddle in rough water.
MK: You were chair of the first Kayak Committee that Outrigger had in 1985.
BB: Chaired it for a while.
MK: You did for a while. How did that get started and what did they do?
BB: Outrigger’s been really supportive of ocean sports. Back then, when we started Outrigger, we actually sponsored a surfski race. It went from Hawaii Kai to Outrigger. It was a yearly race. Everybody would finish the race. There’d be awards. There’d be food down here. Outrigger’s been really good for that. Maybe we have the money to do those kind of things. We’ve always been leaders in a lot of different sports. That’s just how it started. We were a loose-knit association, surfski association, that actually Marshall Rosa started. We were one of the sponsors of one of the races. Different canoe clubs were sponsoring different races. Kailua sponsored one and Hui Nalu sponsored one. It was really great.
MK: Lots of interest.
BB: Lots of interest. This is before a one-man canoe, so everybody was paddling surfskis.
MK: In those early races, they didn’t have age brackets, like 20 to 29.
BB: Not as limited. Not as defined. Now there were some sort of brackets though. There were.
MK: There were. They had novice A, B, and C.
BB: I don’t even remember.
BB: I don’t remember how it was set up.
MK: All kinds of things. I was just wondering how they came up with all those …
BB: I don’t know. I have no idea.
MK: … designations.
BB: We used to sponsor a race and we set the course and so I had to do all the planning for that and the budget and things like that.
MK: Did we just have that one race?
BB: I think we just sponsored that one. We still do it, we give our members who participate in the Molokai race, we give them some financial help, help offset their costs.
MK: What are the costs for shipping the …
BB: The costs are entry fees, you’ve got to fly up to Molokai, you’ve got to get your canoe or kayak up there. It’s expensive.
MK: When you do the Molokai race in a kayak, do you have an escort?
BB: Yeah, you have your own escort boat.
MK: Each kayaker has their own.
BB: Has their own boat, yep.
MK: That’s expensive too. What are they allowed to do? Can they set the course, or how do they assist you?
BB: The escort boat’s just there in case you get into trouble. You get in trouble you can load your kayak on their boat and they’ll take you in. It’s just a safety rule.
MK: Did you do the Molokai race in a kayak?
BB: I think I’ve done it three times in a kayak and once in a one-man canoe. It’s a different race, different courses. Starts from further up on Molokai. It doesn’t start at Hale O Lono. It starts on the other end of Molokai up by Kaluakoi and it finishes in Hawaii Kai. One year they did go to Waikiki.
MK: What’s the difference of being in the middle of the ocean in a kayak or a one-man and being in a six-man?
BB: You get tired. You don’t have five other guys to help you. That’s the difference. You’re on your own.
MK: Is it boring?
BB: No, not at all. It’s tiring. You’re a little closer to the water. If there’s a surf and you’re at a little better angle for surfing, you’re a little farther north. Molokai is southeast of Oahu anyway. In the canoe race it’s really … Of the twenty-five times I’ve done it, I can only think of maybe two or three times where it was really good surf in the middle of the channel. On a surfski or a one-man, you’re able to surf a little more. They’re lighter boats. You’re by yourself. You’re at a better angle.
MK: All your decisions are yours, not somebody else’s.
BB: Your escort boat can help you too because they’ve got a GPS, can tell you where you are and things like that.
MK: You competed in the Kanaka Ikaika races. Do you know how they got started?
BB: I think Kanaka Ikaika was … I just don’t even remember. Marshall started an organization. I think it was called Surf Sports. I think Mike Muller got involved. Then Kanaka Ikaika was just an offshoot of that. Really lucky that just an independent group. You used to get funding from different venues to sponsor this, like the Molokai race or some other races. I think right now Maui Jim has been a very good sponsor. It’s hard to find sponsorship money. Even for the Molokai canoe race, Bank of Hawaii used to kick in money.
MK: Now it’s Hawaiian Airlines.
BB: You’re lucky to get any kind of corporate sponsor. You’re really lucky to get it.
MK: Are you still competing in those races?
BB: Not in the one-man or surfski races, no, not anymore.
MK: When one-mans came out, did you became a convert to the new one-mans?
BB: No. I never bought a one-man. I kept with a surfski.
MK: After your experience.
BB: It’s just a few less moving parts. No ama, no `iako. It’s what I had and I just stayed with it. I wouldn’t mind trying a one-man, but I don’t know if I want to go out and buy one right now.
MK: People have told me that you have to really learn how to balance to use a surfski, and then if you’re out of it for a month or so, you have to relearn.
BB: No. It’s just anything you do. It’s like riding a bicycle too. The more you do it, the better you get.
MK: You don’t forget the balancing part.
BB: You don’t forget. Some conditions just you’re very unstable, very rough. We have rough water. I think it’s just time. You go out on surfski. If you’ve never been in one and you go out one day, you’re going to be very uncomfortable. If you go out for three weeks and you go out for every day of those three weeks, you’re going to be a lot more comfortable. You go out for three years, you’re going to be even more comfortable. It’s just time. It’s anything.
MK: Now they’re training using one-mans to train for six-man racing. What do you think of that?
BB: One-mans or surfskis, you always used them in the offseason. That was your training. Now they’re using them in the onseason maybe just a day or two a week. I don’t know. The way I thought the one-mans would be most favorable, and they had one-man trials and people … If someone does really well on a one-man, he certainly should get an opportunity to be looked at on a six-man. He obviously has something there. Just because you’re a good one-man paddler doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be a good six-man paddler. You should be able to be, but maybe not.
MK: It’s been eighteen years since Outrigger last won the Molokai race.
BB: Wow. That long, yeah.
MK: What do you think we need to do to get to the finish line first again?
BB: First thing you’ve got to stop inviting the Tahitians to come up here. It’s just a different class. Secondly, we’re at a disadvantage. We’re a private Club. Just because of the due structure too, to paddle here, it costs a lot more money than for you to go paddle for Lanikai or Hui Nalu. Also, there’s been some internal things that some of our top paddlers aren’t paddling with Outrigger. They’re paddling with other clubs. Whether they’re angry with something that happened here or maybe they just have friends over there they want to paddle with, but it’s very hard to get all your eggs in one basket here right now. There’s some really good things going on right now.
I think we have five men’s open crews that’ll be paddling at this year’s Molokai race. I go out on the beach and see them, I only know one or two of those guys that are out for those crews. It’s a lot of new faces, a lot of guys that look like they’re going to be really good paddlers. We’ve got some stuff building. I don’t know about winning Molokai because you’ve got that Tahitian impetus. It’s really hard to challenge right now. They’re at a different level. Different level of training, their jobs. They’re more professional or semi-pro teams. We’re a club team. I think we’re going to be still very competitive locally.
MK: I want to change topics a little bit. You got involved in motorcycle racing with a lot of the guys.
BB: No, that was my brother. My brother did that. I didn’t do that. My brother Robbie was the motorcycle racer. He was in that.
MK: You were never?
BB: I used to ride dirt bikes, but I didn’t do the extent he did. He was up on the Big Island. There’s a Big Island 200. At the Outrigger we had a team for many years. Outrigger’s very good at supporting their members in different athletic events.
MK: Were you involved in any other sports at the Club?
BB: Nope, really paddling, just paddling and the surfski, a few swimming races or whatever, just Castle Swim, let’s go down and swim and get a free breakfast, something like that.
MK: You did pretty well. You entered.
BB: It’s not that far.
MK: 1.2 miles.
BB: There’s a lot of competition for your athletic endeavors over here. That’s one of the things, a disadvantage for Hawaiians canoe paddling, coming against the Tahitians. Even our younger kids, there’s so many other avenues of sports they’re doing, high school sports and things like that. It’s really hard to really get them in a canoe.
MK: The amount of time it takes to build a crew.
BB: They just don’t have the time.
MK: You were bestowed one of the Club’s highest honors for athletes, the Winged “O” in 1993. What do you think your biggest contribution was to the Club?
BB: Not just athletics, but I’ve done more than athletics, been on committees, been on the Board, not just athletic committee chair, but I was a Club Captain for several years. That was a very time-consuming job but very good because as Club Captain, you have to really take care of your budgets, your athletic budgets. Now we’ve gone to a paid athletic director. I’m not too sure if that’s a better system than a volunteer system. I have my misgivings. I always liked the volunteer system. Sometimes it doesn’t work because some of the volunteers aren’t doing the job they should. Club Captain, then also I think A&M committee was really rewarding. Admissions is always a big part of the Club. When I see members just acting ridiculous, I wonder who are their sponsors. I always do.
MK: Are you still active in athletics?
BB: No, not to the extent that I used to be. I did come back out for paddling this year just to get in a canoe again a little bit, in a Masters 65 crew, which was fun. I still paddle my surfski, but I don’t compete. I use the Fitness Center. I had been chair of that as well. At one point I had purchased a lot of the equipment at the Fitness Center. I’ve made the contacts with Life Fitness, Dean Kato. We’re still using Life Fitness. We get a great price from them. I had actually gone up to the mainland and bought equipment. I had the first rubber floor put in, brought it in and Marc Haine installed it, things like that. I’ve used the Fitness Center. I think it’s great what they’ve done to it.
MK: For a space as small as it is, we certainly seem to have-
BB: Fantastic. What they’ve done to air condition it and the new equipment, it’s a real … We’re not the Honolulu Club. Remember, we’re not. People who try to make us that, you need to get out in the water. You’ve got Old Man’s out here. You’ve got a volleyball court. We’ve got a Fitness Center that’s really suitable for our membership.
MK: It’s big enough for people to use it.
BB: It’s big enough for whatever you need to do. If you want more, then go join Honolulu Club.
MK: You’ve been involved, active on Club committees for many, many years, both the athletic committees and the standing committees, and you were elected to the Board of Directors in 1994, and you served two years.
BB: Yeah. First year was public relations. You were the committee chair and I was Coordinating Director. You ran the committee. I hate to tell you that, but that’s right. You remember that, right?
MK: I do. How come you didn’t run for another term on the Board?
BB: At that time my kids were growing up. I was really active in not just their education, but they had sports such as soccer and baseball and things like that. It was taking too much time. Work was taking time. Sometimes at the board meeting I was a little disappointed. Sometimes on the Board it was like there were a lot of people that liked to hear themselves talk. It’s changed a lot.
If you’re going to be on the board, it takes a lot of time. You have to go through that packet. There’s a lot of financial information. You can’t just come to the meeting. It takes a lot of time. I just didn’t want to spend the time. With athletics and everything, it was okay to step down. I really didn’t care that I could go six years and become a Club president. It really didn’t matter if my picture’s up on this wall in the Board Room, really.
MK: I think one of your most important contributions was serving on Admissions and Membership.
BB: Yeah. A&M was really good. The problem with a lot of committees is you have to get off them after a period of time, because some people have stayed on the same committee for too many years. You’ve got to open this up to new members and new ideas. A&M for the two or three years that I was on it was great. I really enjoyed that.
MK: What are you looking for in a new member?
BB: It varies, but you really want someone who’s going to fit in with the character of the Club. We’ve got a certain lifestyle here. You like that, someone that’ll use the Club. It doesn’t mean they have to use it athletically. They could use it socially, which is great. We have a sign out in the front of the driveway. You want people that’ll match that criteria.
MK: You’re not specifically looking for …
BB: Paddlers, no.
MK: … paddlers?
BB: No. You want someone who’s just gonna fit in with the lifestyle we’ve got here, which is social and it’s athletic.
MK: How would you describe that lifestyle?
BB: It’s a casual lifestyle. It’s got to be respectful of a lot of people. Unfortunately, I find that lacking sometimes. Tolerant too. If you’re a social member, you’re tolerant with the athletics, and if you’re really involved in athletics, you’ve got to appreciate your social members, because they’re providing that money from food and beverage and things like that. That profit and their membership dues sustain your athletic program. You’ve really got to have a balance.
MK: As with anything in life, balance is very important. When you were Club Captain in 1990, do you remember what were the issues that you were trying to accomplish?
BB: Club Captain basically, I think the first year that I was Club Captain, my Coordinating Director of Athletics, was Chuck Swanson, who is just a prince of a man. Chuck, when he became Coordinating Director of Athletics and he called me up and I met him down at the Pacific Club for lunch and we became really good friends. He was a very supportive director. Club Captain is a financial … You’re really administrating the athletic budgets. In the athletic budgets, there’s some small ones, you have swimming or softball, minor stuff. The big problems were canoe racing and volleyball. They took the lion’s share of the money. You really had to have the budgets done well. Volleyball at that point when I was Club Captain was a problem.
There was I think sometimes an abuse of the funds. There was a thing with special members coming in and playing on national teams and things like that. We had to control that a little. I think it got it controlled, got that managed better. Canoe racing, it’s just because there’s just a volume of expenditures. Also working with Gordon Smith, who was the controller, who ended up I had a great relationship with Gordon. He was very easy to work with. When you have that kind of relationship with your financial people, it’s really easy to do your job.
MK: It helps if you know something about finances too if you’re going to do that job.
BB: I could go into Gordon, say, “Gordon, we need to pull a few more dollars for this. Is there a way we can?” He was easy to work with.
MK: What kind of expenditures do we have for canoe racing? We have the canoes.
BB: Canoe racing, the expenditures … in a year like this year you have state championship off island.
BB: You’ve got travel is a huge expense, and airfare. Airfare is a tremendous expense. You’ve got entry fees. You’ve got equipment. You’ve got your canoes. We got Boston whalers. Canoe racing is a huge expenditure. They’re charging paddlers a fee. Still, a lot of money comes out of our operating fund for athletics. Outrigger’s very supportive of athletics.
MK: I think people don’t realize how complicated it is.
BB: A lot of the athletes don’t. They think, “Great, I’m coming down here for paddling, and you’re going to charge me a fee to enter these races for paddling the states on an outer island. What?” When you see what you get compared to the other clubs, it’s tremendous. Other clubs are all kicking money out of their pocket for Molokai and things like that. The Club does a lot. It’s expensive. We’ve really got to watch those dollars.
MK: People just don’t realize it.
BB: They don’t realize it. You don’t realize it until you start contributing.
MK: You’ve mentioned briefly the Fitness Center. It’s such an important place for the Club now. There have been plans. They have been talking about trying to build a new one for years. What do you think about that?
BB: You’ve got to go back to when that was started. I don’t know if you remember Hank Lass, but this was back in the ’80s. He just had a third of the space now. He was able to get a contact with a fitness equipment company. They custom made some equipment that would fit in there. They had to cut the height down and things like that to get that started. We’ve expanded it out a couple more parking spaces. There has been talk they were going to extend one of the volleyball courts out and put it up there. They were going to put it over the bar. Then we were going to excavate under the driveway and do it. There’s still some plans. They’re talking about putting maybe this garden area out here. I don’t know. I personally think that where it is right now is really sufficient for our membership.
Sometimes it can get a little crowded, but they’ve air conditioned it, sealed it off. We’ve got really good equipment in there. It’s not Honolulu Club, remember. We’re a beach club too. We have one of the greatest surfing spots around on the South Shore. We have a volleyball court. You’ve got swimming. You’ve got one-man. We’ve got to have a balance. I’ve been a very competitive athlete. More than enough equipment up there for my competitive needs and most of our top athletes.
MK: That’s good to know, because I hear them talking again about …
BB: Big money.
MK: … about redoing it.
BB: I think one of the points about redoing it is they want to attract new members. Our membership, our quota, our membership quota, where numbers have stayed the same since I was on the Admissions Committee. We’re up around 4,800 as our total membership. Want to attract more members, you need more dues, of course. We’ve got more expenses to offset. How do we attract members from going to Pacific Club or Honolulu Club or one of the other avenues they have is fitness center is a member attraction. They want to have something that will attract members. I can understand the philosophy, but I don’t know if I agree with it. Now as I’m getting older, I’m more old-school.
MK: Don’t spend the money.
BB: I’ve got to at least commend the Board on at least sending out these surveys to try to get a feeling of what the members want. It’s real good stuff that’s been going on. Some bad stuff too, obviously the furniture in the dining room and things like that, or the new furniture, that was a sure topic of concern.
MK: Are we on the right path now do you think?
BB: I hope so. I haven’t given up my membership.
MK: What do you think it’s going to be like in twenty years around here?
BB: Hopefully somewhat of the same. We’ve got a lot of facility work to do. I’m worried what happens when the lease comes up again. What happens? Is there going to be an Outrigger in fifty years? I don’t know.
MK: Are you worried about global warming here?
BB: No, not any more than anybody else, although our sand is eroding, isn’t it?
MK: Our walls are being underpinned.
I just wanted to ask a few questions about your family.
BB: Go ahead.
MK: Are you married?
BB: I’m married.
MK: Your wife, her name?
BB: Her name is Faith. Been married since 1979.
MK: That’s a nice long time. You have two sons.
BB: I have two sons, Nick and Scott.
MK: They grew up here at the Club.
BB: They grew up here. They both paddled here. They both have given up their membership. My son Scott lives in Colorado. He’s been there for several years. He’s been a nonresident of Hawaii for several years. My son Nick is here. For them giving up the cost it was just the cost. That’s a hard thing. I know the Board has dealt with it. You’ve got kids that are in college, and once they got out of college they’re Intermediate members, and that membership due structure is hard if you’re not making a lot of money in your job.
MK: You’re not when you first start out usually.
BB: No. When you ask me about what’s the future of paddling, how can we win Molokai, getting kids in here that are young kids and good athletes, when they’ve got to pay $300 a month in just Club dues, it’s quite expensive.
MK: What are the boys doing?
BB: My younger son, actually in Colorado, is an entrepreneur. He’s got a couple projects. He markets on Amazon. He was working for a marketing company for a while. He quit that. He’s actually done some good stuff. My older son here, he’s an artist. He works with Kaili Chun on a lot of projects.
MK: That’s cool. Before we wrap this up, is there anything that you would like to add?
BB: No. It’s been quite an honor to put this together. I appreciate that.
MK: I have one last question for you. You’ve been an Outrigger member for more than forty years. What has the Club meant to you?
BB: Boy. I think the best years that I’ve had here at the Club were my paddling years. The canoe-paddling years from the ’70s to really maybe upper ’80s where I was really involved, that’s the best, and bringing my kids here as a family club and letting them … It’s a great place to bring your kids. It’s a great, safe place. I just think the atmosphere down here, it’s a great place to get away from the real world. This isn’t the real world down here, but it’s sure nice to have this to get away from.
MK: To get away from the real world.
BB: Yeah. It’s getting crowded here and there are some days you don’t know anybody, but there’s times down here when you’re … That ocean’s right out there. You’ve got the Fitness Center here. You can get a meal here, entertain people here. There’s people who just come down here, spend their whole … People drop their kids off in the summer here, “I’m dropping you at the Outrigger. Don’t spend too much at the snack bar.” Really it’s been a real privilege to be a member. I hope it continues, hope we can be cost-effective, and we don’t price our members out of being members.
MK: That’s something that everybody’s concerned about right now.
BB: It’s really hard. Things have changed.
MK: Thank you, Bill, very much for doing this.
BB: I hope this comes out okay.
MK: It’ll be a great addition to our archives.
BB: Thank you, Marilyn, for having me.
Athletic Contributions to the Outrigger Canoe Club
1974 3rd Place, 2nd Koa
1975 18th Place
1976 7th Place, 2nd, Koa
1978 5th Place, 2nd Koa
1979 1st Place
1980 1st Place
1981 4th Place, 2nd Koa
1983 1st Place
1984 1st Place, 1st Koa
1985 7th Place, 2nd Koa
1986 1st Place
1988 13th Place, 2nd Masters
1989 7th Place
1990 1st Place, Masters 35
1991 2nd Place, Masters 35
1992, 1st Place, Masters 35
1993 1st Place, Masters 35
1994 2nd Place, Masters 35
1995 2nd Place, Masters 35
1997 1st Place, Masters 35 (Team Hawaii)
1998 1st Place, Masters 45
2000 1st Place, Masters 35 (record)
2007 1st Place, Masters 55 (Team Bradley)
2008 1st Place, Masters 55 (Team Bradley)
2009 1st Place, Masters 55 (Team Bradley)
Macfarlane Regatta Championships
1978 Sophomore Men
1979 Sophomore Men
1980 Junior Men
1983 Senior Men
1985 Senior Men
1986 Open 4
1989 Senior Men
1991 Masters 35
1994 Junior Men
1995 Masters 35
1997 Junior Men
2000 Masters 35
2009 Masters 55
2011 Masters 60
1976 Sophomore Men
1978 Sophomore Men
1979 Sophomore Men
1981 Junior Men
1983 Senior Men
1985 Senior Men
1986 Open 4
1989 Senior Men
1990 Masters 35
1991 Masters 35
1993 Masters 35
1997 Masters 35
1998 Masters 45
2000 Masters 35
2007 Masters 50
2008 Masters 55
2009 Masters 55
Molokai to Oahu Kayak Race
1980 2nd, OC1, 6:40
1987 1st, M35-39
1988 2nd, Men 35-39
1990 1st, Men 40-44
Winter Ocean 10K Kayak Race
1986 3rd, Expert
1987 2nd, Expert
1989 8th, Expert
1990 2nd, Expert
1992 5th, Overall
1998 3rd, M40-49
OCC Tri-Ocean Race
1989 1st, Masters
1990 1st, Masters
1991 1st, Masters
1992 1st, Masters
1995 3rd, Masters
1974 Outstanding Paddler of the Year
1993 Winged ”O”
Service to the Outrigger Canoe Club
Board of Directors
1994 Coordinating Director, Public Relations
1995 Assistant Treasurer, Coordinating Director Athletics
Canoe Racing Committee
Fitness Center Committee
Admissions & Membership Committee