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
April 21, 2017
MK: Today is Friday, April 21, 2017. We’re in the boardroom of the Outrigger Canoe Club. I’m Marilyn Kali (MK). I’m 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 Brant Ackerman (BA). Good morning, Brant.
BA: Good morning.
MK: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family, when and where you were born and growing up?
BA: I was born here in Honolulu in 1950. My parents were members of the Club. My dad went canoe surfing every weekend with David Kahanamoku and Barry Yap. So I got oriented to the water at an early age. I was born with a physical handicap. My foot was bent up on top of my knee. They were going to amputate my leg at the knee. Luckily, there was a physiotherapist at Shriners Hospital who said, “We can always cut his leg off. Let’s try save it.” I wore a brace for about … First a cast for two years, then a brace through third grade. Then, finally, when I was 12, they operated on my good leg because my bad leg was 2-1/2 inches shorter by the time they were able to bend it straight.
I had a small calf and a big calf and a short leg and a long leg. They went on to the good leg and damaged the bone marrow with the idea that the other leg would catch up.
I was a late grower. I grew four inches in college. I went right on by that. I ended up with my other leg then being an inch and a half longer. I changed my leg lengths 4 inches over the course of my lifetime. I went to therapy three times a week from Punahou and would walk with a book on my head and my knee bent so I could walk straight without a limp. That whole thing kind of fell apart when my leg went right on by the other one. That’s why I ended up gravitating to the ocean rather than doing field sports. Bad legs, you’re not going to last long in the field. I took up surfing, paddling, and riding motorcycles because it wasn’t so dependent on my legs.
MK: You mentioned you went to Punahou.
BA: Yeah. I went to Punahou from kindergarten, graduated from Punahou.
MK: What year?
BA: I graduated in 1968. I went to the University of Denver, spent three years there, and then came home and finished at University of Hawaii.
MK: What was your major in college?
BA: I majored in engineering. However, when I was in the second year of my program, Boeing laid off 5,000 engineers, and the federal government killed all the ocean programs which I was interested in. Therefore, that didn’t look too good a potential. I switched my major to accounting and finance just to have a basic good education. Then, I went to CPA school for six months although I didn’t want to be a CPA. I got my degree in business.
MK: What did you do for business? What was your business?
BA: Right out of college, I got hired by Mark Buck and his family running Buck’s Lanai Sportswear. I worked with them for 10 years. We went from seven to twenty-five stores. We got pretty big. Then, Fred (Buck) wanted to retire to the mainland. He sold the business to his best friend. During that time, I got approached by Dave Rocklen who own Jams. Jams was going from four million … We went up to forty-four million. I saw him on the road on weekend, and he pulled me over. We discussed it. Two weeks later, I was working for him in his operation. Then, hired about 100 people in a month because we were growing so fast. I did that for ten years.
MK: When you say operations, that’s the …
BA: All production.
MK: … production of the clothing line.
BA: Right. We traveled around. We had licenses. We had Converse shoes, Wrigley gum. We were growing really fast. We had to go to trade shows all across the U.S., Europe, Japan. We had production in Portugal and Fiji and the U.S. and here. We got pretty big and extensive. Then, from there, I went to a work with Jeff Kissel who bought this telecommunications company and an audio company with it, and he needed help. He asked me if I’d come and be his partner which I went and did for eight years. We sold basically large phone systems to hotels half a million dollar, million dollar phone systems real specific use for resorts. At that time, Hawaiian Tel was a general supplier to anybody and everybody in all businesses and residences, and ours was real specific.
Then, we sold that business, and I sold myself out of the job. Then, I started … I was helping take care of my wife’s family at the time who all were having health problems. I was out of the job. I have to have three surgeries in that year. I started building a spec house and got into a real estate a little bit. Now, I’m a mortgage broker.
MK: You haven’t retired yet.
BA: Not yet. My wife decided to … She was vice president of Aloha Airlines. Then, the airline folded. Then, she went to go work at The Gas Company for Jeff Kissel for about three years. Then, she decided she wanted to be a grandmother and babysit her grandkids. That kept me working.
MK: Somebody has to.
BA: Got to keep paying the bills.
MK: You’re a second generation member of the Club. Tell us a little bit about your parents. When did your dad (Charles E. “Bud” Ackerman) join, and was he active in sports?
BA: I don’t know exactly when he became a member (1936). He played volleyball with the likes of Bill Cook who was a good volleyball player. He loved canoe surfing. That’s what I got introduced to canoeing. We would go out in the Ka Mo`i and catch waves every weekend with Harold Yap and David Kahanamoku. That got me my experience. Then, when I was about nine years old, he started taking me out in the small canoe and I would steer, and my sister would bail the water, and my dad would drop us into waves in Canoes. That’s how I learned how to steer. We wiped out a lot.
Then eventually, you get it, and that’s how I started steering. At that time, paddling was … you couldn’t start til you’re thirteen. Now, it’s twelve. I started paddling when I was, I think, 11 just as an alternate. Mark Buck and them were the main crew. That’s how I got my start in canoe racing. I started steering, I think, when I was twelve n the races. Then, I paddled for thirty years.
MK: You mentioned your sister (Charron). Is she a member of the Club?
BA: No. She lives in Colorado, in Colorado Springs. She’s got four daughters. Right after college, she went to school in Arizona. Then, she moved to Colorado, got married and just stayed there. She’s now divorced, but she and her four daughters are all still in Colorado Springs. It’s affordable for her being a single mom. She’s never really come back.
MK: Another one of those stories of our kids going away to school and not coming home, but you came back.
BA: Yeah. It wasn’t . . . I wanted to go away. My parents were divorced. I was surfing at the time, I was surfing professionally. I knew if I stayed here, I wouldn’t get a degree. I’d just surf. I thought, “Well, I better get away … far away from the water.” I went to California. I went to Colorado. I ended up skiing instead of surfing and skiing every day instead of surfing every day. It didn’t really much matter. Then, I came home.
MK: You joined the Outrigger in 1961. I guess eleven years old.
MK: Do you remember who your sponsor was?
MK: When you were young, the Club was still down in Waikiki
MK: What are your earliest memories of the Outrigger?
BA: Oh, Gremmie day. We were the young gremlins. The older guys would just pick on us every day. There was this ongoing battle between us and the older guys.
MK: How much older were they?
BA: We were probably all thirteen and fourteen. They were seventeen and eighteen, of which Timmy Guard was one; Stanley Gripp. It was just this ongoing daily ritual where they would always pick on us. We’d find ways to get back at them. Out in front of the Outrigger Club was an alleyway between the building in front and the Uluniu Women’s Club. They’d make us run down this sidewalk. It had buildings in between. They’d throw rotten breadfruits at us. We called it Breadfruit Alley. They would get us that way. If not, right below the dining room was an electrical vault called Vault 91, and it had a cement pit. They’d place all of us in there. Then, they would stand there with rotten breadfruits. They’d have pitching practice like baseball and just pelt us with rotten breadfruits.
Then, over by the old sundeck, where you walk up the stairs to the sundeck, there was an old chill box. It was sitting there in the hot sun all day. They’d open up the lid and throw us all in there. We would be baking and sweating. They would slide open the lid and throw in a cup of ice which we wouldn’t get. They’d throw sand in with it. We’re all crawling on top of each other, covered in sand, and it was brutal, but we’d get back at them.
I think our best get-back was they were having the senior prom, and we went out to the Stewart’s Pharmacy and bought a whole bunch of boxes of Ex-Lax and switched it with boxes of Chiclets; came in; waving the Chiclets boxes in our hand. Of course, they immediately stole our boxes of Chiclets and ate all the Ex-Lax. I don’t think any of them made it to the prom. I feel sorry for their girlfriends who were there with their dresses and waiting for their date who never showed up. We didn’t show up at the Club, I think, for about a week. Slowly, they figured out what had happened to them, but that was one of our best get-backs ever. It was survival. Then, they would pants us all the time. That was the thing.
MK: Out on the beach?
BA: Oh yeah, they didn’t care. If you’re paddling in the afternoon, you’re always down in the shore break, and they would want to pants somebody, they’d steal all our shorts. Then, above us, there was a clock at the Club on the second floor. Right in front of the dining room was a big clock. They’d take all our shorts and put them up by the clock.
We’d have to run out of the water, climb up a surfboard, monkey-style, to get our shorts, and whoever would go up. Usually, it was Cooper Cook. He was the youngest and the smallest, but he was like a little spider-monkey. He could climb those things really fast. He’d grab all of our shorts; bring them back down; bring them to the water. We’d all put our shorts back on. We all would wear sprint suits. We’d tie them like 20 knots, so those guys couldn’t pull our sprint suits off. They could get our shorts, but they wouldn’t get our sprint suits. It was survival every day, but that was the daily fun.
MK: Who was in the Gremmie group?
BA: The total Gremmie group, I think, it’s only Jimmy McMahon and myself are left. The oldest guys were Drew Flanders; Randy Dodge; Johnny Glessner; Gary Vietch. Then there was Billy Cook, then Timmy, myself, Aka, and Cooper Cook, and Steven Fearon. Steve Fearon recently passed away. Then, Aka passed away two years ago. He and Cooper were the youngest. Cooper died about five years ago. Jimmy and I are the last two of the whole thirteen.
MK: Do you have any memories of Duke Kahanamoku?
BA: Yes. I was with Duke. Kimo McVay was the President of the Duke Corporation. Myself, and Aka, and Freddy Hemmings, Paul Strauch and Bruce Valluzzi were on the Duke’s surf team. Kimo flew us to Huntington Beach, with Don Ho and Duke. Don Ho had a concert in West Covina. We had a contest at Huntington Beach; the U.S. Surfing Championships. That was my first mainland trip. I was seventeen years old; just starting my senior year at Punahou.
We went on this trip to Huntington. It was my first experience on the mainland, and Duke was with us the whole time. Then, after the contest, Duke and Don Ho, we all went to Vegas. It was my first time in Vegas. It was four hotels. Kimo was always entertaining all the Vegas honchos that came to town. They, vice versa, did the same for us. We went there for the weekend afterwards; those were pretty exciting times. I was with Duke, and then, when we came back, Duke died three months later.
BA: That’s my final recollection in days with him.
MK: Did you ever see him surfing or?
MK: Steering a canoe?
BA: No. David, yes. My dad was really good friends with David. In fact, I still have one of David’s old paddles. When we went to Huntington, it’s a little interesting sidebar, we were underage. Right at Huntington is a famous surf shop called Jack’s Surf Shop. It’s still there today. Next door was this bar that probably held sixty people. We all paid $5 and went in on the cover charge. They served us, even though we’re only seventeen, and back then, you had to be twenty-one. These two bands came to play, and we didn’t know who the heck they were. The first band was Ike and Tina Turner. The second band was Janis Joplin and the Holding Company. We never heard of them, and they were just starting out, hitting the strip, up and down California. That was a pretty interesting experience.
Then, when we got to Vegas, we got to go see Herb Albert, Baja Marimba, and Brazil 66, all in concert. We got to sit in the front row with Herb Albert’s parents and go into the back, to the actors’ room afterwards, and met with everybody. That was pretty cool. We also got to go on the Smothers Brothers show. We walked in the actors’ entrance with Lucille Ball, which was interesting. Of course, when we’re with Kimo, he always made us wear these Hawaiian print blazers. We were always embarrassed. We came in looking like a flower garden. It always drew attention to us.
That was my first trip to the mainland; Huntington and Vegas. I was a week late coming back home. My dean was not happy at all. It was my senior year. He brought me into his office and said, “Do you want to graduate? You’re never going to graduate. You’re not going to amount to anything.” I just looked at him like, “I just had twelve years of education in two weeks, so I think I’m okay.”
MK: How did you do in the surfing contest?
BA: We didn’t do very well. The waves were like one-foot. You had to wear these helmets; these safety helmets which we weren’t used to. There were 10,000 people on the beach.
MK: Because of the pier, yeah.
BA: Huge crowds, and the waves were really little, and they’re mushy. Before the contest, it was great. We would shoot through the pier, but on the day of the contest, it was small. We all didn’t do very well. That’s why Kimo said, “Let’s go to Vegas instead.”
MK: Back to Waikiki, was surfing your first sport basically at the Outrigger, or you said canoe surfing was?
BA: No, surfing was, because I started surfing when I was about seven. My dad had a big long, heavy balsa board in his locker. I was too little to carry it. I’d have to get the beach boys to come to the locker and carry the board into the water for me. Every day, in the summer, my dad would drop me off in the morning. We’d all go down the Club at 7:30 in the morning and get dropped off. I would surf all day with the boys. Then, they would have to help me put my dad’s board back in the locker. We’re only seven and eight-year-olds. These were forty-pound boards.
MK: How big was the board?
BA: This board was over ten feet and was balsa, so it was heavy.
BA: Yeah, but that was my start.
MK: What were your favorite surfing spots then?
BA: At that time, Waikiki, obviously, was where we surfed every day. If we went on an adventure, we went out to Number Threes, which was in front of the Outrigger on the beach, off of Lewers. We would go down there to surf. That was like a trek. If you went to Ala Moana, it was a major trek.
MK: Did you paddle down there?
BA: Yeah, we’d just get in our boards and paddle. It wasn’t really that far. You got out to Populars, and then two spots down was Number Threes. Back in those days, that was really venturing. There would only be two guys out over there. Now, it’s very crowded, but for us, that was an adventure. When we got to be thirteen, we would hitchhike with nine-foot boards. We would hitchhike out to Makapu’u to Kumu Cove, right by Oceanic Institute, and go surf over there, but we had no problems with four of us hitchhiking with nine-foot boards.
MK: You got picked up?
BA: Because it was just a summer adventure and you’d hitchhike everywhere if you couldn’t skateboard. I’d skateboard from Kahala to the Outrigger. That’s how we got around; with skateboarding or hitchhiking.
MK: We’re talking about …
BA: We’d hitchhike everywhere.
MK: This was in the ’60s?
BA: Yeah, ’63, ’64.
MK: Your parents let you? Was it considered safe?
BA: It was safe back then. My parents got divorced when I was nine. My mother more or less said to me, “I’ve got to work. I can’t be around to babysit you. If you get in trouble, get yourself out. If you go to jail, stay in. I’m not coming to get you.” You just knew you had to get out of your own predicament.
MK: Did you guys get into trouble a lot; you and the Gremmies?
BA: Well, getting in trouble usually means you got caught, so we tried not to get caught. We used to go to the International Marketplace, and that was our playground.
MK: That was across the street from the Outrigger.
BA: Yeah. We’d climb up on the roofs and run along the roofs. We were bad. We’d spear carp with these little thread spools, and surgical tubing, and cut-off coat-hanger wires, and try to shoot the carp. That wasn’t cool at all. One time we got in trouble, going to the Royal Hawaiian and stealing a wedding cake, just doing kids’ pranks, but somehow we escaped getting in trouble.
MK: What did you do with it?
BA: I don’t even remember. We probably threw it away. Gary Vietch was our ringleader. He always was getting us into trouble. We just followed because we were the younger guys. We just followed our ringleader. He was probably the ringleader. He always had some idea of how to get us in trouble. He was always our ringleader. Yeah.
MK: What about Auntie Eva (Pomroy)? Was she very busy at the Club keeping you guys under control?
BA: Auntie Eva, yes. There were Malia (Lutz) and Eva. Malia was older than Eva and she passed away. Eva was a sweetheart. She was always such a sweetheart to everybody. She made it here to the Club and was our front-desk receptionist for probably ten years here, because she lived right across the way at Rolling Hills. In her later days, I’d go visit her, once every couple of months at her place. She was a real sweet lady.
MK: Did Auntie Eva control you guys?
BA: She was a big supporter of the paddlers. She’d come out and bless the canoes, every time we’ve got a new canoe. Auntie Eva would come out and do the blessing. We all loved her like she was an aunt. We called her Auntie Eva. She just was our mother hen that took care of all of us. We honored her because we just thought she was such a cool lady, and she was older, like our grandmother, so we treated her that way.
MK: You won an OCC surfing contest, I understand, in 1967, the boys 17 and under division. Did you enter a lot of surfing contests back in the early days?
BA: Yeah, back in the day, there were clubs. Everybody was a member of a surfing club. Then, the clubs would have competitions. At the end of the competition, they would declare who was the winner by club. I was competing regularly in a club format with …
MK: For Outrigger?
BA: No. My club was called the Freedom Riders. Outrigger didn’t have a club team. There was one group called Southern Unit. Another one was Kuhio Hawaii. There were about four of them. The contest was really club-centered. It wasn’t so much individual-centered. It was usually whose club won.
Then, when I was seventeen, before that, I started to surf the North Shore, but I’ve got to give Fred Hemmings credit, potentially credit. I don’t know if that’s the right word, because he took Aka Hemmings and me out to the Banzai Pipeline when we were, I think, fourteen, and there was nobody surfing out there; nobody.
The only guys that surfed out there were Butch van Artsdalen, and John Peck, and Freddy. He took us out and we had these big long surfboards and we were scared. It was eight feet. We’d never seen a wave like Pipeline. Freddy threatened us that if we didn’t take off, he was going to throw us over the falls, so we went over the falls anyway. When we left the beach, nobody surfed again until either Fred, or John, or Butch went back out there. They were the first ones to ever surf the place. Now, there’s 200 people out there.
That was our orientation to the North Shore. I started surfing the North Shore a lot. Then, Fred, and myself, and Butch were part of the charter members of the professional (surfing) association. At that time, it was called the IPSA. We were the charter signature members. That’s when I turned pro. I went to Peru for the World Surfing Championships, I think the summer of ‘68. No, it could have been 1970.
MK: It was ’71.
BA: Yeah, right there, around that time. We went with Keone Downing, myself, and Jeff Hackman, and Jock Sutherland, and George Downing, and Neil Ifversen. We went to Peru for two weeks.
MK: What was that like?
BA: That was a lot of fun. I almost was going to stay down there. Peru, you’re either really rich or really poor. The Club Waikiki down there was like the Outrigger. They tried to copy the Outrigger. The people were very nice and just treated us like we were heroes. However, the hardest part was their parties didn’t start until ten o’clock at night, and they’d go until four in the morning, because they have a part of that whole siesta deal. Here we are surfing. We’ve got to surf at eight o’clock in the morning, but we’re their special guests at night. They’d throw parties and luaus for us. We’d have to go out at ten o’clock, and then come home at four, and then go surf at eight, so that was rigorous.
One experience down there was the Peruvian surfers challenged us to a bullfight. We went into the ring. Of course, the Peruvians made the Hawaiians go first, because they had no intent of ever going down there, and we didn’t know that. I remember, Keone and I, out in the ring, holding this red cape, and this bull who had cut-off horns, with these silver caps on it, was giving us the dirty look. I’m just thinking to myself, what difference does it make if you get hit by a sharp horn or a dull horn? He’s still going to get you.
This thing starts charging Keone and me, and we threw the cape in the air and ran behind that wooden barrier. The thing just slammed the barrier. That was it for us. We were hiking the rail and getting out of there. The Peruvians had a big kick out of this whole thing, knowing they had pimped us. They had no intent of ever going down there. That was my …
MK: Initiation rite.
BA: Yeah. That was the peak of my Peru trip.
MK: How did you do in the surfing part of it?
BA: I think I came in fifth. I remember the water was really cold, and there was a ton of jellyfish, but they didn’t sting you. They’re all colors and large. The water was cold. We had short johns; not long johns. We would only last about forty-five minutes. I just remember, in the final, the waves were about eight feet, and you’d have to duck under the waves. Every time you’d duck under a wave, you’d almost get a headache, like when you eat ice and you get that cold headache. About forty minutes into the heat, I just paddled in. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I just said, “I caught three waves. I hope you got my waves,” and I’m done, because I’m freezing. It was a one-hour heat.
MK: What do you think the temperature of the water was?
BA: Right off the coast of Peru, they have upwelling, so all the deepwater comes up off the coast, and so it’s really cold. This was in the month of March, and so it’s cold. When you put your surfboard in the water, you would paddle through schools of sardines, small fish, and your hands are just pushed through schools of little fish. It was so rich in seafood. Then, every morning we’d go eat with the wife of Pancho Vice who owned all the Vice banks down there. She would send the maid down to the water and go bring up like an Opakapaka in about 15 minutes. We’d have fresh fish and eggs for breakfast every day with this beautiful lady.
MK: It was a great trip.
BA: Oh, it was a wonderful trip.
MK: Did you only go once?
MK: You also competed in the Makaha and the Duke competition?
MK: That was before you turned pro?
BA: Duke, Makaha, Smirnoff, no, I did Makaha as an amateur. I was in the finals there when I was seventeen in the men’s; and then, a year after that, the contest more or less ended. ABC promoted that contest through Waikiki Surf Club. John Lind, and Wally Froiseth, and George Downing were the principals at Waikiki Surf Club. It was a huge contest. ABC would come down with, what was his name, Bud McKay? They’d do interviews. They had Battle of the Bands and people dancing until ten o’clock at night. Everybody is sleeping on the beach with bonfires and Makaha was totally safe. There were never any problem. You could just sleep on the beach. There were no issues at all. It was huge. Every day, 10,000 people would show up. That was the peak in the hay day of that time. The contest aren’t as well attended these days because it’s all on TV. You can watch it live.
MK: What’s the difference in the contests from the old days to now?
BA: Oh, the skill level is … They’re all riding six-foot surfboards. We were starting to change the sport, going to smaller boards, but we were riding eight and nine-foot boards. Today, they’re riding six-foot boards. The skill level has just increased four-fold. The things they do today, we didn’t even think about. They’ll go off from a lip of a wave and do a full 360 in the air and come back down and land it. The tricks they’re doing, we couldn’t even imagine, because our boards were too long.
MK: They’re basically the same boards. They’re just smaller.
BA: Now they’ve got four and five fins on them. We only had one. They’re thin now. Ours were thick. Ours were heavy. Theirs are super light. It’s a big difference. It was okay in big waves because you still have to ride a big board, but in the smaller waves, it’s like a whole different sport.
MK: Are you still surfing?
BA: No. Two years ago, I had to quit. My shoulder got so bad. I just had a shoulder replacement surgery; my fourth shoulder surgery I’ve had six weeks ago. Two years ago, I had to quit surfing. I had to quit paddling my one-man. I had to quit riding my motorcycle in the dirt. All I could do was swim. I just got this (pointing to shoulder) fixed. My goal is to surf again. This would be my …
MK: Big waves or just Old Man’s?
BA: My last big wave surf was about three years ago with Walter Guild out at Castle’s on a real big day. That was probably the last big surf I surfed in. I don’t expect to surf big waves in the future. One, I don’t need to damage my shoulder because they can only do your shoulder one time. Your knees and hips, you can do multiple times, so I got to be careful about that. I’ll probably just, just the fact that I can go out and surf at Old Man’s, it will be fine for me. I’m 66. I don’t need to be out there.
MK: Nothing to prove anymore.
BA: I don’t need to be surfing big waves anymore. I used to live at Sunset Beach and share a place there, and had a place in town, when I was going to UH, and then going out and competing, so I surfed a lot of big waves in my day. I’m over it. It’s so crowded. I’m obsolete.
MK: Outrigger really supported young surfers back in the Sixties. They sent people to competitions all over the place. We don’t seem to do that anymore.
BA: They sent me to Peru. After me, I think it was Donnie Mailer. Then, after that, it kind of ended.
MK: We used to even send the kids to the mainland, to Huntington Beach.
MK: We don’t seem to have a surfing team anymore …
BA: Mark Jackola really tried to do that for a while. He had the Outrigger’s surf team. He did a great job of putting on the contests and trying to get the team to go to the mainland. There just wasn’t the financial support to pay for people in a group to go away to the mainland. At that time, the budget was tight. They only funded a couple of efforts. You had to basically show the potential of being successful to get the funding. They’re not just going to send you to send you. We did that in paddling too. If you weren’t an elite competitor, they’re not going to spring for you to go to Australia. If you were, then they would support you. Fair enough.
MK: It makes sense.
MK: Anything else you’d like to add about surfing?
BA: Not in particular, I think I hit on it. The early days were … We were part of the real pioneering generation of surfing, where it went from its smaller scale to its larger scale to where it became professional. It was really fun to be a part of that evolution. Now, it’s so commercial and big. It’s gone to a whole other level. To be like, for instance, out at Banzai Pipeline with only two other people, I think it was a pretty rare situation. We’d surf Sunset Beach all the time with only twelve guys. That was just the way it was back in those days.
MK: It was a good time to be …
BA: Oh, it was a great time to be surfing because it wasn’t crowded. There were good waves, and I was young. Keone Downing and I were fairly young in our time. Jeff Hackman was a year ahead of us. We were out there surfing the big waves when we were thirteen. For us, that was like Mount Everest. It was really thrilling and scary. That was part of that whole evolution.
MK: It sounds like those were good days to be surfing.
BA: Oh yeah, when you’re a kid, it doesn’t get much better than that.
MK: Let’s move onto canoe racing. You’ve paddled and coached for five decades. It sounds like a long time. How did you get started?
BA: Everybody that was a member of the Outrigger paddled. That was just what you did. It wasn’t about, “Oh boy, I think I’m going to paddle.” You just knew you were going to paddle. I was one of the younger ones. I started when I was ten and paddled in the thirteens, and then just stayed with it. When I was fourteen, back then you could steer multiple crews, so I ended up steering an older crew, the novice men, and my thirteen and under team.
Then, I went on to steer the eighteen and unders, and we won consistently and broke records. Then, from there, I went up to the senior men. I didn’t really paddle in freshman, sophomore or juniors. I went from eighteens up to seniors. Then, after that, I went away to college, came back, and then started paddling Molokai, because I was of the age then. I steered Molokai. I did thirty Molokai races. That was enough.
MK: That, I suppose, was, as an open paddler and as a master.
BA: Yeah, so after thirty Molokais, I was like, “Okay. I think I’m done.” Then, along the way, we had a thing back in the day. If you were in the senior crew, you coached. When I was coaching, I was a big believer in the feeder system, which has been spoiled now by the association (OHCRA and HCRA), the way the point system works. The juniors and seniors in the old days used to get more points. You’d get five points in all the other crews, and seven points to win in juniors and eight points for seniors.
Our goal was win the men and women’s juniors and seniors, and you get thirty points, which was worth seven or eight points. Over time, Outrigger was winning. They were winning the regattas. They (other clubs) didn’t like that. They (OHCRA and HCRA) changed it. Everything was worth five points, which eliminated the … You had no incentive on the feeder system. It, in my opinion, ruined the whole process. When I was head coach, I made sure my coaches also coached. It created a successful program. We would win fairly regularly at the state championships.
MK: Who coached you in the early years of paddling?
BA: Rabbit Kekai? Rabbit was probably my first coach back when I was thirteen and fourteen.
MK: Was he good?
BA: Yeah, because he was a fun guy, and he was a good waterman. We all honored him and listened to him. He was like god. I was coached also by George Downing, and Archie Kaaua, and Mark Buck, Tom Conner. We all took turns coaching. It’s always been a thankless job. You just volunteer to tell the kids it’s my turn to go do it. I kept coaching for a while.
MK: Do you have any favorite stories about the kids’ crews you were on?
BA: Not so much the kids’ crews other than our eighteen and under crew. We were called the Baby Guns. We were really good. We won everything by probably three boat lengths when we would finish. We were cocky. We’d come up to the finish line and do over-the-head changes. The beach probably hated us.
Fred Hemmings steered us in our first long-distance race from Kailua to Waikiki (1968). That race (Duke Kahanamoku Race), they still do today. He was our steersman and our coach. We were all sixteen, seventeen years old. We almost won the race, which was, at that time, unheard of. I think we ended up in third, but we shocked everybody because they thought that was the first crew up there and it was the kids. We all thought we were pretty hot stuff at the end of that race.
MK: Who was on that crew?
BA: Gosh, I can’t remember everybody. I just remember Johnny Mounts, and I think Marty Wilson. I believe there was Bobby Schneider, and this guy (David) Alexander, and Mike Driscoll. They’re all not around anymore or on the mainland or what have you. That was, just basically, was our eighteen and under solid crew, and maybe Aka (Hemmings) and I think two other guys that were part of our crew (Tom Arnott, Jim Pietsch and Gary Sheehan).
MK: You went onto the senior men’s crew. I know you won the Macfarlane Regatta for six straight years (1972-1977) and the state championship (1974-1977) four times in a row. That was quite a senior crew. What do you remember about them?
BA: I didn’t realize it was that many. We put our senior crew together because the Club was losing, and the Senior men were losing, and it was getting embarrassing. We sat down one day. Mike Lemes was our steersman. There was Paul MacLaughlin, Marshall Rosa, Tommy Conner, myself, Mark Buck, Aaron Young, and we just sat down one day and said, “Hey look, we want to win. If we’re going to do this, let’s win.” We’ve got real serious about everything. We started changing the equipment. We changed our paddles. We changed the technique because the Tahitians were starting to make a lot of noise. We trained really hard which, today, a lot of people are following that regimen. We would go (paddle) down to Magic Island and go from Magic Island to Kewalo Basin; ten legs; straight-away legs. We trained really hard.
We paddled against the Waikiki Surf Club in the first race and came in third. We weren’t very happy. After that, we won and we never lost again for five years. It was really because we trained. We worked on the boats at night, down here, sanding the canoes, fixing them; going up hiking in the mountains, cutting hau for `iaku. We shaped ama with a different shape. They used to have square edges. We made round edges. We made round curves, so the boat would turn easier. We just spent an awful lot of time overanalyzing everything and training really hard.
MK: What canoe were you using?
BA: We used the Kakina and the Leilani. They were both in for repair a lot, so we would use them both. Then, we remodeled the Leilani. It was getting so thin. In one Molokai race, we got to La’au Point in first place. Tommy Conner was sitting in number two. The patch dropped down. You can imagine these canoes are seventy years old held together with weld wood glue of the past, which was like bondo. We paddled from La’au Point to the finish with this shovel in the front scooping water into the boat. We stopped. Somebody had some surfboard wax, and we filled the hole. It was still a one-inch piece hanging down, so we ended up in third place.
Then, shortly thereafter, fiberglass boats came into fashion. We started designing and making fiberglass boats. Tommy Conner was a big part of that. We started to veer away from koa, just because of those events. You don’t know what to predict with those. The boats got so thin because, every year, when I was real small, probably ten years old, every year they would sand the koa boats down to wood and re-varnish them. Whenever you’re doing that, you take off a lot of sawdust. The boats got to a point where there is a sixteenth or an eighth of an inch thick. We went around and drilled small little micro-holes into all the koa. We would find these thin spots, and then Domie (Gose) would cut them out and patch them. Now, the boats have been remodeled and they’re all solid. Back then, they were really weak.
MK: Yes, they …
BA: Then we got the evolution of fiberglass going. Then, Walter Guild and Jeff Kissel, with the help of Joe Quigg, they designed this new glass boat. They flew to New York; Jeff’s connection with Pacific Resources. They got to put it in a testing tank back in New York and tested two designs. He made these four-foot models. The three of them went back, tank-tested them, came back with the one that was the most efficient through drag testing. That became the production boat that they use today.
MK: That’s the Hawaiian …
BA: Class Racer?
BA: Now, it’s taken another evolution. There’s three or four boat builders now.
MK: Yeah, but that was the primary racing canoe and practice canoe for a number of years.
BA: Yeah, and they also remodeled the Kaoloa off of one of those, but Joe Quigg was the mastermind of that design. He sat down with us and went over. He basically said, “Okay, forty percent of the racers are in this condition; thirty percent are in that condition. We need turns, up-winds, cross-winds, what have you,” and he took all that information and came up with a homogenized design that would be a versatile boat, and he did a great job. He’s a water genius when it comes to water design and ocean engineering. Joe is the man. He helped to design the Hobie Cat and other things.
MK: We’re hoping to do oral history with him.
BA: Better hurry up.
MK: I know. Every time we have an appointment, he cancels.
BA: He’s brilliant.
MK: Who was your main competition back in those days?
BA: Waikiki Surf Club.
MK: They were the …
BA: Nappy and his gang, with Nappy’s experience, he’s still steering today. The guy is amazing. His team was always winning. Then, once we started to win, then we became the dominant force, but they were the dominant force for ten years, until we then became.
MK: Who coached you guys?
BA: We took turns. It was either myself or Tommy Conner, primarily. Mike Lemes coached our senior crew, because he was our steersman. I was stroking. Mike did a lot of our active coaching on the water because he was our steersperson. Then, he wouldn’t steer distance. He didn’t like distance. I would then go from stroking regattas to steering distance.
MK: Outrigger was very successful in the Molokai Race for a long time and still has the record for most wins of sixteen. Now, the Tahitians have won the Molokai for the last 11 years. Does Outrigger ever have a chance of getting back in contention?
BA: That’s a tough question. We were the first ones to go up against the Tahitians in 1975. We were dead even the whole race. Then, we got ahead when we could finally turn down and catch waves. We basically just out-surfed them to the finish. We won primarily because of experience. Then, that started the situation. That was in 1975; ‘76, they came back and won the first, I think, four places. Then, we won again in ‘77. This is when we started designing different boats. Then, after that, they started to become … We handed the ball off, I guess that was after the next year; it’s 84. Then, our crew started to come apart. You can only hold a crew together for three years. People get married; have kids; move; jobs. Our crew then pretty much started to come apart.
Then, I went over to Hui Nalu in 1980 and ’81. There were some issues going on here at the Club. Like I said, my dad became president and I left to go to Hui Nalu for the same reasons. Fred Hemmings and myself were over there with two or three other Club members. Then, I came back. When I came back, I became coach, and we won in ‘83 and ‘84. We broke the record in ‘75. I think we broke another record in ‘83 and ‘84. We went under 4-1/2 hours for the first time. Now, they’re doing it in four hours. It’s ridiculous.
We’re still paddling the old style, and technique-wise, and we still like to koa boats. Now, everything has gotten totally revolutionized; paddles; boats; designs; technique. It’s on a whole other generation level now.
MK: Does Outrigger ever have a chance at winning again?
BA: I don’t know. You hear a lot of noise out there. They’re (Tahitian clubs) all on performance-enhancing drugs, which I don’t really believe. They are commercially supported, like Shell Va’a. They all are employees of Shell Oil in Tahiti. They’re paid to train. They have a real tough regimen. They train in the mornings and in the afternoons. They run at lunch. They just train. Like anything else, hard work is going to produce results. They just work really hard, and they train really hard, and so, they’re successful. They’re lucky that they’re commercially supported by the company they work for, who pays their trips and the like.
Here, everybody has a regular job, and you come down after work. Down there, they are all-star crews. Here, we can only pull from our own membership. We’ve got to do it grassroots style. It will be a hard one for them to win again, as long as the situation stays the way it is, and you’re going to be always going up against these guys who are commercially supported to train the way they do, because they train like Olympic athletes. We’re more of a hobby in a sense.
There is also a difference that I see currently. We have a hard time just filling crews. We have scholarship paddlers we’re bringing in every summer. I’m not really a big supporter of that, but I don’t see the dedication. A lot of people are into one-man paddling now too. We didn’t have one-man paddling; so everybody paddled six men. Now, you have one man. If you don’t want to paddle with a group of people and deal with paddletics and the like, you just go paddle your one-man. I don’t see a dedicated core of six or eight guys that we had, a dedicated core that worked really hard, and we had a goal, and we’re going to do whatever it took; I don’t see that.
One of the byproducts of being successful was, in the following years, after we were winning six years in a row, the mentality was, if we show up, we’ll win. We just got to show up with our paddle in our hand, get in the canoe, and they’re going to make us win. We’re just going to win because we win every year. They didn’t understand what went into that winning; a lot of work, and a lot of dedication, and a lot of paddling widows staying at home wondering where their husbands were. I don’t see that today, and unless they get that back, I don’t see them being able to win.
You’ve got to have dedicated time, and effort, and energy, and spend the time, and be disciplined, and it doesn’t come overnight. It might take two years, three years, to even get there. Then, you’ve got to hold onto them, which is really hard past, like I said, two or three years, and you’re going to lose people. It’s not the easiest thing to put together.
MK: There has been some talk about changing the Molokai from a nine-man crew with unlimited substitution and going back to an Ironman crew of just six paddlers. Do you think that would make a difference?
BA: If you’re implying winning first overall that way, you go to Tahiti and they have these three-day races, which is like the big peak race at the end of a season, they are used to paddling long distances with six guys. Those races down there are Ironman races. They race three days with just eighteen people, or maybe it’s twelve, where six will race, and then three will come out, and another six, and then, on that third day, they’ll rotate everybody out with 12, they’re used to paddling all day by themselves with just six. We’re not. I don’t think that would make that much of a difference.
MK: It wouldn’t help the Hawaii crews.
BA: No. It gets back down to anything else; training and discipline.
MK: You talk about dedication. What does it really take to be a championship paddler?
BA: You’ve got to commit a lot of time; a lot of time. We were doing seven days a week. We would paddle three days a week. We would meet each other down here on Tuesdays and Thursdays and just run the park. We would run together. Guys were going to the weight room. When I was coaching, I had a nutritionist. I had Terry Albritton, the strength coach from UH. I brought in outside sources of coaching to make sure we put together a total package.
I had one failure. I brought in this group from the mainland that went into mind training or super learning, which was an Eastern European idea back then, that was the training methods that the Russians and the East Germans were using. We were fortunate enough to come up against this couple of people here who had experience in it. They had written a book about it.
That’s the hardest part, to get paddlers who already think they know everything, to open their minds to women. These were women that were teaching us this. Our guys with their egos thought they knew everything about everything. They wrote the book. They didn’t really accept it too well because they thought they already tough enough mentally. I failed on that one, but I was taking it to its biggest extreme; mind training; weight training; strength training; nutrition. We did everything we could to make ourselves better; from equipment to technique to just working on the boats, and then to canoe training. Then, you’d do cross-training, a lot of time. Nowadays, not a lot of people would want to dedicate that much time.
MK: Or if they do, they would just do it in their own, in those one-man canoes.
BA: Yeah, but we were doing this for seven days a week during a season.
MK: That’s quite a commitment. Is there anything else you’d like to add about canoe racing and your involvement?
BA: I coached this year (2017). I used to go and help Lokahi Canoe Club. I got them a canoe. I got them to come down to the Ala Wai and park right next to us. We had a good relationship with that club for a long time. I didn’t coach over here after coaching the masters and we won a couple of times. I was more or less, I said, “Okay, I think I’ve won enough. I’m retiring. I don’t need to win another Molokai. I’ve already done thirty. I think I’m done.” I went to go help them and I helped them for ten years in distance only. I would go with them on race day and just be their navigator, more or less. That was fulfilling doing that.
Then I didn’t coach for about four years. Then, this year, the girls fifty-five and sixty asked me to come out, and they cornered me one day, and in a moment of weakness, I volunteered. It was a one-year experience. I’m not going to do it again. Things have just changed. Maybe I’m just too old. I feel obsolete. Marc Haine and the masters were trying to get me to come out and coach them right now, but I just think I’m just going to concentrate on my rehab and try to get back and surf again. I think my paddling days are over.
Nowadays, they’re going into new techniques, and I’m obsolete on that, so I’m probably not the guy to be coaching. Although my belief is, from what I see them doing, I’ve seen that technique has already been used fifteen years ago. They just don’t know it. My belief is, you can paddle the Watusi, and as long as everybody is doing it the same, you can be successful. It’s not just a technique that’s going to win, but there’s a belief system over here that you’ve got to do the latest, greatest technique. I don’t really buy into that. I just think any technique will win if you’re all doing the same thing. A Porsche that’s out of tune isn’t going to beat the fine-tuned Volkswagen, so that’s where I am on that subject.
MK: You had one other sport here that was dear to your heart, and that’s the motorcycle riding. How did you get involved in that?
BA: John Beaumont, bless his heart. John was riding motorcycles, and Mark Buck and I both … I was working for the Buck family. Mark and I both bought brand new motorcycles because we wanted to go ride. I’m not sure what got us into it. Once we did get into it, we got hooked. It’s like paddling. Those sports, once you get into it, you get hooked, and we got hooked.
We would ride up on the North Shore, up above Helemano and cut trails. We would cut trails for 15 years, which is why I think I now have a shoulder replacement because of cutting too much trails on hardwoods like strawberry, guavas and koa. These were all up in the mountains in basically pig trails. John was our leader.
Every three months, they’d have an Enduro Race, which would be about a six-hour race in the mountains. We just were hooked, and we would ride every single Saturday, except for Christmas and Mothers’ Day. Any other weekend, we’re out there, even if we had to come home for Thanksgiving, we’d be home at one o’clock. We were just nuts. We really enjoyed it, so I did that.
Our big event of the year was the Mauna Kea 200 Race, which was a two-day race, 100 miles a day, up on the big island. You would go over the top of Mauna Kea, out over the lava, and all along the beach. It was one of the qualifying races for the national races. Some mainland guys would come down and compete. That was our big push every year.
They would have it on Memorial Day weekend. We’d ride motorcycles from October to Memorial Day weekend. They would hang up the bikes and paddle until October. It was a two-sport year, and you stayed in shape, and cross-trained, and we loved it. We’d get a little bit beat up, but everybody thinks that, because of motorcycling, it’s the reason why I just had my fourteenth surgery. I didn’t really get that hurt. I broke a collarbone, and a fractured foot, and some burns, with your pipe landing on you, but I didn’t get that hurt. It’s just wear-and-tear.
MK: Did you go to mainland competitions as well?
BA: I raced in Mexico a couple of times. I raced in Colorado in the Colorado 500, which was a five-day event, going over two 14,000-foot passes each day. In the late afternoon at about four o’clock, the thunder and lightning would come, while we’re up on a top of these mountains, with our Molotov cocktails, just waiting to get blown up. My mainland experience was primarily Mexico and Colorado.
MK: Are you still riding?
BA: I don’t race anymore. I don’t ride the dirt anymore because, after four shoulder surgeries and a replacement, I’m pretty much done. I’m 66 years old. I can’t be doing that kids’ stuff anymore. My son rides and he jumps; doing that X games stuff. Walter Guild, myself, Al Serafin and Kala Judd, we go every Sunday morning at 7:00 am on street motorcycles. Everybody is still sound asleep. We go to the Stadium, go up H-3, and ride around the island, then we stop in Haleiwa and have breakfast, and we’re home by ten. We do that every Sunday if we can.
We still like to ride, but I’m not that comfortable riding on the street. First of all, the roads are terrible. They are really dangerous with all the potholes, particularly over by the Sears Distribution Center area by the rail. Second, I don’t trust all these cars out there. We go really early because there’s nobody on the road. You can go around the whole North Shore, and from Chinaman’s Hat to Haleiwa. Everybody is asleep on a Sunday morning; just the fishermen are out.
MK: Or in church?
BA: Or in church. When you start to get toward Kahuku and you come up on Kahuku town, you get a lot of slow traffic because everybody’s going to church.
MK: Any other sports or that you competed in or were involved recreationally?
BA: Don’t you think that’s enough sports?
MK: Swimming? You got into swimming?
BA: Swimming. Barry Yap, Harold’s son, formed the Outrigger’s swim team. My parents lived in Kahala, on Kahala Street, and we had a big rectangular swimming pool. We would train at my house. I was probably ten. Barry would come and train us. Jimmy McMahon and myself and about six others, we would train over at our house a couple of times a week. We never competed against anybody or did anything. I don’t know why we were a swim team, but we had a swim coach. Back in the day, when you read the Outrigger’s plaque, it was all about the ocean sports of surfing, canoeing and swimming, because back in the day, Duke and all this swimming was a big deal.
I remember, when we were young, at the old Outrigger, we would walk down to the Natatorium where they had the two big diving platforms. We would go down there to jump off the high dives. They also had a big slide. I remember being up there on that high dive, at about nine or ten years old looking at that, and just scared as heck to jump off that thing. Then, somebody would walk up behind you and push you off. That would be the only way you’re going to jump. If you wanted to go surfing, you want to be a good swimmer. Back in the days, swimming was a big deal.
MK: It was. You were elected to the Winged “O” at the relatively young age of 28. That must have been a big surprise.
BA: Yeah. I was paddleboarding too. It was another sport I did. I’ve raced paddleboards. It was a natural; if you surf, you race paddleboards. I raced one of Joe Quigg’s paddleboards and was successful in the Diamond Head. There was only one race; the Diamond Head Paddleboard Race. It was six miles. You went from Waikiki Beach, out around the Diamond Head Buoy, and going back to Waikiki.
People like Nappy and George Downing were successful and everybody did the paddleboard race. I remember paddling a paddleboard race in front of the Outrigger Club across the beach. When we were tenyears old, we did paddleboard races. We might race 200 yards, when you’re ten years old, but we all would go into these events just because they were having them. I did that for a few years. Then, that faded out, and now, it’s a big deal again.
MK: Yeah, they’re doing Molokai and everything.
BA: Yeah, we didn’t have any. It was one race a year. Now, they’ve got lifeguard races on the North Shore; Australia; California. The whole lifeguard series is a big deal. We didn’t have anything like that when we were around.
MK: All of that contributed towards your election to the Winged “O”.
BA: I guess. Yeah, I thought that was reserved for the Duke Kahanamoku’s.
MK: Were you surprised when you were …
BA: I was pretty surprised. I just wasn’t thinking about it. When you get it, you’re obviously surprised. It’s an honor to get it. Now, they’re handing it out a little more regularly. Sometimes, they wouldn’t have one. If there was nobody up for it, they wouldn’t have it. Now, they try to have one almost every year, which is a little more difficult.
MK: What is the Winged “O” doing these days? Anything?
BA: You’d have to ask Ron Sorrell. Ron Sorrell was really the mainstay behind maintaining the Winged “O”; making sure it happened; making sure we had a committee that voted on it. I’d have to give all the credit to Ron Sorrell for putting that whole thing together and holding onto it for as long as it’s been going. He’s really the guy that you could talk to that. He would give you a lot of background on that whole subject.
MK: It’s the 50th anniversary this year of Winged “O”. He’s been doing it for a long time.
BA: Yeah, but he’s the man on that whole subject. Wally Young would help make all the awards; for paddling awards; the annual awards. It was all Wally Young and Ron Sorrell; a lot of time spent.
MK: Okay. Let’s move on to Club management. Did you serve on any standing committees before being elected to the board?
BA: Yes, I was on the paddling committee. Then, I think from the paddling committee, I ended up on the Board. When I first got on the Board, they usually just assign you to a lower-profile committee. I was on the Public Relations Committee. Then, I went to the Finance Committee where we tried to make some changes. The Club was going through an evolution. We were finding some holes in our insurance coverage. The manager was pretty much in charge of everything.
We started to pull some of the responsibilities from the manager over to the Finance Committee, with this thought they’d be the ones better to provide guidance, because we were responsible for the Club’s pension fund, and that needed to be actively managed. We had, at that time, Randy Shibuya’s wife (Joanie Shibuya). We did that for Kaiser. We got her on the committee.
We had an auditor from a CPA, to help us with the audit and frame up the audit. Otherwise, the manager was choosing the auditor to audit himself. We fixed some of the errors in the omissions on the insurance policies; the marine insurance; things like that. We started to get involved in the Internet. I don’t know why our committee was doing it but that was what was going on at that time.
MK: Then, you were elected President in 1997.
MK: Your dad had been the President in 1980. What kind of advice did he give you?
BA: Actually, not too much. He was living on Molokai. He’d retired and they moved to Molokai; lived there for 10 years before they moved to Arizona because he got cancer and had to go to the mainland. He was over there and I was over here. We didn’t have that many discussions, to be honest with you, other than good luck.
Yeah, it was an interesting time. It’s a tough job because you’re not compensated but you do as much work as you would in your regular job. It was a lot of time going into it. You’re trying to make changes to things. I did that for six years. I was a President only for one. I set it up so that Mary Philpotts would follow me and she became the first female president. That was a …
MK: A big deal.
BA: Big deal. Yeah, I pushed that by putting her in a position to be in that spot.
MK: What were the hot issues when you were President?
BA: We had some, yeah, which I think every President goes through. There was always some contentious membership, divorce issue of some kind, but we always had to contend with. I think, at that time there, we were remodeling the dining room. It was a big deal. The whole dining room got remodeled during that time. The Elks Club was the big issue. We worked with some outside real estate attorneys and tried to come up with a strategy on how to deal with the Elks on its lease. That was probably the biggest deal the Elks Club renegotiation. We had a special committee set up just to do that. That was a frustrating exercise, but ultimately, it got done. I was off the Board by then but, since now, we have a good future.
MK: What do you think was the biggest accomplishment during your tenure?
BA: What I tried to do was the committee assignments and the executive level was loosely structured. I tried to look at it from a corporate point of view where you had two vice presidents; one was activities and one was operations, but that didn’t do anything. It was just a title; when you had an assistant treasurer and an assistant secretary.
What I did was I gave them responsibilities. Some of the committees were what I would call social committees and some were operational committees; so your house and finance were operational committees versus athletics, long-range, public relations were more of your social committees. I put the activities vice president in charge of those four committees, and the vice president of operation in charge of the other committees, so it had a corporate structure to it and some accountability.
I tried to then tie in the two. For instance, if it was athletics, we tried to incorporate public relations into athletics, so they would promote and put on the parties that went along with the athletic events. We would try to create linkages between the activities side of it and the operational side of it, so that you’d have a cohesive effort, more or less.
MK: It’s pretty much how it still is today, isn’t it?
BA: More or less, I think it came away from it a little bit. It depends on the personalities on the Board, where your strengths and weaknesses were. One of the things I tried to promote with the elections committee was I got put on that committee for one year and the Nominating Committee. They’re just nominating personalities. Who can get elected is always the deal; who can get elected. Whether they’re good or not, it’s just who had the personality that the membership would support.
At that time, I thought that, first of all, let’s take inventory of what we have. We have a Board that consists of fourteen or fifteen people. Who’s coming off of the Board? These six people, or four people, or whatever it is, it gets odd sometimes are coming off. What experience are they taking with them? What do we have left? Do we have a food and beverage person? No. We better go get one. Do we have a legal person? Yeah. In that case we don’t need one. Do we have an accountant? No. We need a CPA. Let’s go nominate those types to be on the Board, so we have a balanced board, with experience in what we go against every day; restaurant; food and beverage; insurance. We needed an insurance person because of our ocean situation.
That was one of the things I tried to get the Nominating Committee to then use as their normal modus operandi, was this process of evaluating what you have, evaluate who is leaving, target professionals with those backgrounds we need, rather than just personalities. That’s I think holding … I was only on that committee for one year.
MK: Do you think they’re still doing that?
BA: I think they’ve giving you that type of a perspective. I’m not on the committee, so I don’t know. We just try to get it focused.
MK: Are you still involved in any Club committees?
BA: No. After being on the board, you get a little exhausted. After coaching and being on the board, I needed to take a big break and exhale.
MK: What’s the hardest part about being president?
BA: It gets you to the point where you don’t want to come down here. I hated coming down here, which is not a good thing. You’re the President of your own Club and you don’t even want to go down there, because the minute you would step into the Club, you’re going to get hammered on by somebody complaining about something, or they’d call you at the office in the middle of your workday, or they would call you at night, or they’d call you on the weekends.
I think that was the part that drove me crazy was just fielding constant questions about the operation of the Club. What’s going on? Some of these are really minor issues, or a personality issue on somebody who’s getting blackballed, or someone who’s getting a divorce, and manini issues to us, but you just get tired of it. After I came off being president, I don’t think I showed up here for a year. I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore. I wanted people to know I’m not the President anymore, that somebody else is go pick on him. I literally left here. That’s all good.
MK: We abuse our elected officials.
BA: It’s a thankless job. You’re not being compensated. It’s just a matter of having a little bit of respect for everybody to realize that, “Hey, don’t call somebody up at home on a Sunday at dinner hour,” but they do. It’s their prerogative.
MK: Okay. Just a few more questions that I have, did you meet your wife Stephanie here at the Club?
BA: No. I met her at Punahou School. She came over in tenth grade from Maryknoll. She sat next to me in homeroom. I was there from kindergarten. I had Tiare Finney. I had Suzy Johnston and Kenny Bailey were all my classmates. I knew everybody. From kindergarten all the way through, you know everybody. She sat down next to me. Here’s this girl with her hair down to her okole, kind of a cutie, and I went, “You better stick with me because …”
MK: I know everybody. . .
BA: Because, one, I know everybody, but two, I will introduce you to the girls because Punahou’s got cliques. I introduced her to the clique which was Tiare and Suzy, and the girls had all became cheerleaders, and my wife became a song leader, and we became really good friends for those three years. We didn’t really date until the summer of my senior year. We became good friends first.
Then, I went away to college and she stayed here, and she was flying at the airline as a stewardess, part-time when she was going to UH, and I was off in Colorado. Then, I didn’t see her for about … I came back and finished the UH, and I’d run into her, but we went our separate ways a little bit. We did stay in contact; Christmas cards and the like. Then, I happened to break up with my girlfriend at the same time she broke up with her boyfriend, and I don’t know how girls know in the grapevine, but she had heard I broke up and showed up at my office and took me to lunch, and then the rest was history.
MK: How long have you been married?
BA: Going on 39 years.
BA: Yeah, my parents were divorced when I was nine, and I had to take care of my sister who was seven, and I’ve been taking care of her ever since. It makes you fight to keep your marriage together. Marriages aren’t neasy and everybody would admit to that. I’m lucky I have a really good wife and I just have tried to hold onto it, not that there’s a problem. It’s just you going in there saying, “This is it.” Back in the day, when you were surfing, and paddling, and traveling the world, there’s girls everywhere. You didn’t need to have a girlfriend or you’re going to end up losing her. If you’re married, you’re going to end up divorced. I used to sit at the senior girls’ table. They had a round table of about eight of the cheerleaders. There was me. I was little at that time. I was about 5-foot 5. All the football players, we had our own dining room, a senior dining room. I would go sit with the girls, and all the football players are by themselves, and they hated me because I was just a little surfer kid that had all the girls. Anyway, that’s how I met my wife, because I was hanging with them all every day.
MK: You have two grown children now.
MK: What are they doing?
BA: My son Aaron is 37. He’s an architect. He’s the LEED specialist in his company. He’s currently building his house up in Palolo Valley, up by Dale Hope and Todd Bradley. It’s going to be the third one in the United States with this credential. He had designed his company’s building out at the Waipahu Tech Park as well. He’s trying to finish his house, as we speak, because it’s totally off the grid; all used with recycled material. It’s using all these sustainable philosophies in applications. He’s doing it 100%. He works with UH on projects. He went to school at the University of Colorado and graduated from there.
My daughter (Brianna) went to the UC Irvine; got her business degree; got her masters; stayed up there; worked for medical. It was Toshiba Medical Systems selling MRI. Excuse me. She moved back here about four years ago, and now, she works at Hawaiian Electric; the project.
MK: Are they married?
BA: My son is married with two sons. My daughter is not yet married, but we think it’s maybe in the works, so in the future.
MK: Are they active in the Club?
BA: Both gave up their memberships because of financial reasons, along with all their friends. It’s a real sore point. I’m not sure how we’re going to solve it, because it’s not just my kids. It’s a lot of kids. They’re all legacy member kids. I come down; I was here last Friday. I think I knew two people. That’s a sad situation. We’ve lost a lot of legacy members who we need to get back into this Club some way, shape or another. They got private school educations; mortgages. They don’t make big money. It’s just too expensive once they doubled the dues and the mini-charge, they can’t afford it. It’s just too tough.
MK: Thank you very much for your time today. We’ve learned some interesting things about the Club and you, but I have one more question I’d like to ask you. You’ve been an Outrigger member for more than 50 years. What does the Club mean to you?
BA: Aside from myself, I think it’s like everybody else, it’s our second home. We grew up here. We spent forty percent of our life down here. It’s in our blood. I’ve lived on the mainland for short periods of time, but we just have this benefit of, number one, living in Hawaii; number two, having this beautiful Club in a pristine location where we’re at. It provides us all of our athletic and social interaction. It becomes a part of you. I don’t know what I would be doing if I didn’t have the Club because I’m here, probably, four days a week minimum; sometimes more. I try to come down either swim, surf, paddle, socialize, whatever. It changed my lifestyle completely. It’s just how do we keep it going?
MK: That’s I guess the biggest question right now. How do we preserve. . .
BA: Back in the day, it was a very athletic-oriented Club. It was easier to get into. It was easier to stay in because it wasn’t as expensive. Now, it seems like it’s moving more in a, it’s like a professional club now, like the Pacific Club. It’s a business club. People are becoming members because of its reputation; but its reputation is athletics; but it draws the wannabes and those celebrities that all want to be associated with it. I see that mix getting upset in the balance. I think we have to really remember where we came from and what our mission is, and what it is we’re trying to perpetuate, which our plaque says, but I see that being challenged right now.
Like I said, I came down here, last Friday, Good Friday, and I didn’t know, hardly, anybody. I come on a Saturday to swim. I don’t know that many people. I can see where this could get, based on who’s on the Board of Directors. They start to make decisions that aren’t very athletic-oriented. It starts to upset that balance. I think that’s important that we maintain that balance. We need both. The athletic members are typically lower-income members, and you still need the income members to support it; use the dining room. Thank God we have our guests that support us, although we have to watch it because of our tax consideration. However, it’s that balance. We’ve got to keep that balance. I think it’s really critical.
MK: Thank you, Brant, very much.
BA: Sure. My pleasure.
Brant Ackerman’s Service to the Outrigger Canoe Club
OCC Board of Directors
1993 Coordinating Director Entertainment
1994 Coordinating Director Athletics
1995 Treasurer/Coordinating Director Finance
1996 Vice President Operations
1998 Executive Committee
Canoe Racing Committee
Head Canoe Racing Coach
Molokai Hoe Canoe Racing
1971 2nd Overall, 2nd Koa
1972 6th Overall, 5th Koa
1973 4th Overall, 4th Koa
1974 3rd Overall, 2nd Koa
1975 1st Overall, 1st Koa
1976 7th Overall, 2nd Koa
1977 1st Overall, 1st Glass
1978 4th Overall, 3rd Non-Koa
1983 1st Overall, 1st Koa
1984 1st Overall, 1st Koa
1987 9th Overall, 1st Masters 35
1988 13th Overall, 2nd Masters 35
1989 23rd Overall, 3rd Masters 35
1990 14th Overall, 1st Masters 35
1991 21st Overall, 2nd Masters 35
1992 13th Overall, 1st Masters 35
1993 10th Overall, 1st Masters 35
1995 13th Overall, 2nd Masters 35
1998 35th Overall, 1st Masters 45
1999 49th Overall, 6th Masters 45
2000 6th Masters 45
2001 Coach Masters 45 (4th)
2002 Coach Masters 45 (8th)
State Canoe Racing Championships
1965 Boys 14
1967 Boys 18
1968 Boys 18
1974 Senior Men
1975 Senior Men
1976 Senior Men
1977 Senior Men
1983 Senior Men
1991 Mixed Masters
1993 Masters Men
1998 Masters Men 45
Macfarlane Regatta Championships
1968 Boys 18
1970 Freshmen Men
1974 Boys 14
1974 Senior Men
1975 Senior Men
1976 Senior Men
1976 Novice A Women
1977 Senior Men
1977 Open 4
1977 Novice B Men
1978 Boys 12A
1978 Boys 16
1983 Senior Men
1984 Men Novice A
1985 Senior Men
1986 Senior Women
1988 Masters Women 45
1991 Men 35
1992 Junior Women
1994 Junior Men
Skippy Kamakawiwoole Long Distance Race
1991 1st Masters
1992 1st Masters
1993 1st Masters
1994 1st Koa
OCC Surfing Championship
1967 1st, Boys 17 and under
1970 2nd, Senior Men
1971 1st, Senior Men
1972 1st, Senior Men
1974 3rd, Tandem
1976 2nd, Senior Men
1977 3rd, Senior Men
1997 1st, Canoe Surfing
2000 2nd, Canoe Surfing