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 Barbara Del Piano
November 3, 2017
BDP: This is Friday, November 3, 2017. I’m Barbara Del Piano (BDP), a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club Historical Committee. One of our projects is to conduct oral history interviews with longtime members or former members who have stories to share about our Club’s history. Today, it is my special pleasure to interview Heidi Hemmings. Good morning, Heidi.
HH: Good morning, Mrs. Del Piano.
BDP: Before we get into your Club memories, I like to get a little background. Heidi, can you tell us where and when you were born?
HH: Yes, I was born in Kapiolani Hospital on February 13, 1956.
BDP: I see. Can you tell us something about your ancestry? Who were the first of your family to come to Hawaii?
HH: On my mother’s side of the family, we’re Portuguese descendants. We came from Madeira, Portugal back in the mid-1800s as farmers and ranchers. Then on my father’s side of the family, we came from Brooklyn, New York. My grandfather was in the military and his wife and my father and his sister came over as young children to the islands, in, not sure of the dates but it was a long time ago.
BDP: Good. Do you have any siblings?
HH: I’m the youngest of six children. I have two sisters (Cynthia and Maria) and three brothers (Mark, Fred and Aka), although two have passed away.
BDP: In what neighborhood did you grow up?
HH: I was pretty much born and raised in Kaimuki. I mean, that’s where my home was but I was born and raised at the Outrigger Canoe Club in 1956 on the beach of Waikiki.
BDP: Where did you go to school?
HH: I attended Star of the Sea. My mother was a devout catholic so we all went to catholic school for the first five years of our life, through fifth grade. Then in sixth grade, we transferred into Punahou.
BDP: I see. Who is the first of your family to join the Outrigger Canoe Club?
HH: My father was given a membership when, I’m not sure, I was always told, at the age of 10 years old. So that would take it back to the late Twenties or early Thirties. I’m not very good with dates. Fred is more of the historian. Subsequently, we’ve all become members since then.
BDP: When did you join, Heidi?
HH: In 1966 I became an official member at the age of ten.
BDP: Oh. Did you participate in water sports?
HH: Being born and raised on the beach and at the Outrigger, you participate in everything that’s there. I mean, out the front door was Waikiki Beach and the best surf on the south side of the island, canoe paddling, surfing, whatever the Club considered initially was a sports club. So whatever they offered, we all participated in, even volleyball and other sports as well.
BDP: Who taught you to surf and to paddle?
HH: My father basically taught me to surf. I started at the age of two, lying on his surfboard. Then by four, he said, “If you could carry your board to the beach, you could use it,” because there was a little surf spot in front of the Royal Hawaiian that was called Baby Queens. When the tide was low, you could essentially walk out there, you know what I mean? So I was given a balsa surfboard and I was allowed to venture out on my own at the age of four. I think it’s because being the last of six, things got a lot looser in the sense that it was like, “Go, have fun.”
BDP: Who gave you the surfboard?
HH: My father got it for me. It was a balsa wood. Back in those days, it had gone from the original long wooden boards in Duke’s days to balsa wood and then it went into foam later on.
BDP: You taught you to paddle?
HH: Well, being on the beach and watching everybody, it just kind of you learn by sight for one thing. Then you’re always thrown in the canoe one way or another. From when you’re knee high, they’ll put you in the canoe and try to give you some lessons. The biggest input in my life was actually Tommy Holmes and my brother, Aka, as I got older because at the age of 10, you get to competitively paddle. They were basically grooming me to jump in the canoe and start racing. So Tommy would spend, Tommy Holmes would spend a lot of time with me.
BDP: Very good. Tell us about some of races in regards that you participated in.
HH: I started at the age of ten, 1966. I was four foot eight and 89 pounds. It was interesting because our family always steered. So when it was time for me to get in the canoe, I wasn’t given a choice. The coach just pointed his finger and I sat six seat. Well, I’ve sat in six seat for now for, gosh, 51 years, 52 in February and out of two seasons of paddling, I’ve sat four seat and one seat as well. So basically, I’m a steerswoman. My earliest memories are Kauai as far as states are regarded. But gosh I think I was a junior when I was ten years old because all the women were in their late twenties, early thirties. We’d win a race or we’d get a medal and they take a photo after every race and there’d be all these adult women and then standing shoulder to shoulder and then at the end of the picture, there’d be this little ten-year old.
BDP: Were you the steersman?
BDP: Oh, incredible.
HH: Yeah, I have a picture of Frankie Anderson and I together and she’s, Frankie’s like eighty-eight years old now. So there was significant age difference in me and the other paddlers.
BDP: Oh good. Now, your brother Fred was a world champion surfer. What can you tell us about him?
HH: Well, in our family, he was considered the golden boy but he was a tremendous athlete. He could achieve anything in any sport. But he chose surfing, canoe paddling and football. He was an all-star football player.
BDP: At Punahou?
HH: Correct. Yes, he played on the all-star team. They won the state championships that year in his senior year at Punahou. Then he went on to play at the UH as well. He had quite a career back in the day of Charlie Wedemeyer, et cetera, with football. But at the same time, he was canoe paddling and surfing. So he won multiple Molokai’s. He became a world champion surfer and he impacted my life because I also was an avid surfer. We all were. I mean, we grew up on the beach and surfing was a part of growing up. The one thing about the Outrigger, you’d grow up as with generations. The families, they all have their children. Fred had his peer group and it seemed like every sibling had their peer group and mine was the Rocklen family and the Haine family and, gosh, I can’t even remember all the people that I was surrounded by in. We all surfed together from, well, like I said, I started at four years old.
BDP: Did any of your other siblings beside you and Fred participate in competitive sports?
HH: Oh, we all did. Cynthia the oldest was paddling, I mean, surfing Makaha International back in the ’60s. My brother, Butch, as well. Aka as well. I mean, we all participated in surfing, not only as a sport and recreation but competitively.
BDP: Amazing. Do you remember any of your crew members?
HH: In canoe paddling?
HH: Gosh. I’ve paddled with so many women over the years. The list could just go on, Paula Crabb, Tiare Finney, Michele St. John, I mean, Kaiulu Downing, the Rocklen sisters, like I said. Then there was the older generation like Frankie Anderson and all those ladies from way back when. Canoe paddling was my passion until later on till I turned fourteen and then I changed my sport.
BDP: Fourteen. How interesting, what did you participate in?
HH: Well, as a steerswoman, you don’t get to steer too much until you get to a place in life where they feel like you can steer in the surf and handle the canoe. So as I got older, I got more adept because one of the things you had to do was to learn how to steer and surf and you had to pass a test which Tommy Holmes was the teacher of and he would take you out and you could go and catch waves and if he approved you, then you could take the four-man canoes out. I’ve paddled in, I think up until a certain point, I held the record for the most gold medals as a woman, steerswoman. But then I think after a while Paula Crabb beat me out and maybe Kisi Haine is the close second.
BDP: Did you do any of the Molokai races?
HH: My first victory in the Molokai was in 1983. I was actually with Hui Nalu Canoe Club at the time. I had paddled many races. I actually did the very first long distance race in 1974 with the Outrigger. It was from Marshall Rose’s house in Hawaii Kai to the Outrigger and it was called the Dad Center race which is still one of the most popular races of today but now it starts in Kailua Beach. They didn’t seem to think that women could achieve much in the long distance world. We won it in 1974. We won it in 1975. We won it for the first four years, the Outrigger did. Then in 1979, they created the first organized Molokai canoe race (for women). I didn’t happen to make the team that year but I went on to different venues in life playing volleyball.
So back in 1983, I decided to try again and I won it in 1983 and then I won it again when I became t in what was called a junior master back in 1981. But I’ve done twelve of them in total. I steered for other countries and other crews that needed someone to take them across the channel.
BDP: Now, tell us about your volleyball.
HH: Well, when you’re born at the Outrigger and I was born at the original Outrigger as I said, on the beach in Waikiki, volleyball was a big sport, sand volleyball. There were, well, you have to remember, I spent a lot of time in diapers there. There was this big grass area. These are my earliest memories. The parents would sit with their children and they would play in the grass area and I would watch the adults play volleyball. Well then in 1963 (1964), the Outrigger transitioned to this location here and they created a sand volleyball court upstairs. There’s two adult courts and what’s called the baby court where the children were to play. So at a very early age, I was playing with a volleyball.
I started getting really into it probably around the age of eight, ten, on the sand volleyball court upstairs at this location. Then by the time I got fourteen, I had made the varsity volleyball team at Punahou High School and I also was playing, was one of the youngest members ever. There were three of us actually back then, to play in the national league (USA Volleyball Nationals). We traveled the United States playing volleyball.
BDP: How did you happen to play in the national championships?
HH: Well, without tooting my own horn, I just was good enough. I made the team and Nicholas from Nick’s Fish Market was our sponsor. So he financed our road trips and we traveled throughout the United States playing in the AAUs and on the national circuit itself. There were many tournaments across the United States and one of the big ones here in the islands is called the Haili Tournament on the Big Island. There’s a lot of club sports that we play against during the league time itself. So I made the team at a very young age and we traveled. I’ve been to New York, Chicago, St. Louis, California, Oregon. I’m sure I’ve been to other places as well.
BDP: Were you still in high school at the time?
HH: I started as a freshman. I made the varsity team in high school volleyball and I played on the national league team.
BDP: What did you do after high school?
HH: Well, it never donned on me to apply for college because we weren’t a family that had money. So I applied to one university, the University of Hawaii. But in the year of 1972, Title IX through the Congressional legislation of Patsy Mink came into effect which meant that the women’s sports had to be funded and recognized on a collegiate level. So in 1974, when I graduated from Punahou, I was given a full scholarship to the University of Hawaii to play volleyball and go to school. In our first year as a college team, we made it all the way to the nationals and we ended up playing UCLA for the title. We happened to get second place that year but for a little team out of Hawaii to make it all the way to the nationals, the collegiate nationals (NCAA’s) was a big thing and it was the beginning of Wahine volleyball in the State of Hawaii.
BDP: Was Dave Shoji there at the time?
HH: On the very first year, he wasn’t. Alan Kang was our coach. Then Dave came in the next year and took over for the next forty-two years.
BDP: Yes. Tell me, how did you feel about the Club moving from Waikiki to Diamond Head?
HH: Well, in retrospect, it’s a good thing. I can’t imagine this Club being in Waikiki anymore with the way the growth has gone. When I was a little girl, there was only six hotels in Waikiki. It was a very different atmosphere. So today, being here, it’s a wonderful place. There’s excellent surf. We’re very lucky to have this location.
BDP: We certainly are. How would you compare the actual structures of the two clubs?
HH: Well, from my belief, the Club was founded as a sports club, a canoe club. Everything was built around sports and canoeing obviously because we were the Outrigger Canoe Club and it was also very family oriented. Everybody knew everybody. Everybody, you just had lifelong friends which I still do to this day. You’re growing up with these people. You have the mothers and the fathers and the grandfathers and the grandmothers and then you have your own peer group and now your peer group is having their children. It’s just been a wonderful experience to be a part of something that was founded on sports and family. Today is, for me, in all honesty, it’s a different venue.
It’s no longer a sports club. The generations that have been here for years, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future because it’s changed so much. It’s become I would say more of a social club. It’s trying to keep up with the sports venues that we are given being a part of the Club but we’re struggling in those venues whereas we used to be the top in everything. We had more Olympic athletes and the best canoe paddlers and surfers come out of this Club and volleyball players and probably any other organization in the islands.
BDP: Yeah. When and why did you leave the Club?
HH: To be frank, I had been living on the big island. I wanted to raise my youngest son in an atmosphere that I thought was very healthy so we moved to Kameula and we paid outer island dues and it was affordable. I’ve been a single mother life and coming back, it just got too expensive. I just couldn’t deal with two sons and the money they’re spending at the Snack Bar and all the things that are going on, I just decided it was just beyond my financial means.
BDP: Do you have any stories to tell us about your days when you were a member?
HH: Oh, I wouldn’t know where to begin on that one. I have a lot of cute stories.
BDP: Oh, we’d love to hear those.
HH: When I was little, there was a surf spot. You got to remember the beach, there was a beach here a long time ago. The beach extended around the Elks Club. So you could walk up and down to where the apartment buildings began and there’s a little surf spot there called backwash and when the waves get really big, they come in through that little surf spot which is closer to shore and they hit the wall and then they go back out. I had gotten good enough to where I could come in and hit the wave that was coming out and spin my board and go back out and I was known as the queen of backwash when I was little.
BDP: Wonderful. How about some more of those stories?
HH: Well, one day at backwash, I’m with Mark Rocklen and we’re out there surfing and I’m lying on my surfboard just relaxing and he had caught a wave and he’s paddling back out. All of a sudden he spins and turns around and catches this wave and just starting paddling like there’s no tomorrow to shore and I’m looking at him and I’m thinking, “What’s going on? That’s not a good wave and he’s not getting up or anything,” and I’m bewildered by his actions. Well, just as moments pass, about an eight to ten-foot shark comes by me and its dorsal fin is so close I could have reached out and pet it. I was just like, “Hah,” in a moment. I was just a kid. I think I was about, I don’t know, eight or nine years old. Mark was older than me, he was a big kid.
So he was up on the beach and the shark went by and it’s circled around and went back out and I came in to the beach and I was so angry. I threw my surfboard and he stayed and waited to make sure I was okay. I ran down the beach and I tackled and I started fighting with him on the sand and we’re rolling around in the sand and then all of a sudden we’re just sitting there on the beach laughing and I’ll never forget that because it turned out to be just really hilarious moment despite the fear that I had been feeling moments before.
BDP: Oh, good. How about some more stories?
HH: Well, I’ll never forget the day that his father were walking down the beach and there’s this shark that, about a six-foot shark that had come in and it was, I don’t know what it was doing. It was right on the shoreline and he ran down into the water and he grabbed it by the tail and pulled it up on the beach and the thing is spinning its head trying to get him. Like I said, I’m just a little thing and I’m watching this guy and I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh. What’s going on?” He put it back in the water but it was just amazing … Then there’s so many sports related stories. You really bond with people when you’re in a team sport. You make friends like I said that last for a lifetime.
So there’s a lot of wonderful memories playing volleyball up in the sand volleyball court. Surfing, when we were children. The surf used to break right off the jetty out here. We were just little tykes and we’d go right off the jetty and surf on the other side of the jetty and it would be like four or five of us just out there playing and having the time of our life. Just a lot of good, joyful memories growing up here.
BDP: Oh, I’m sure there are. Do you still get down here very much anymore?
HH: Well, I do a lot of volunteer work and I do a lot of things so if people come out from out of town and I have the use of a four man canoe so friends will say, “Will you take my friends out standup surfing or surfing or paddle boarding?” They’ll invite me down and treat me to lunch and then I’ll take their guests out and take them out in surf and do all kinds. So I occasionally get to come down here. I’m down here for every canoe race, like the Dad Center that ends here on the beach. I’m down here because I’ve been coaching canoe paddling for the last twenty-five years.
BDP: Oh, you have. You have you been coaching?
HH: Well, I actually started at the Outrigger. I won my last Molokai with the Outrigger in 1991 and it was like I said in that junior (masters) division so it was not the open but it was the master division. The very next year, I started coaching at the Outrigger. So I put in quite a few years at the Outrigger doing mostly the women. Then I did some kids crews as well. Then I ended up coaching for my church, New Hope. Then I ended, I wanted to try something different and I went and coached at Lanikai because I wanted to try to be in different water. Being born and raised on the south shore, I wanted to see what it would like to be on the east side of the island and to get to know the Mokulua islands and that whole side of the island. I’ve coached for Kailua Canoe Club as well. I took their women across the Molokai about four years ago in the 55 division and we won.
BDP: Wow. Are you still coaching?
HH: Last year, I actually paddled. I turned sixty and I was in a new division so I wanted to steer. I steered a couple of races. I’ve been having a little trouble with some issues. I had to have elbow surgery and shoulder surgery. You get kind of beat up over the years because you live such an active lifestyle and you end up getting sports injuries. But I hope to go back to coaching this year.
BDP: Oh good. Well, do you have any other wonderful stories you’d like to share?
HH: I can’t think off the top of my head right now about anything that really stand out. There are just so many. When we were children, I had gone to South America. I fell in love with a … We hosted a lot of families from all over, or family surfers from all over the world, our family did. I had fallen in love with a Brazilian so when I initially graduated, I went to Rio, Brazil. When I came because my parents had told me I got accepted into the UH and when I came home, it was my first day back in Hawaii and I was eighteen years old. Kisi Haine and I, went out surfing and there was this young girl that was picking on Kisi. I mean, she was trying to hit her with her surfboard and being really mean to her.
I told the young woman to stop. She decided that she wanted to fight me now because she was trying to fight Kisi in the water. I said, “You don’t want to do this.” We ended up getting in a scuffle on the beach but it was all to protect Kisi.
BDP: Oh God. Well, this has been just wonderful, Heidi. I guess we’ve got enough wonderful stories so we’ll bring this interview to a close and thank you so much. I’m sure that this information you’ve given us will be a very valuable addition to our archives.
HH: Thank you.
BDP: Thank you.
HH: I appreciate being here. Thank you very much.
OCC Athletic Achievements
Na Wahine O Ke Kai
1991 21st Overall, 1st Masters
1993 25th Overall, 2nd, Masters
Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association Championships
1970 Junior Women
1975 Senior Women
1990 Junior Women
Dad Center Long Distance Race
1974 1st Overall
1975 1st Overall
1983 1st, Women, Winter Ocean Paddleboard 10K Race
1977 1st, Senior Women
OCC Surfing Contest
1970 3rd, Women
1971 4th, Women
1974 4th, Women
1979 2nd, Women
Service to Outrigger Canoe Club