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
June 23, 2017
Today is Friday, June 23, 2107, and we’re in the Board Room at the Outrigger Canoe Club. I’m Marilyn Kali (MK), a member of Club’s Historical Committee. One of the Historical Committee’s projects is to do oral histories of long-time members. Today it’s my pleasure to be talking to one of the Club’s great waterman, Mike Holmes (MH). Good morning, Mike.
MH: Good morning.
MK: We’re now going into part two of your oral history. In part one, we covered the Molokai races, and I still have a few paddling questions that I’d like to ask you. Did you have a favorite Koa canoe?
MH: I did. It was the Paoa.
MK: The one that got away.
MH: Yeah, my understanding was it was given to us, or … I’m not sure of the history.
MK: It was built by George Perry.
MH: No. It was built by a guy at the International Marketplace to my recollection. It came over. It was basically a log form, and the guy began shaping it. Then I think after that it might have gone through Perry. But it was a great shape. The center section was straight and round. Straight line, and then round, and both the bow and the stern came up. It had stability. It never hobby-horsed. It didn’t have any rocker. It was a straight canoe, and you could go through wind chop and you just raised and fell with every swell, but you never got bow down, ever. It was a fun boat to practice on.
MK: Well, we didn’t have it for too long.
MH: The kids used it, but the senior paddlers were not psychologically ready for it, because it had no history. So the kids won in it, 18 and under, and they never used it for a long time after that. But then we used it for training and experimented with it and we found all these nice qualities about it. I think after that they might have used it a little bit and then my understanding was they gave it to Leeward Kai, or sold it to them.
MK: And they changed the name to, I’ve forgotten what.
MK: So that was your favorite canoe. It was good for surfing, a good surfing canoe out there on the channel?
MH: Yeah, it was okay in the channel. It was actually a predecessor to the Bradley canoe. Then Bradley put in a lot more rocker and the Bradley canoe is almost impossible to steer in windy conditions. It just pivots on its center all the time.
MK: Unfortunately, the Paoa just didn’t seem to catch on with the paddlers.
MH: The other favorite canoe is the one on my wall from Domie (Gose).
MK: Domie made one for you?
MH: Yes. He approached me and said, “Hey, you want me to make you a canoe?” I said, “Sure.” So he made me one of those little canoes. It’s the Leilani.
MK: He made you a model Leilani?
MK: Well, the ones he’s made, and I don’t know if you’ve seen the fishing canoe that he made that’s in the display case in the lobby, it’s beautiful.
MH: He’s a craftsman.
MK: And he’s still tinkering with our canoes, even though he’s retired. He did an oral history for us recently. We hope we captured all of the interesting stories about his working on our canoes. You’ve been friends with Cline Mann for many years. How did you meet Cline?
MH: He was my sponsor. Cline encouraged all kids to get into water sports, so I jumped right in.
MK: You were at the old Club in those days, and then we moved down here. Did you get involved in sailing while we were at the old Club, or was it after you got here?
MH: No, all the sailing was from up here.
MK: Tell me about sailing.
MH: Actually, Cline would invite me to sail. I would be out here in September after work, four thirty or five in the evening, and I’d see all these little sailboats coming out of the Outrigger, going out through the Kapua Channel. I’d sit there at Old Man’s (on my surfboard) and I’d look over and I’d go, “I wonder what they see in that. It doesn’t look very exciting at all, and they’re just kind of … It looks like a Sunday stroll.”
They’d go and race down to Wreck Buoy and come back, and I’d continue surfing and I was having so much fun, Cline would invite me to start sailing. I’d go, “Cline, I’m enjoying surfing too much right now. I’m really enjoying it.” I couldn’t figure it out, so one day living at Diamond Head I came down, I looked down at number threes and the surf break was perfect, light wind. I looked down there and I went, “I don’t have to be on life guard duty for two hours. I could go down to number threes and surf. There’s nobody out.”
So I had a Sunfish out there that a gentleman who was building Financial Plaza left here with me. I hadn’t taken up sailing yet, and I went, “I know, I’ll get the Sunfish and I’ll tow my surfboard down there, anchor it, surf for an hour, and come back, sail back.” The only problem was, I didn’t know a thing about sailing. So I did. I got the Sunfish, brought it in, tied a rope to it, tied it around the back of my surfboard, hopped in and sailed out of the channel here. And I went, “Wow.”
Then the wind started coming up and I am steering, but very slow. The wind picks up and I have to turn right to go to Waikiki, and I start doing this windward roll, where the boat is going “whoom” and I don’t know how to jibe. I don’t know how to tack. I don’t know anything. Young and dumb. So off I go, and I start to turn right and it starts doing the windward roll and I go, “No, no, no. I can’t do that.” So I turn into the wind, and I can’t tack. I don’t know you gotta pull the centerboard up. I don’t know anything.
So I keep trying to get close to the surfboard. It’s come loose, and I can’t get close to it. Each time it’s getting further away and I stop. I don’t know how to stop. So I finally just go, “Okay, I gotta get close to it. I’ll just let go of the sail and dive over and swim to it and paddle back and get it.” So I do that, and then I grab it by the bow and I look at my watch and I go, “Oh my God, I’ve only got half an hour before I gotta be back at lifeguard duty.”
So I put the sail down. I tie it up. I tie the boom to the rudders so it’s gonna go in a straight line. I take the rest of the main sail, I make a harness around my neck, and I paddle my surfboard towing the Sunfish all the way back into Outrigger Beach. Now I’m so embarrassed that I look around, “Did anybody see it?” It’s eight thirty in the morning. I go, “Whew, there’s nobody here. Thank goodness.” So I put the boat away and I run down to my lifeguard station at Queen’s Surf Beach. Then I sat in my tower all day, and I went, “I better ask Cline Mann about sailing lessons.”
MK: And the rest is history.
MH: Yep, and then I got the lessons. So I started in Sunfishes. Cline would give us, all the young guys, he would give us a ten minute start, and he’d sit on the corner of the wall and drink his Bud and put it away, and then he’d start sailing. He’d pass everyone of us, all the way out to Diamond Head, and finish before us. Then he adapted the rules so the winner had to buy, and so he could buy all the rounds.
But I would always ask questions, and I would always try to beat him. One day I’m finally getting close to being competitive, and we go out of the channel, and I’m following and I’m going, “I see wind coming, and I can probably pass him on the high side here.” So I’m sneaking through the sandbar area, and I see the gust of wind and sheeted in, and I see Cline, center bar at half up, he sees the gust of wind and he shoots out a little bit, and he hikes out and he just scoots away and catches the gust perfectly.
I’m waiting for the gust and I catch it, and I start, I’m right under the back corner. I start to pass him and all of a sudden, “Wham,” and I’m in the collision of my life. I’m flying into the mast. I went, “What the hell was that?” Sure enough, he has put me right into the coral head at the sandbar, and I have stopped, demolished the tagger board. I’m going, “Oh, I’d better learn.” It’s now called perching. So when he got back in, he’s having a beer and he goes, “Mike, did I see you perching out there?” I go, “Yes, I’m afraid you did.”
MK: And he didn’t let you forget.
MH: Oh, no. Never. Never.
MK: Well, you started sailing Hobies too.
MH: Uh-huh (affirmative).
MK: Cline hated Hobies, how did you get into the Hobies?
MH: Well, it turns out, every year we used to do a race called The Pearl Harbor Race in Sunfishes. By the time you go from Ala Moana Buoy to Diamond Head Buoy, down to Pearl Harbor, in and around Ford Island and back out to Ala Wai, that’s like seven hours of sailing in a very small physical boat. I just wanted a faster boat. When I got introduced to Hobies by George Downing I went, “Yeah, this is the way to do it.” So that’s when I switched, and I think Cline saw that he’d probably lose all the Sunfish fleet when that happened. So I understand. But I liked Hobies. They were versatile. You could take two people on them easily. It was more practical.
MK: You represented the Club in 1972 and ’75 at the Hobie 14 World Championships. How did that go? Oh, and also at the US National Championships.
MH: The Nationals were really good. I went to Michigan for that. But the prior years we traveled to Texas, and I think the other one was here.
MK: The first one was here.
MH: Yeah. Then Texas, and then Michigan for the Nationals. That was really interesting.
MK: Did Outrigger send you?
MH: Actually, that one Dale Hope and I went to from here. We both won in two qualifiers for the Hobie fleet, so we went to that. It was amazing. Lake Michigan, upper peninsula. Really good, interesting time.
MK: How did you guys do?
MH: You know, I don’t know where we ended up, but it was kind of light winds, cold weather, rainy. It was Michigan kind of weather on Labor Day weekend.
MK: And you won again in ’75.
MH: I’m not sure where that was. That may have been Michigan.
MK: And you were also the Club’s Hobie 14 champion in 1975. What kind of races did we have?
MH: We had triangle races, where we’d have a committee boat outside of Waikiki. We’d race around the buoy at Canoes, right outside of Canoes, up to Diamond Head, down to Wreck buoy, and maybe two laps around. So it was pretty comprehensive.
MK: Was it a series of races for the Club championship, or was it just one race?
MH: It was usually … every regatta was usually three races in a day, and with the Hobies, we could do that. Sunfishes could do that also, fairly short course.
MK: Who were some of the Club’s top sailors?
MH: Leith Anderson was by far the best. But what we didn’t know then was sail shape was everything, and Hobie kept changing sail shapes. The had battens in the first going. They had radiating battens that made the sail perform like the wing of a bird. Then they got like an airplane wing with straight battens, so the airflow supposedly stayed consistent, but I think it overpowered the top of the sail quite a bit.
So Leith Anderson’s sail, after racing against him for many years and trailing him, I finally went to him and said, “Hey Leith, would it be okay with you if I made a copy of your sail?” And he goes, “Sure.” So I took it to South Sails, had their guys copy it to a tee, and gave his back. Came back, and that’s the year I won the championship. The sail had so much power in it you could go below somebody and pass him, and you’d suck right back up to winner. That was the only sail I ever had that did that. It was just an awakening, then I went, “This is easy.” You’d be a quarter of a mile ahead by the time you finished the race. It was pretty amazing.
MK: Did Outrigger have a lot of sailing competitions?
MH: Usually about every two weeks, three weeks, and the Hobie Association also. We would go to Kahana Bay, Kailua, Kane’ohe, so we would race every other week.
MK: And the Sunfish and the Scorpions also had races.
MH: They pretty much stayed here. That was kind of the Club event, pretty much. Except they did have a World Championship, Seniors World Championship for Sunfish in Pearl Harbor, and I competed in that.
MK: So lots of competition.
MH: Yeah, it was good.
MK: And then what happened? Why did we stop sailing?
MH: You know, Hobie abandoned the fleet racing classes, and they made Hobie, as a designer and head of the company, they made him build a new product every year. So he went into radio controlled airplanes for California winds onshore. You could launch them off a cliff. So they had that. He did that, and interest in Hobies has slowly faded away. Then they quit doing national championships. Those were really fun.
MK: There were lots of unofficial races that the Club held. Many after a-
MK: … a hot afternoon on the Hau terrace with Cline and his brews. Tell me about some of those fun races.
MH: The one that in particular that was hilarious was, it was called Henry’s Special Saturday after the event, and everybody drank Henry Specials, which was vodka and orange juice, orange sherbet, and grenadine, and all those goodies. They kind of snuck up on you, so after all the brews in the afternoon, all the sailors hurled challenges at each other, and a race around to Diamond Head buoy was agreed upon at ten at night.
So it came be called the Naked Sailor Race, because everybody … Thank goodness all the people had left pretty much. At ten at night everybody came back there, it was about six or seven of us. By that time, we started this race in our underwear. Cline, who was our best sailor. Peter Coors, from Colorado. Oh, myself. Dick McLellan, from Arizona, who was paddling at the time. Jim Growney and Jerry Smith. We all lined up the boats and raised the sails and took off.
Cline fell out three times before he got to the windsock. Peter Coors got hit by a gust of wind, lost his main sheet, had a knot at the end of it. It was out and he was headed for Molokai, and he was way out in the lead in the dark. So Dick McLellan yelled, “I’ll get him.” He goes, “I’ll get after him,” and sure enough he said, “Okay, I’ll continue.” Cline got reorganized and headed out.
We all raced and Cline got close to the buoy in the lead in the dark. McLellan was off chasing Peter past the buoy out there, and all of a sudden I look up in the starlight and I hear this “bonk” and I hear Cline swearing in the dark. I see his sail has come down and it’s hit him in the head. He’s drifting back towards Waikiki, trying to retie the knot on the top of his boom.
So I come by, watching all of that, and I get hit by a gust of wind, and I don’t sheet out fast enough, and I flip over. And visions of Sam, the shark that Cline used to rub into all of us, “There’s a shark out there, you guys.” So I’m upside down, my sail is straight down, and my centerboard is slowly releasing itself out of the centerboard slot. So I go, “Oh my God, I’ve got to dive down and get that real quick.”
So I dive down and I’m trying to get the centerboard. It gets away from me in the dark, and it’s gone. So now I get back on top of the boat because visions of Sam the shark are in my mind under water, and I go, “Oh God, now I gotta get this boat up.” So I release the sheet, and I’m tugging on the side of the Sunfish. It finally comes up. Everybody in the race has passed me and Cline. I go, “I gotta beat Cline.” So I get in the boat. I get back in the race. I’m about third back to the Outrigger. It’s midnight by now, and Cline is past me.
I get to the Outrigger channel, but without a centerboard I can’t tack. So I go, “You know, I’ve been through this before, once before when I started sailing, so I gotta do the same thing.” So I put the sail down, got on my knees, paddled the boat back into shore, and got in at twelve-thirty after midnight, and I went, “Whew, boy. What are we idiots, or what?” So off we went. We took a shower, put the boats away, and off we went to Ruben’s Kalia, Top’s at Waikiki and we gave Cline the bonking and boinging award. Ah, the gamesmanship never ends. It was incredible. Finally got home about two in the morning and called it a day.
MK: Oh, and were there other famous races like that?
MH: There was one other, but we can’t relay that. I’d get in trouble.
MK: Oh, dear. Well, Cline told a story about the shark. What was the story that he told you?
MH: He told us there was a good twelve-foot shark named Sam that always frequented the Diamond Head buoy. So when you sail around it and jibe, because he knew we’d probably tip over, that, “Be aware that Sam’s out there, and especially if I’m behind.” He goes, “Sam likes me.” So whenever he told that, that came back. I mean, you’re in the dark under water, trying to right your boat. You go, “Oh, there’s a big shark down here.” You never knew whether it was true or not.
MK: Were you also a canoe sailor?
MH: You know, I never got into that.
MK: Never got into canoe sailing.
MH: No. I never did. We had one here for a while, but I never got into it.
MK: What about canoe surfing?
MH: I got into that a lot. At the old Club when we started as kids, there was a three-man Koa canoe called the Lihue Aki, a little boat, and we used to take that out every chance we could. If we weren’t training, we’d get out there and try catching waves. We would swamp more times than you’d ever imagine, and hop the bail and learn it that way. So it was great. Then when we came up here we had a nicer place with fewer people and we didn’t have to worry.
MK: Who did you canoe surf with?
MH: Anybody that wanted to go. It was just, “Come on, let’s go. There’s good waves.”
MK: So you stayed mostly out here, or did you go to Makaha for-
MH: I never canoe surfed at Makaha, and the more I watched it, the more I realized that we had a perfect place. It’s a big fat wave and you can do a lot with it. But always out here. This was a great place.
MK: I understand when the Building Committee was trying to sell this site as the site for the new Club back in the ’50s, it was one of the things Cline always pointed out, “This could be a great place for canoe surfing,” and he was right.
MH: He was.
MK: We certainly had some fabulous rides.
MH: You know, the thing then was those leaders all knew what they were talking about. They had been around the ocean and surf breaks long enough. You know, all of those guys knew exactly what they had here, and the rest of the people that weren’t water people didn’t know that. It was a good decision.
I was disoriented at first because I didn’t know any of these breaks, but Cline was called the Reef Fox, because he knew every rock out there. Eventually I went, “I’m gonna be the next Reef Fox,” and I committed every coral head to memory, and it was good. I do that wherever I go.
MK: He was always a teacher.
MH: He and George (Downing) were incredible teachers. My father was, same kind of thing.
MK: How was the surfing here compared to Waikiki?
MH: Uncrowded of course, but it was just as good of a wave, if not even better. Waikiki is good, but you had to go to number threes to really feel the good power and speed in a wave. Out here you get it all the time.
MK: It’s not as shallow.
MK: Were you a paddleboarder?
MH: I was. I raced … because of the Makaha Championships, Waikiki Surf Club used to have a race every Christmas Day, and it used to be out there, and then they moved it to Waikiki to the Diamond Head buoy and back. That’s when I got started. That was fun. Cline had the boards made by Joe Quigg. Beautiful boards, balsa. Great stuff. Would be collector’s items today, you know?
MK: Does Dale (Hope) have those boards?
MH: I don’t know.
MK: Somebody … or Karl Heyer IV, somebody has I think some of Cline’s original Quigg boards.
MH: They’re good. We paddled, we raced on those.
MK: Did you just race here, or did you go to the mainland to any paddleboard races?
MH: No, I didn’t do the mainland. Hobie used to race, Tommy Zahn used to race. George used to race. George had built a paddleboard that was a racing paddleboard that you steered with your toes with a rudder. He used to tell me, “This board is so ultra-light and so round that most people can’t paddle it, and if you’re not in shape, it’ll wear you down.” Sure enough, he put Kainoa (Downing) on it one day and had Kainoa race. By the second half of the race Kainoa was just worn out, because it was so light you’d have to do RPMs to stay up with its top speed. Pretty fun.
MK: And George won the Diamond Head race a number of times.
MH: Oh, George was good. I mean, he had arms as long as an ape. I mean, he was incredible. I raced against him in Peru in a paddleboard race, and I was side by side with him almost the whole way. He had a board that he’s built down there. It had a speed advantage, but I stayed side by side with him and I went, “I can’t pass this guy. He’s too much.” I never did. We finished right behind each other.
MK: George built canoes, and he built paddleboards. He was quite innovative.
MH: He was. He was always on the cutting edge of change. He built the first fin box in my balsa wood barn, and he made it out of redwood, had Wally (Young) glass it in. He had a removable skeg in it and I used to go and see Auntie Eva (Pomroy) and get a manila folder for mail, a mailing envelope, and fold it up and stick it and jam it in there.
That worked fine until one day we left the old Club and paddled out to Castles and went to catch a wave, and got to the bottom. We were kids and the surf was too big, way over our heads, and the board gave a squiggle and the fin popped out and I went, “Oh, oh. There goes my board.” It was in by the Natatorium. The reef was about that high out of the water, speaking of spring tides. So I went, “Hey you guys, can you get my board?” They could find the board, but we never found the fin. It was the longest paddle back to the old Club I’ve ever had on a surfboard. It was multidirectional to say the least.
MK: You seem to go along with Cline on a lot of things. You got involved in building the trainer. His wonderful idea that was not well accepted.
MH: Cline came to me and said, “Mike, what do you think about this? Every novice crew has to be stopped for every single paddler to be corrected. It’s wasting everybody else in the canoe’s time and the coach’s time. What do you think if we made a trainer?” I said, “That’s a great idea.” And he goes, “How would you do it?” And I said, “Well, George Downing taught me how to float a mold off of a canoe.” I said, “All you need is a section of it, and I can do that. We can do it at my warehouse and let’s do it. All we need is a mold for it and another canoe.”
He had a lot of resistance at the Board level. It was a divided thing. So he said, “Mike, I’m gonna work on the design of a tank.” He goes, “It’s gonna have water in it, and we need a section of canoe hull.” I said, “Okay, I can do that. George taught me how.” So he said, “Okay, but it’s gotta be a secret. I’ll talk to the beach boys.” I said, “Cline we can do it in my warehouse out by the airport.” So he said, “Okay, I’ll get the beach boys to bring the canoe out to your warehouse.” He goes, “They’ll come out on Friday evening. We can do it out there.”
So Mike Mason and I and Cline did all the setup on that. We were gonna bring out the beach canoe, three, four man, take the middle section off of it so two people could sit, and then bring it back. Cline had Keith Wallace helping him design the tank. Keith was an engineer. He knew all the weight, structural loads, and supports. So I’m waiting out there at three-thirty and Cline calls me, he goes, “Hey Mike, the boys are leaving the beach with the canoe. They’re on their way.” “Okay.”
Five o’clock comes. I call Cline in his office, I go, “Cline, they haven’t showed yet.” He goes, “What?” I go, “Yeah, it’s five o’clock.” He goes, “They haven’t showed yet. Mike and I are here, but the guys haven’t come with the canoe.” He goes, “Oh, oh.” He goes, “Okay.” Turns out, at rush hour they didn’t tie the canoe onto the trailer right. It fell off the trailer at Ala Moana Center on Ala Moana Boulevard.
MK: In rush hour traffic?
MH: In rush hour traffic, and they had the whole thing. We turned on the radio and we heard it. So sure enough, they get here about half an hour later and I go, “Cline, if you were gonna keep it a secret, it’s on the radio.” So we started work on it as quickly as we could and we got it done. We floated the mold off of it, and-
MK: How do you do that?
MH: You start cracking the edges of where you’ve glassed it, you know? And then you add water, just pour a hose down it between the two hulls. The water seeps its way down and the outside of the hull is mold release wax, and so is your form. So it seeps its way down in there and it just pops itself off. It comes right off, even the whole canoe you can do that with. That’s where they were copying the Malia to a fiberglass mold, and he (George) showed me how they did it down at Sand Island.
So I did it for Cline, and we got it going. It came back. He put it down here, next to the driveway to the kitchen, he had those guys assembling the tank. So when we got down we had Domie (Gose) put it together and we delivered it right down there. It went right on the tank and was ready to go. They had a Board meeting and they walked down and they were all … Here was a guy in the tank filled with water, paddling it.
Water was going around, we had to make baffles to keep the water circulating because there was too much resistance. Then they had to make a hole in both sides of the paddle blade because there wasn’t enough room. So it was good. He put a mirror up at the end of it so the paddler could look at it and see what he was doing wrong. Coach could stand there and make all the corrections. It was good.
MK: Do you remember what year that was?
MH: Had to be about 1970, early ’70s, I would say.
MK: Well, it lasted a long time, and Cline was the caretaker of that thing. He cleaned it, and he did whatever needed to be done for many, many years.
MH: It got worked on by Keone, I know, a couple of times when it was getting waterlogged. Keone came in and-
MK: Keone Downing?
MH: Yes. He came in and fixed up the supports, and reglassed all of that I think. But I think for the long term, you’d have to make … you’d have to float a mold using the existing tank and fiberglass and then beef up the vertical.
MK: Well, after Cline passed away, Domie said it was leaking everyplace.
MH: I’m sure.
MK: Domie rebuilt, built a whole new one.
MK: So the one that we have now that we’re still using after all these years, is about twenty years old … it was built after Cline passed away. Now the maintenance shop takes care of it… and keeps it, but it was quite an undertaking and what an innovative idea.
MH: Yeah. No other club picked it up.
MK: He (Cline) told me, “You can’t ever take of picture of it, because we don’t want anybody to ever see it.”
MH: I know. It made coaching easy, you know, technique coaching.
MK: And he put a cover on it so it couldn’t be … nobody could sneak down-
MH: You can’t get in there.
MK: … and look at it.
MH: It was good.
MK: Quite an undertaking. How long did it take to build?
MH: The canoe section was easy. That only took us about a week, and then we got the canoe back here. Canoe came back within a week, but he had a lot of resistance.
MK: Yeah. I guess they didn’t understand what he was trying to do.
MH: Yeah, yeah.
MK: Did you ever coach?
MH: Oh, sure. About twenty years.
MK: What did you coach, kids or adults, or both?
MH: I was always an assistant coach, and whatever they assigned me to I would coach at the beginning of every season. So George had taught me well, and he taught me that a lot of paddlers are good paddlers, but they won’t necessarily be good coaches because they don’t know how to get people to adjust their body. He goes, “You’d be good.” So Mark Buck, I think, was the first guy that wanted me to be an assistant coach, and so I coached and continued on after that. When I got to Molokai I coached a crew over there for novice women, and then I had another back surgery. Then I didn’t want to coach anymore.
MK: Well, in addition to your water sports, you also played volleyball for the Club. You were on some of our early teams that had Olympians, like Tommy Haine and Jon Stanley on them. What was volleyball like in those days?
MH: It was good. Everybody was committed. I started off in the sand, and I got to be good in the sand and I wanted to play in tournaments. Finally got to play against Tommy Haine and I saw what a champion and hard hitter he was. Then I got a chance to play against him, and the first ball he hit at me I thought I had it dug, and it came so fast and so hard and hit me in the face and knocked my backwards on my back. I saw stars and I went, “Wow, where’d that come from?” I got back up and I shook it off and I went, “Okay, that’s enough of that. I’m gonna beat you someday.” So I got that urge to finally beat them.
MK: Got competitive.
MH: Yeah. It just went “boing” and I went, “Okay, I’m gonna get better at this sport.” So I did, and I studied it and got good, and I just enjoyed it, and eventually beat him in the Sand State Championships upstairs there. Fun.
MK: Well, you were on several state championships. This was in two-man. What years did you win?
MH: I’m terrible at that. I don’t know. I don’t recall what year. Probably around ’65, ’66, I would think.
MK: Well, let’s see if we can find it here. You won in ’66 and ’67 with Bob Clem.
MK: Then you guys went on to win … you went, started going to the Nationals back in those days.
MH: Yes, I actually met Bob Clem at the Nationals, and then he came out here. He was a flight attendant. He came out here and just said, “Hey Mike, how are you? And da, da, da, and let’s enter the State Championships.” I go, “Okay. Let’s do it.” So he was a good volleyball player. Very good. He even had a-
MK: He wasn’t a member?
MH: No, he was a guest member I think, and we played and ended up winning. It was great, great time.
MK: You went to the Nationals in ’65, and then you got better and better, and won the AAU Nationals in ’67.
MH: I think ’65 was New York City, and it was an Olympic year. So there were trials right after that, and you got to see it all. That was Wally Young, Billy Brooks. We did fundraisers every weekend to generate enough money to send the Outrigger team back, because Tommy Haine was playing for Central YMCA then. So we were all kids, and we went back to New York, it was just mind-boggling. I mean, “What are we doing here? This place is huge.”
The World’s Fair was on, and it’s a small world. So at nine p.m. Mike Lemes and I were in a hotel room, and the phone rings and I go answer it, and I go, “Hello,” and this girl goes, “Mike Holmes, what are you doing here in New York City?” I said, “Hopefully I’m playing volleyball.” And she goes, “You get down here right away. I’m at the World’s Fair. I’m a cocktail waitress at the restaurant of the Five Volcanoes, and there’s all these guys from Hawaii here.” And I went, “Okay, we’re on our way.” So we got on the subway and went to the World’s Fair. She goes, “I’ll buy you beers all night long. You just stick around.” It was my roommate next door from Arizona State. I went, “Wow. Small world.”
MK: How did she know you were there?
MH: She ran into the guys from Central YMCA and they said, “Yeah, he’s at the hotel in New York.” She went, “What?” She just said, “You know him?” Sure enough. So that was quite an event.
MK: That was in ’65? And you guys finished fourth in ’65 and then you went back the next year and got a little bit better and were second. Then you went in ’67, you went to the AAU championships, and you won.
MH: Yeah, and that was kind of good, because as that contest evolved BYU had a big team, college team, and they were very tall. You will recognize (Jon) Stanley and (John) Alstrom. Two of the biggest hitters for BYU, and they played against us. But we had been training with John Lowell out at Church College (BYU Hawaii). We had to drive out there twice a week (Laie), all the way out to Church College and back. Run the swimming pool stairs and have practices. Then we were … We had invested so much time and effort and conditioning into it, we were able to win that. It was close. They were good.
MK: Who did you play?
MH: We played BYU in the finals.
MK: Somehow we wound up with Jon and John back here within a couple of years, playing for Outrigger.
MH: Yeah, I played with them. They were good.
MK: They went on to the Olympics in ’68, Jon, John and Tommy. Then Jon has a son who went to the Olympics, so …
MK: Quite a dynasty.
MK: What was Tommy Haine like as a player?
MH: He was a true competitor and he hated to lose, but he’d never display it. If he made a mistake on the court, he’d go back, put his hands on his knees and wait for the serve, and he’d just look at the ground for a minute, and he’d be dripping sweat. But you knew that if he made a mistake, you knew the next time he wasn’t gonna make it, and I kind of followed that path. That’s what good competitors are all about.
MK: Was he a good teammate?
MH: Yeah, he was great. I remember in Michigan, Stevie Fearon and I came from dinner. We were all coming back to the hotel and Stevie goes, “Mike, let’s tackle Tommy Haine when he gets in his room.” So we tackled him and made like we were tag team wrestling. So we’d tackle him, got him on his bed and get on top of him like we were gonna beat him up, and he threw us off like kittens. He was so big and strong. I mean, we went flying and I went, “Well, so much for that, Steve. Good idea.” But he was a great guy. He had a lot of spirit. He was good.
MK: Someone said that the reason you stopped playing volleyball was because of your back.
MH: Yeah, I had back surgeries, and thank goodness for George McPheeters, who I coached in high school, but he got me the right surgeon. I’d rescued a lady that wouldn’t listen to instructions for kayaking, and she fell out and I had to tow her back in with offshore winds, and I blew my disk out. Then when I got to the beach I could feel that same pain from twenty years earlier. I was so angry at the lady I just had to walk away from it and go up to the shop.
Then pretty soon I wasn’t doing well, and I was sitting in bed early in the morning having coffee and watching the sun come up, and I put the coffee cup on my ankle and couldn’t feel it. I went, “Whoa, something’s wrong.” I was walking like a pony. I thought it was my slipper, but it wasn’t. It was my foot action. So I called George McPheeters who was at Straub and he goes, “You better get in here right away. Those are serious symptoms.” He goes, “You got foot drop. You’ve got sciatica.” And he goes, “What side do you think it is?” I go, “It’s definitely my right.” He goes, “Okay, come on in.”
So I went in. I go, “Should I get an orthopedic surgeon or a neurosurgeon.” He goes, “I will get you the best surgeon I’ve ever worked with. He’s a neurosurgeon.” I said, “Okay.” So he got me the guy, and the guy did it. Four and a half hours and I wasn’t out of there and George was monitoring me from home. He was ready to panic. Told the nurse, “Are they out yet?” And he goes, “Nope. He’s still in, four hours.” He goes, “I’m on my way.” Then she goes, “Oh wait, they’re coming out.” Sure enough, I came out. Thirty days later I was back kayaking. They took the disk out completely, bone on bone.
MH: Yeah. I’m fortunate. I mean, the guy did an amazing job. Never came back to see me. The day I was gonna get the stitches out, he walked by the room and he looked in. The nurse was putting a bandaid on my back and he goes, “What are you doing?” berating the nurse. He goes, “Don’t baby that guy. Get him outta here.” I went, “Okay doc, it’s nice to see you too.” A little Chinese guy from South America, and he was great. No bedside manner whatsoever, but he was a good neurosurgeon.
MK: Well, you’ve been involved in just about every sport that the Club offers. What have I left out?
MH: Outrigger is a great athletic facility. That’s what my dad saw, and that’s what I saw. I didn’t want to get involved on the social side too much, so it was a place I could keep my surfboard. I could come down, go surfing, do it all, you know? Get involved in the ocean, and make lifelong friends. It was great, really great.
MK: You were bestowed one of the Club’s highest honors for its athletes, the Winged “O”, in 1971. That’s a huge honor. That only goes to our best athletes, and it’s only been given 51 times in 109 years. It’s quite a tribute. How did it feel to be in such esteemed company?
MH: That was nice. It was a nice honor and I was pleased to have it. But I was also … I had just come out of surgery. I remember that. I remember being in the dining room going, “It might take a while for me to get up there you guys. I’m walking like an old man.” But I owed my success in sports to a lot of people along the way. Humble is good, and most people don’t have that anymore.
The people that I thanked are people that I still remember. They were up there watching every volleyball tournament, every year, and you just go, “Wow, these people are really, really great.” And they’d come down. When we were paddling Molokai, we had training tables, and we’d sign for the chit at a reduced rate and all that. A young paddler’s father would come by. He goes, “I got it tonight you guys.” Paid for the whole dinner. You just go, “Whoa.”
MK: How nice.
MH: Yeah, and so it was that way back then. It was a good time to come through the whole system. It really was.
MK: The golden years of athletics at the Outrigger Canoe Club. You gave up your membership a few years ago when you moved to Molokai.
MH: Actually, quite a ways after. It was only about three years ago, and I was spending all that money. As the economy started to tighten up I read about the increase in the lease rent, and I went, “You know, the Outrigger’s gonna need that membership slot for a regular member. You can get some money back out of it.” So I just, I wasn’t using it. I’ve only been here twice in twenty years, I think. So I just said, “It doesn’t make sense to keep paying the dues and it’s not good for me and it’s not good for the Outrigger.” So I sent the manager a note. I didn’t know the manager, and I just said, “It’s time for me to take my leave.”
MK: Well, we miss you.
MH: Oh, thanks.
MK: The canoe in the bar misses you.
MH: No, no. I’m never going up there again.
MK: Is there anything that you’d like to add before we wrap this up?
MH: No, it’s been a wonderful experience. The journey’s been great.
MK: Well, you were a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club for many, many years, what did it really mean to you?
MH: Lifelong friends, people that, when I started had real values. Nobody was selfish. It was all good. Today’s world is a lot different. There’s a whole generation behind us that was raised by TV, and they don’t have those values today. So when we see it coming back, we’re pretty happy.
MK: Well, it was fun walking through the Club with you this morning. We didn’t even get out of the car before people were, “Mike, Mike.”
MH: I know. It’s insane.
MK: The front entrance we didn’t get through, and then every place we went there was somebody yelling, “Mike.”
MH: Yeah, I was hoping I would see Domie (he did as he was leaving). I had a fishing boat in the ’70s, and my flying gaff broke, and I said, “Domie, my flying gaff broke. Could you make me another one?” And he goes, “Yeah. Bring it over here. Show me what the curve is like.” So he got a stainless steel bar, and he took the torch to it and shaped it, and came out identical to what I had, and I went, “Wow. Thank you.”
MK: He’s amazing.
MH: I asked, “How did you that?” “Oh, my father was a rifle maker.” I went, “Oh, okay.” We had a great time in the shop. Good man.
MK: Great man. Well, thank you again for coming to Oahu to do this oral history. It will be a great addition to our archives.
MH: It’s a pleasure. Hobies were great. Hobies were versatile, and you could take more than one person if you wanted to. I actually taught Dale (Hope) how to sail on the Hobie. His first ride on the Hobie, we had been sailing Sunfishes, took him down to Waikiki, up to Diamond Head. Came back in, got to the windsock, I go, “You understand all the concepts?” And he goes, “I think so.” I go, “That’s good, because now you’re on your own.” And I turned the boat back out to sea and I jumped off and swam in, and that was his first sail.
MK: He didn’t forget that either.
MH: Oh, no. He didn’t. I was having dinner at his house one night and he told that to his daughter. “Ollie, do you know what Uncle Mike did?” And I went, “Oh, oh. What story is this?” He went, “Mmm.” He goes, “He got me to the windsock and he jumped off and made me sail his boat my first time, and I’m glad he did.” So it was all fun. It was a great place.
MK: A great life.
MH: Yeah, and the Aloha spirit is still there, you know? Not as much as before, but … That was one of the reasons I left Honolulu. I’d be in downtown, walk down the sidewalk, and nobody would say hi or look at each other. I’d just go, “What’s wrong with this place? Everybody’s walking around looking at the ground.” I go, “I’m from Molokai, I’m saying hi and waving to everybody.”
When I got to Molokai, I already was well known in the state, so I get over there, and take my son to the swimming pool, and the first guy I run into is a swim coach and he goes, “Mike Holmes, what are you doing here?” I go, “I just moved here, Dave. How are you?” He goes, “Great. I used to play volleyball against the guy at Central YMCA and he’s the coach of the swim team up there.” So my son used to swim for Aulea, he goes, “What stroke does your son swim?” I go, “All of them.” He goes, “All of them.” I go, “Yeah, Aulea.” He goes, “Okay, bring him down.”
So it was an easy transition, and everybody knew me. I would wave on the island every time I’d be going down to Kaunakakai with a kayak trailer and eight kayaks to paddle the reef with people. I’d wave at every car coming out of Kaunakakai. My wife would look at me and go, “Why are you waving?” She goes, “Do you know him?” I go, “No.” I go, “Do I have to?” And she goes, “Why are you waving?” I go, “Because I want to know which ones don’t like the haoles. And she went, “Oh, I get it.” I go, “Then pretty soon everybody’s waving back.” At first, nobody knew just in passing who I was, and then they wanted to know. So it was an easy transition. It was great.
MK: Well, and you’re doing something you thoroughly enjoy.
MH: Oh, yeah. I mean, it’s a great place. I was gonna ask if you knew Charlie and Sam Cooke. Sam was the head of Nature Conservancy down here.”
MK: Mm-mm (negative).
MH: And the head of Dean Witter or a brokerage firm, Walston. Maybe Merrill-Lynch, but he was a big-time guy, down to earth. Charlie Cooke is a big-time guy, down to earth. Grandparents, great grandparents, founded Bank of Hawaii, they were just really good people and well liked, and they were the former directors of Molokai Ranch.
So we got together and they were really nice people and well liked on the island. Took care of everybody and fit right in. If you want to have a funny evening, just go listen to Charlie Cooke talk like a little Filipino rant. He could talk to Domie for an hour, and you’d laugh your head off. He goes into the grocery store and they go, “Hi, how are you?” And he’d go, “Good,” he’d go, “How about you?” He goes, “Where are you living now?” And he goes, “Still up Kalae where the Manuks are.” And they’d go, “Ah.” He’s hilarious. Nice people. But that’s where I am up there.
MK: A good life.
MH: Yeah, and you know, for probably forty years, I never, ever had any fun in the workplace. I was always, pressured, but I got with Hawaiian Building Maintenance, to the assistant to the president. But everything was negative.
You had to deal with property managers and into my last year, the property manager of Grosvenor Center called me at eleven in the morning. “Mike, get down here. There’s a women’s restroom that is just trashed. Your people didn’t clean it. Your daily custodian didn’t clean it.” I looked at the schedule and I went, “She’s restocking all the restrooms starting right now.” I go, “And it’s lunchtime. All the girls are getting ready to go out to lunch.” I go, “Do you expect it to be clean?” She goes, “You come over here and I’ll show it to you.” I went, “Okay.” So you go through all that and you go, “Come on, this has to be reasonable.”
So I was so ready to get out of that, and then my boss had a drinking problem. So he finally brought it to a crisis where we were in danger of losing a million dollar a year account, because he invited their Minnesota rep to go golfing with him at Waialae, only he drank for two hours of straight martinis before playing. I was out inspecting all the banks and he fell flat on his face on the first tee trying to tee up the ball.
I walked back in and he was abraded and abraded. He had a thumb as big as my knee and I went, “What happened to you?” And he went, “Oh, I was over served at Waialae yesterday. And I went, “Oh, yeah. Okay.” Turned around and went back to my office and filled out my resignation. Been there ten years and I went, “You got a minute.” I walked in and handed it to him, because I knew I would be the scapegoat. I got out of there. I was lucky.
MK: It’s good being your own boss.
MH: Yeah, but you know, that took a lot of getting used to. You go by every day, asking, “Where’s the next dollar gonna come from?” Is a visitor gonna come up to this desk or not?” And you go, “Whew, got by that.” So once you get a reputation, it’s good, and you’re okay.” I hope to get out of all that and start playing again.
MK: Well, thanks again for coming over for this. I appreciate it very much.
MH: You, thank you. A pleasure.