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.
An Interview by J. Ward Russell
August 1, 1995
JWR: Today is Tuesday, August 1, 1995. I am Ward Russell (JWR) a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club’s Historical Committee. Our committee for some time has an ongoing project of conducting oral interviews with some of the Club’s prominent and long-time members. Today it is my pleasure to interview Nip Tong Akana (NTA) who has been a member for over forty years, we’ll find out exactly how many in a few minutes. We are in the Manager’s office of the Outrigger Canoe Club. Unfortunately I think the sound of the air conditioning hovers in the back ground, but Marjorie, I hope you can transcribe what’s going on.
JWR: Nip, good morning.
NTA: Good morning.
JWR: It’s good to have you here.
NTA: Thank you.
JWR: You are a Big Island boy aren’t you?
JWR: Where were you born?
NTA: I was born in Kawaihae, Hawaii .
JWR: Kawaihae? My goodness. Where did you go to school?
NTA: I went to the public school in Kawaihae and Waimea and then I ended up at Kamehameha.
JWR: Kamehameha. Before we go on – I want to talk about Kamehameha – what did your parents do?
NTA: My father worked for the Parker Ranch in Waimea. It was too cold up there so my mother went down to Kawaihae and I was born down there, [Laugh] because my grandparents lived in Kawaihae and Puako. Puako is about five miles away from Kawaihae. Because it was cold, I was born in April, my mother went down to Kawaihae and…..
JWR: Where did your parents come from?
NTA: My father came from China, and my mother was born here.
JWR: Was she part-Hawaiian?
NTA: No, she was full Hawaiian.
JWR: So you are half Chinese and half Hawaiian. So you went to school in Kawaihae and Kamuela. Then what did you do? How long were you on Hawaii?
NTA: Oh, until 1933 when I finished Waimea, I came down here to work, because there were no jobs in Waimea.
JWR: Wait, wait now, I missed something there. I skipped something. From Kamuela you went to Kamehameha. How many years were you at Kamehameha?
NTA: Six years.
JWR: Were there athletics at Kamehameha?
NTA: I played baseball.
JWR: Baseball? So you graduated from Kamehameha in ’33.
JWR: The same year I graduated from high school, I graduated from Punahou in 1933. We probably knew each other then. Then what did you do?
NTA: I worked for Lewers & Cooke for about three weeks and they let us all out because of the depression. Just about that time the depression hit Hawaii badly, and we were all released. Anthony Paul (became Chief of Police for Maui and Hawaii) – he was one of them and a lot of those guys joined the Police Department and I didn’t. I came to the beach. I came down to the beach and I joined Hui Nalu.
JWR: You joined Hui Nalu, what year was that?
NTA: 1933, and in August of 1933 I saw an ad in the paper, E. P. Murray was the City and County auditor, and I knew him from Kamehameha Schools because he was up there as the purchasing agent, and I went to see him. “He said when are you going to start? Right now?” and I said, “Yeah, I can start right now.” He said, “The only job I have right now is the office boy’s job, all the Democrats want all the big jobs so that’s the only job left.” I said, “OK, I’ll take it.” And, I got in, and I worked my way up from there.
JWR: So, where was this?
NTA: At City Hall.
JWR: City Hall. How many years were you with the City and County?
NTA: Thirty-eight. I worked for the City and County until 1971. I retired in August.
JWR: And what was your position when you retired?
NTA: I was the field auditor.
JWR: Field auditor. Do you have any family?
NTA: I had three sisters.
JWR: And no brothers?
NTA: No brothers.
JWR: Have you any children?
JWR: No children. You have a lovely wife, the two of you were down at the Club for so many years. When you joined Hui Nalu in 1933, did you start paddling?
NTA: Yes, I paddled.
JWR: You paddled for Hui Nalu. The reason I asked you that… Did you go to Kona by any chance to the first races when they started up the…..
NTA: No. I didn’t go to Kona.
JWR: The reason I asked you that…..
NTA: Most of the guys went, and they went on the Ithaca I think, the Coast Guard cutter. And I think half way there the cutter was called to go to some ship which needed help – somebody needed help and they had to go back to , er…..
JWR: You paddled for Hui Nalu.
NTA: I did a lot of surfing.
JWR: Were you ever a beach boy per se?
NTA: Oh, not exactly. Whenever they needed help, you know I would jump in a canoe and paddle out.
JWR: I can remember the years that you and I paddled together in a two man canoe.
NTA: Right. Ernest Steiner (Circuit Court Judge) used to wait for me after I got through work. I’d come down and he’d wait for me then he and I would go out in a little canoe.
JWR: Who was that?
NTA: Ernest Steiner. Nobody else wanted to go out with him, and he wouldn’t let anybody else steer [Laugh], so he and I went out – used to go out in the two-man canoe. Everybody burned up at us.
JWR: He was steering?
NTA: Yes. He was learning to steer.
JWR: Knocked everybody out of the way?
NTA: Chased everybody away. [Laugh]
JWR: Oh, gosh. When did you join the Outrigger Canoe Club?
NTA: In 1952. John D. Kaupiko and Dad Center told me to join the Outrigger, because I think the initiation fee was $300, but for that year they lowered it to $100. So I got in on the $100 deal; and the dues, I think, were $2.00 a month.
JWR: What was your impression of the Club at that time? You lived close by…..
NTA: Yes. I was close by. I had a friend who had joined – my classmate had joined the Outrigger, I think he joined in ’33 or ’34. and anyway he had a locker, a surfboard locker, so I kept my surfboard there in his locker at the Outrigger because Matson provided a room for the Hui Nalu. That’s where the beachboys kept their equipment, and they were allowed to….. it was a bathhouse to change and all that.
JWR: This was at Hui Nalu?
NTA: Yes, Hui Nalu, and in 1949 when they tore down the bathhouse there was…..
JWR: Where were those bathhouses?
NTA: Right on the side…..
JWR: By the Moana?
NTA: On the ewa side of the Moana Hotel, the bathhouse was there…..
JWR: Yeah, yeah.
NTA: It went out to the beach, they had some office rooms and a doctor had space there, and one big room for Hui Nalu, and Joe Platt had a little hidden stand right in the corner there.
JWR: Tell me a little about Hui Nalu – your time with Hui Nalu – because you were with Hui Nalu since about ’33?
NTA: ’33 to …..
JWR: How many years were you with Hui Nalu?
NTA: Well, the last time I paddled for Hui Nalu was in 1948.
JWR: In 1948, and where did you paddle? What er…..
NTA: Junior crew…and then in 1948 I was in the Senior crew and my father raced that year, 1948. We had a canoe, I don’t know where they got it. I think John D. (Kaupiko) got the canoe in Kona and we were leading Outrigger Senior crew. When we came in Rabbit was steering, Rabbit Kekai was steering, and we swamped, [Laugh] so we bailed the boat out and turned it around but by that time Outrigger was long gone. Waikiki Surf Club had just started to race at that time – they had a crew in there – they, Outrigger and Hui Nalu were in the race. We bailed our canoe, went around, and overtook Waikiki Surf to come in second.
JWR: You beat them.
NTA: Yeah. After we bailed the boat we beat Waikiki Surf to the finish line.
JWR: Tell me, who were the principal paddlers for Hui Nalu in those days?
NTA: Well , from ’36 I think the Senior crew – they had a good Senior crew – they had Johnny Mersberg, steersman – this is the Senior crew now – Fred Steere was stroke…..
JWR: Steere was stroke?
NTA: Fred Steere was stroke …..
JWR: …..for Hui Nalu?
NTA: Akong Pang was number two, Wilfred Paul was, I think, number three, Waldorf Wilson number four and fifth was Johnny Dixon – he was my classmate at Kamehameha.
JWR: That’ s interesting, I think…..
NTA: John Mersberg was steersman.
JWR: Some of them became Outrigger Canoe Club members – Fred Steere – Fred Steere became President. I went over with the Hui Nalu gang. I hadn’t joined the club, I went over with them to Kona, and Squeeze (John) Kamana was paddling, too, at that time, and Wilfred. What did you do when you paddled for Outrigger?
NTA: I didn’t paddle for Outrigger.
JWR: You didn’t paddle for Outrigger, you just joined and became a…..
NTA: Surfing bum, and I used to come to go fishing and we surfed in the canoe.
JWR: You know in all of these interviews I have never really talked to anyone about fishing from the canoes. Dad Center used to go out a lot, he had an outboard motor on it.
NTA: Yes, they used to go all the way down off Sand Island and fish, kawelea was the fish they caught with the Cook brothers, Edric and what was the other….
JWR: Where did you usually fish?
NTA: Oh, I just fished along the edge of the reef.
NTA: I have to wait for a calm day when the waves aren’t breaking then I go along the reef – well, first I look for squid, catch a little squid and I use that for bait, I troll, drop the line about 30 feet from the canoe and paddle around the edge of the reef. I catch papio, about a pound and a half…..
NTA: …..two pounds…..
JWR: Just by yourself?
JWR: One man canoe.
NTA: One man canoe, yeah.
JWR: I used to see you out there all the time.
NTA: Sometimes I take my spear, and I catch octopus, catch an olio.
JWR: Tell me, outside of the Outrigger Canoe Club did you have any other outdoor activities – fishing, did you do any deep sea fishing or anything like that?
NT No I didn’t.
JWR: Just most of the time at the Outrigger. Do you remember any of the beachboys around at that particular time?
NTA: Well, at that time I remember Pua Kealoha, he brought Harry Robello down to the beach.
JWR: He was responsible for bringing Harry Robello? I didn’t realize that.
NTA: Because Pua Kealoha used to play golf at Ala Wai and Harry used to caddy up there, and he knew the different holes and he would advise Pua where to hit and all that, and Pua took a liking to him so he brought him down to the beach.
JWR: Harry was a good golfer.
JWR: Did you ever play golf?
NTA: I tried. I had Joe Guererro give me instruction, but every time I go out with him – you know he plays with Arthur Armstrong and all the other champions; when we go out on the fairway, three guys going one way and one guy going off to the right or to the left [Laugh] that would be me [Laugh] and I got disgusted, you know – I quit.
JWR: Tell me a little about your wife. Is she retired?
NTA: She’s not working now at all.
JWR: What did she do?
NTA: Well, she is from Massachusetts and she skies; she worked in Sun Valley two winters in ’50 and ’51, and ’52 she came out with a bunch of girls and she was the only one who had some kind of occupation.
JWR: What was she?
NTA: She was a secretary, so when she came out here she found a job easily with some attorneys, Landau & Fairbanks, she worked for them, and after that she worked for Harold Kaye, do you know him?
JWR: Oh, yes, very well – a strong Republican!
NTA: He was supposed to be the governor.
JWR: That’s right.
NTA: ….. instead of King.
JWR: How well I remember that..alibis, alibis, alibis.
NTA: He married a Cooke girl, too.
JWR: That’s right. Did you ever get involved in politics?
JWR: You never worked for any candidate – except me, of course! [Laugh] What was your reaction to the move from the old Club? What did you think about the situation and location and the need to move down to the new location?
NTA: Well , at that time, right before we moved out here I think, if you remember Sam Fuller – he worked for the Tax Office – he wanted the Club to buy Chris Holmes’ property out here.
JWR: Where was that?
NTA: You know the Barefoot Bar, you remember that?
NTA: That was Chris Holmes’ property. He wanted the Club to buy it, I think it was $350,000 at that time, I don’t know if the Club had the money to buy it, but there were a lot of members in the Club who could have underwritten that $350,000. But what happened was Hiram Fong formed a Chinese group and they bought the property, and they leased it to Spencer Weaver, and Spencer Weaver had the Barefoot Bar with Stirling Mossman as the chief entertainer there.
JWR: How well I remember, yeah.
NTA: The Barefoot Bar, and then…..
JWR: I didn’t realize Hiram Fong was in on that.
NTA: Yeah, I think so. Hiram Fong, Thelma Akana’s son was in on it too. She was a member of the Club and a senator.
JWR: She had a son, Rayno.
NTA: Rayno, yeah.
JWR: Do you know what happened to him?
NTA: He passed away, I think, several years ago.
JWR: He was a terrific athlete. I think he still holds the record for the 100 -yard dash – he broke Jimmy Kneubuhl’s record.. She was quite a campaigner. Do you have any other vivid memories of some of our colorful characters at the Club? How about Charlie Amalu?
NTA: Charlie Amalu [Laugh], well, I used to go out with him in a canoe, you know, he helped paddle when he had friends and Duke and I used to go out with them.
NTA: When we moved up here one day David (Kahanamoku) and I had a group of people and we caught a wave out here, and everybody on the beach was scared, they thought we were going down [Laugh] and we came in all the way.
JWR: Where did you catch the wave, out by Castles?
NTA: Old Man’s, but further out.
JWR: And you came in here? I liked David, he was a real gentleman. Well you knew all the Kahanamokus?
JWR: I guess Louis passed away.
NTA: Louis, yeah.
JWR: Bill is the only one…Did Bill die?
NTA: I think so.
JWR: He is still around?
NTA: No , I think he died.
JWR: Then Bernice, Bernice Lee…..
NTA: I think she is still alive…and Willie Whittle, I was friendly with Willie Whittle, he let me use his canoe.
JWR: I remember Willie when I was first learning to surf and he wouldn’t let us go out. I was at Punahou then, that was before I joined the Club, and I did come down with some of my friends, and you had to behave yourself. He was a colorful character.. . How about Panama ( Baptiste)?
NTA: Oh, Panama, yeah. Panama used to, at tax time come to me to fix his tax. So I prepared his tax and everything, and I asked him, “You got money to pay?” He say, “No”. I tell him to go file this anyway because as long as you file it, you will be safe. If you don’t file it, it is bad. As long as you file it whether you pay or not, let them chase you for the money. [Laugh]
JWR: Chick (William) Daniels?
NTA: Chick Daniels, yeah…. .
JWR: He did tremendous good for the Club. What do you think about the Club in this new location?
NTA: This location?
JWR: Compare the Club as it was when we were down at the old location – as it is today. Do you think this was a good move to come down here?
JWR: It is a real family club – too many outside influences at the old Club.
NTA: Well, down there now it is out of the question, there is too much.. …
JWR: We would have been just swamped if we had stayed down there.
NTA: Yeah, with all those hotels coming up because the empty lot between the Club and the Moana Hotel that was up for sale at one time, and I think the Swanzey Estate owned the property – Swanzey – the judge or whatever.
NTA: Swanzey. I think they wanted a million dollars for that piece of property, so I told Hal Whittaker if you find a thousand guys with a thousand dollars apiece we could buy that property. [Laughter]. He said, “Hey, that’s a good idea”, so I went to George Brangier and he said, “0h, you can’t get a thousand dollars from anyone”. [Laughter] He was the one who told me about buying the Chris Holmes property…where the Barefoot Bar was.
JWR: That was the old Deering Estate many, many years ago. I think so. Chris bought it.
NTA: Yeah. Sonny Cunha also had the property that was in two pieces….
JWR: Now, where was the Cunha property?
NTA: Right at the entrance of the beach there…..
JWR: That would be on the town side of the Natatorium.
NTA: Oh, yeah.
JWR: The first piece of property as you…..
NTA: … .as you turned up to Monsarrat…
JWR: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
NTA: The first piece of property…..
JWR: That’s Cunha surf.
NTA: Yeah. He owned the other side, too – up Kapahulu Avenue, that used to be Makee Road I think.
NTA: He owned, I think, the whole area there, where those hotels are. I don’t know if it is the whole road.
JWR: What were your favorite surfing places?
NTA: Oh, I used to surf at Queen’s a lot and First Break when it was up.
NTA: Popular’s, yeah. You and I went out to Popular’s one time and you came back with oil on your head, do you remember?
NTA: And I told you to look behind in the shower room and use Vitalis to get all that oil off because the alcholic…..
JWR: [Laughter] I had forgotten all about that.
NTA: Your chest and your head were all full of oil, you know, the ships had dumped the oil off.
JWR: I had forgotten all about that. [Laugh] Did you have any frightening experiences surfing – any close calls or anything like that?
JWR: I always remember at Popular’s one day, I was sliding right, oh and right in front of me I saw a big manta. Scared the hell out of me!
NTA: There’s a big one down there you know. When I go trolling I used to see ’em out there, you know.
JWR: When you were trolling in a canoe did you catch any ulua or papio?
JWR: …..and did they bite?
NTA: Oh, yeah, papio will chase anything that moves, you know, and barracudas – I used to catch barracudas about this size.
JWR: What would be the biggest fish you ever caught?
NTA: The biggest papio I ever caught was about two pounds, I think.
JWR: What are you doing now for relaxation, I know you have had some health problems.
NTA: Oh, I am not doing anything now. I can’t take the boat out.
JWR: What happened to you? Did you have a heart attack?
NTA: No, I was out squidding, and then I felt tired – I came back to the beach and…..
JWR: You were at Queen’s Surf.
NTA: … in front of the Sheraton Waikiki.
JWR: Oh, yeah.
NTA: I was diving for squid.
JWR: You were surfing?
NTA: No, I was diving for squid, and I felt tired. I swam back to shore and I sat by the swimming pool of the Sheraton Waikiki, and I passed out there, I think. When I came to three big Samoan guys were holding me back. They said, “Don’t move, don’t move you are not dead”, [Laugh] …and they called the ambulance and everything. But I came to you know and I was fine. I just called my wife to come pick me up…..
JWR: We were talking about your heart problem when you had the attack when you were out in front of the Sheraton – did they give you CPR?
NTA: I just passed out and then the ER.. . I don’t know what they did, because when I came to all I remember was three big Samoan guys holding me down. The doctor told them to keep me quiet.
JWR: Then they took you to the hospital.
NTA: No. They didn’t. They called the ambulance but I had called my wife and she picked me up and then she took me down to Emergency, and I was in the hospital for a week while they took all kind of tests, and they decided to open me up.
JWR: You had surgery then?
NTA: Yeah. Heart by-pass surgery.
JWR: Who did the surgery?
NTA: Michael Dang.
JWR: Oh, Michael Dang did yours?
JWR: He did my second one. He’s a good doctor.
NTA: How long ago was that?
NTA: Five years ago.
JWR: Five years?
NTA: 1989. November, 1989, and because of all the pain killers I had it ate up the lining of my stomach and caused an ulcer – bleeding ulcer, and three weeks later I had to go back in and Dr. Greenwell did the bleeding ulcer operation, and they removed my spleen and they cut something else, I can’t think…..
JWR: They removed your spleen?
NTA: Because it was in the way of where they were working.
JWR: Oh, my!
NTA: And when he came to see me the next morning – it was three o’clock in the morning when he did the operation. After I came to I heard somebody speaking Hawaiian. It didn’t sound like a Hawaiian, you know, it sounded like a haole guy speaking Hawaiian. He asked me how I felt, you know, in Hawaiian and, so I answered him back in Hawaiian. I was still groggy and I told him, I was kind of dizzy, he laughed and said, “You are the first Hawaiian who answered me back in Hawaiian and, all the other Hawaiians I have spoken to, all answered in English” I asked, “Where are you from? Are you from Kona?” He said, “I am Dr. Greenwell”. I said, “Greenwell from Kona?” He said, “Yes, Greenwell from Kona. Are you from Kona?” I said “No, I am from Waimea” which is the next big town from Kona. “Oh,” I said, “The Greenwell name is as much as the Parker name in Waimea.”
JWR: All this surgery after you had your heart surgery.
JWR: Have you had any surgery since then?
JWR: You have had a long recuperative period though, haven’t you?
NTA: Yeah. I am going to the Queen’s Hospital cardiac rehab three times a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday…..
JWR: How long do you stay there?
NTA: An hour-and -a-half to two hours…Exercises. We have the equipmentment here, you know, and I try to do it here, but I couldn’t because I come down, I sit down and read and I say, “Tomorrow, I do it.” Tomorrow keeps piling up and down there it is good because someone is always watching you – anything happens, everything is there – the doctors and everybody because people pass out in the exercise room.
JWR: Too much exertion?
NTA: Overdo it.
JWR: Of course they have everything right there.
NTA: One day I went in, I couldn’t get in the place it was loaded with doctors and nurses running around. Somebody had had a seizure or something and they were all there fixing him up.
JWR: They do a marvelous job there. Wilfred Paul – let’s get back to him for a minute. In High School he was two years ahead of me but we became very good friends, we rowed together. Did you ever row?
JWR: Willie and I rowed for Myrtle – Yabo…..
NTA: Yabo Taylor…..
JWR: Yabo, yes. I had an oral interview with Willie last year and we were reviewing a list of old time beach boys he had, and when we came to your name he was most comp]imentary, he thought very highly of you.
NTA: I try to come on my free days.
JWR: Monday, Wednesday and Fridays you go to rehab, so Tuesdays, Thurs- days…..
NTA: Tuesdays , Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
JWR: I know you use the Club a lot.
JWR: Are there any other reminicenses you can think of that you can add to the Club’s history? How about some of the employees we’ve had here. Is there any one particular manager that sticks out in your mind?
NTA: No. But down at the old Club, we had a lot of characters, you know, like, I don’t know if you remember, like Richard in the Snack Shop he always wanted to dance the hula or something.
JWR: Richard? Oh, gosh. [Laughter] This has been real nice, I have enjoyed the opportunity to conduct this interview. If there is anything that you think about that you want to add, we can get together and continue…Anything else come to mind?
NTA: Well, the only thing I have is maybe we should have bought that Chris Holmes property, but at that time we didn’t have the money, but there were some big members at the Club that could have helped.
JWR: That would have been a wonderful location. We initially had an opportunity to get the lease on the Queen Emma property, our original property, but we couldn’t out-bid Trousdale-Murchison. I think moving down here though was very good for the Club, it has been very successful.
NTA: And I think the Elks should sell this, because their club is so run down; they should get some money and build up their club.
JWR: I understand they are having a hard time now. You know we made a proposal not long ago, but I don’t think it got to their membership. Did you see that article that came out in the paper not so long ago in the Sunday paper? I think the whole story has finally gotten to their membership. I know they are working on it, and maybe something will happen within the next year.
NTA: I hope so.
JWR: OK my friend. Thank you very much.
NTA: You’re welcome.