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 complete transcript of the video may be found below the video.
An Interview by Barbara Del Piano
February 16, 2018
BDP: This is Friday, the 16th of February, 2018. I’m Barbara Del Piano (BDP), a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club’s Historical Committee. One of our projects is to take oral histories of long-time members who have made valuable contributions to our Club. We are here in the Boardroom, and today it is my pleasure to interview Tay Perry (TWP). Good morning Tay.
TWP: Morning Barbara.
BDP: Thank you for being with us today. I know this is your second oral history interview, the previous one having been conducted in 2011. So, I won’t go into all the information, but I would like to get some basic summary of your background. I know you were born here in Hawaii, but when did the first members of your family arrived?
TWP: Both my mother and father were born in Honolulu. Their parents arrived in about 1870. As kids.
BDP: Where did they come from?
TWP: Well, I got two sides to my family. My father’s side came from The Azores and also the other island province.
BDP: Your mother?
TWP: Yeah, my grandfather was born in Boston and my grandmother was born in California.
BDP: That’s interesting.
TWP: Both in the late 1800s.
BDP: In what neighborhood did you grow up?
TWP: From the time I was born until the time I graduated from college, I lived in Lanikai.
BDP: I see. Where did you go to school?
TWP: I went to school for the first nine years at Kailua Elementary School and then transferred in the 10th grade to Punahou and graduated from there.
BDP: Do you have any siblings?
TWP: Yes. I have two brothers. One, two years younger than me is Colin Perry, former member of Outrigger. My youngest brother, Glenn Perry is still a member and he was a past president of Outrigger.
BDP: A past president of the Outrigger?
BDP: What year was that?
TWP: What year was he president? I’m afraid I can’t quite remember but it’s up on the wall there.
BDP: Why and when did you join the Outrigger?
TWP: I joined the Outrigger in 1955. It could have been 1956 because I wanted to paddle for Outrigger. I had been paddling for Lanikai. I had reasons that I needed to come to the Outrigger to not paddle for Lanikai anymore for a while.
BDP: Why is that?
TWP: My father was the coach and he was being accused of nepotism. So, he told me that … He basically kicked us out of Lanikai and sent us to Outrigger.
BDP: So, instead of paddling for Lanikai, you then paddled for Outrigger?
TWP: Outrigger, yeah.
BDP: How did you do competing against them?
TWP: We did quite well. We usually beat Outrigger in the races of our same age group.
BDP: You beat Outrigger?
TWP: No, excuse me. Outrigger beat Lanikai in our age group, our classification.
BDP: I understand that you resigned from the Club at some point?
TWP: Yes. Sometime, when I was about twenty, I can’t remember exactly when I resigned. It was when the Outrigger Club moved from its old location at Waikiki Beach to its present location here. I was newly married. I lived in Lanikai, and I was making very little money and I went back to paddle for Lanikai. Then, that was in the early 1960s. So, I decided to drop my Outrigger membership because I couldn’t … I was making about $100 a month. They had just raised my dues from junior member to associate. They went up about 300%. That was my motivating factor.
BDP: You did come back to the Outrigger?
TWP: Oh, definitely. I came back to the Outrigger in I believe 1988. I reinstated myself by paying all my back dues that would have been paid had I stayed. The reinstatement went through, and I didn’t have to pay a new initiation fee, which ironically was only about $300 more than my past back dues. Initiation fee when I came back was about $10,000 I believe, but I paid my back dues.
BDP: In your previous interview, you tell about your father teaching you to work on koa canoes and how it has become a passion with you. Do you still build and refurbish canoes?
TWP: I just finished my last racing canoe just in the beginning of this year, January 1, 2018.
BDP: Is that a canoe you built or refurbished?
TWP: It was a canoe that I built.
BDP: How long does it take to build a koa canoe?
TWP: I had kept track of my hours in that canoe. It was around 2,125 hours. It was over a period of ten years because I only do it part-time.
BDP: Oh, my heavens. That is a lot of time. How long does it take to just refurbish a canoe?
TWP: Depends on what the damage is. Termites, you have to replace a lot of the wood, or to remodel it. So, almost like building a new one.
BDP: Tell us the story of the Stephanie, the canoe that used to hang in the bar. Was that here or at the old Club?
TWP: When I first saw the Stephanie, it was in the old Hau Terrace at the old Club. It was I think not exactly on the Hau Terrace but in the bar adjacent to the Hau Terrace. Then, when the Club moved, they moved the Stephanie back to here and put it in our bar.
BDP: I see. What was the origin of the Stephanie?
TWP: My limited knowledge of it was a manager Mr. Henry DeGorog had purchased a bunch of canoes on behalf of the Club, and I think he got this one for himself. When he left management here, he gave (sold) it back to the Club. He bought I think several canoes at the time, which I don’t know the names of. The Stephanie, he gave the canoe the name Stephanie because that was his daughter’s name.
BDP: Oh, I see. When you’re working on a canoe, where do you actually do the work?
TWP: I’ve had about three different shops over the years, and I’m currently in transit right now because our shop now is being reclaimed by Harbors Division. They’re clearing all the tenants out in certain localities because they want to improve the harbor infrastructure, I guess. I don’t know exactly where I’m going but I’m going. I plan to be working on the Stephanie fairly quickly.
BDP: What needs to be done to the Stephanie?
TWP: Stephanie was totally restored in about … I’m bad on dates but it was right after the Ka Mo’i was installed, which I believe was 2002. The Stephanie was re-done at my shop. At that time, it was in Palolo at Bruce Ames’ property. We leased it to Outrigger Hotels and it was exhibited in the Wailea Beach Hotel at that hotel premises. It finally came back. We got it back about maybe five, six years ago. It was in the Outrigger Reef for a while. It has termite damage now and needs refinishing. It’s not a major overhaul, just a clean up some of the stuff. Our plans are to actually get it ready for the ocean and bring it back to Outrigger to use for Club events or appropriate events where a koa canoe would be the right thing to use.
BDP: Oh, isn’t that interesting? I know there’s a beautiful canoe in the lobby of the Outrigger Hotel on the beach. Do you have anything to do with that one?
TWP: Yeah. I own it. That was restored for a trip that we participated in, in France called Brest ’96. That was in 1996 and I participated in this large event in Brest. So, I restored it. I had that canoe in my yard in Kailua for quite a while, and I restored it, shipped it to France. We used it, sailed it in the Atlantic Ocean right off Brest. There’s a lot of details, but I think it’s difficult to go into them right now because I need to look at some of my … anyway, what happened with that canoe. We left it there for four years and also participated in Brest 2000, after which we shipped it back to Hawaii. I made a deal with Outrigger (hotels) to just lease it to them. I’ve leased it to them for the past twelve years at least.
BDP: Do you have canoes in any other hotels?
TWP: Yes. I have canoes in … One is going to be in the Outrigger headquarters, which is a small canoe named the Ilima. That used to belong to my uncle, which I restored and his family let me be the steward of it, and so I use it to raise … We use this to raise funds for The Friends of Hokule’a and Hawai’iloa, which are nonprofit that I’m a member and officer of. The Outrigger Reef has a canoe called the Kalele, which was made from a log, which had floated up on the shore. The hull is a wood called Light Red Meranti and the superstructure, the manu, the seats, everything else is koa. We do that to illustrate the fact that the Hawaiians, if they found a decent log that had washed ashore, they would not waste it, make a canoe out of it. So, you didn’t have to get all the canoes from the forest and haul them down, even though ninety-nine percent of them were that way.
BDP: Do you work with other people when you’re refurbishing, or repairing, or building a canoe?
TWP: Yes. Usually, I’m in charge and I get people to try to train them to do certain kinds of things and bring them up to their current potential to do some meaningful work. We use that as a way to teach young people to what we’re doing because we’re a dying breed canoe workers. Most of the canoe builders I know are above sixty-five and very few young people. Although, we do work with charter schools and they come in and we teach them what we do. Hopefully, they generate an interest and will come back and do that when they have the time.
BDP: So, you actually build canoes from scratch?
TWP: I’ve done five or six from scratch.
BDP: You start with simply a koa log?
TWP: Some of them, but the last one I did was a roughed out log. It was actually … Somebody had started to build out a canoe with it. They actually gave up on it because it was turning out to be really bad. So, I had to reconstruct the log and finish the canoe to be a competitive racing canoe. So yeah, sometimes the logs had been roughed out. Sometimes, they’ve been ruined and then we have to unruin them, which is easier to build them out of a perfect log.
BDP: I’m sure. Do either of your brothers work on canoes?
TWP: No, none.
BDP: Where and how do you get the koa log?
TWP: Usually in the past, I’ve been approached by someone who had a log and they wanted me to do something with it. So, I don’t go get the log. I have gone into the forest or into koa acreage and have cut trees that were in the process of dying or in the way of wires or something like that, and I have used the lumber from it to remodel or repair canoes. I’ve never gone up and cut down a log and brought it to where we work and made a canoe from scratch. The first canoe I ever did was a total log and every bit of it was cut with chainsaws and stuff like that. So, that was built from the actual log, but that was a long time ago. That was the first canoe that we did.
BDP: I see. You’ve paddled for both Outrigger and Lanikai?
TWP: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
BDP: Have you paddled for any other teams?
TWP: Oh, yeah. I think over the years I paddled for team called, Ko`olaupoko, Holomua. Then, I went to Lanikai. Sometime in the past next to Outrigger and then after Outrigger, I paddled for Hui Nalu for one year because I had built a canoe for them and wanted to paddle in that. Right now, I’m paddling for Keahiakahoe because they have a crew that at least is my age, which is seventy and over. Outrigger sometimes has, and I don’t know what I’m going to do this year because I’m eighty years old.
BDP: You are?
TWP: Eighty. So, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do this year, but my heart’s with Outrigger no matter who I’m paddling for.
BDP: You grew up in Lanikai. Do you still live there?
TWP: No. I live in beautiful downtown Honolulu at the corner of Beretania and Fort Street.
BDP: Really? Right in the middle of downtown. Do you currently coach or paddle?
TWP: I paddle. I’ve been paddling three times a week down at Sand Island.
BDP: For Keahiakahoe?
TWP: Yeah, for now. I’m tired of the Ala Wai.
BDP: The son of one of my high school classmates founded Keahiakahoe.
TWP: Who was that?
BDP: My classmate’s name was Dexter Dickson.
TWP: Yeah well, Dickson … His son is the president. He’s a nice guy. What’s his first name?
BDP: I’ve forgotten. I knew it once.
TWP: Yes. He is a very nice man.
BDP: Have you been associated with The Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation?
TWP: I was on their board for six years I think. I don’t recall the exact dates but it’s probably about twelve years ago or something like that.
BDP: You’ve been a member of the Outrigger Historical Committee for over twenty-four years, and you are currently chairman. What is your special attachment to the Historical Committee?
TWP: I don’t know. I’m interested in history. I’m interested in the Club’s history, and I’m interested in canoes. So, it seems like a natural thing to stay involved. My father was a member of Outrigger in the early 1900s, probably, 1920 for about … until he married my mother and moved to Lanikai. He was an Outrigger member.
BDP: I see. Are you working on any project on having to do with the history of our koa canoes?
TWP: I’m going to be working on the Stephanie, which is part of our historical heritage, I consider it an artifact that needs to be brought up to date. As far as research, I think I pretty well covered what’s available, but things every now and … Somebody’s memory comes up and they remember something. I don’t have a base of knowledge to go to for that. In fact, whatever is happening now, I guess, we are creating between members of my committee and myself. They say, “What about this canoe, or what about that canoe?” We look for it. The problem is most of the old koa canoes that the Club has had other than the ones that are racing are all defunct now. They’re not around anymore.
BDP: So, the Stephanie is actually the major project you’re working?
TWP: Right now, yes. That’s the project.
BDP: What other stories would you care to share with us about canoes or just the general history of the Club?
TWP: Well, I haven’t really prepared anything for that, but given a little time, I might come up with something. At this point is … One thing that the Club has done is they have gotten rid of some canoes that I don’t think that they should have gotten rid of like the canoe that my father raced in was Hanakeoki. They sold at probably twenty years or so ago. It’s now a really nice canoe. I’ve talked to the owner to see if they might be interested in selling it back to us. I don’t know exactly what we’d do with it, but that was our basically our first really racing canoe that the Club had.
Then also, there was a canoe that my father built called Paoa which was a racing canoe that we used maybe twenty years ago. The Club sold that canoe to another place. The canoe Paoa was named after Duke. It was a really nice racing canoe. We should not have sold it. In fact, if ever comes to a vote that we’re going to sell any koa canoes, I would say no.
BDP: They’re too hard to come by.
TWP: There’s an inelastic supply. The canoe that I just finished was probably worth $90,000 total. I didn’t make that much money but I make a decent amount by making it and selling it, and they brought me this log that they had given up on. After floods and all these mishaps after ten years, I was able to put in a couple of thousand hours and get it into a really nice canoe. I have pictures of it, which I could show you. The Club should never sell our koa canoes period. Sell the fiberglass one, no problem because the fiberglass canoe it takes maybe ten days to produce. Koa canoe … I don’t know. I’ve never worked full time on it. I don’t know how long with the period of time would be. It says there how many hours can I put on it.
BDP: Wow. I know at the Annual Meeting on February 12, you were elected to be a Life Member. How did that make you feel?
TWP: That made me feel very nice. I mean, it’s probably one of the highlights of my Outrigger existence. I felt very honored by it.
BDP: Yes. It is the highest honor that the Club bestows.
TWP: That’s one of the big events of my life actually.
BDP: That’s wonderful. What do you think the future holds for the Outrigger Canoe Club on this leasehold property?
TWP: Well, the lease is for fifty years and I’m not going to be around when it expires, but so far, the Outrigger has done what it’s done. It’s always come out on its feet and with the quality of people that we have running the Club, I believe that we will be well-taken care of no matter what our final destination of Club premises is.
BDP: Tay, how do you feel about selling the Aina Haina property?
TWP: Well, I think that … As I said earlier, I’m ambivalent on that subject because although I don’t think it was a good choice to buy the property for the location of a Club premises due to the zoning limitations that would occur, and especially having Outrigger try to get a permit to put a private club on that particular residential location would be difficult, if not almost impossible. On the other hand, I would say that real estate is usually a good place for a long term investment and the real estate market through my life in Hawaii is going up, and up, and up. Sometimes, it goes down temporarily but it always ends up going back up. In the future if we still had it, we could probably sell it for a lot more profit. As far as I know, the whole transaction was a net loss even though the price it was sold for is the same price it was bought for because there’s all the costs of maintaining it, plus the interests and everything on the loan that was taken to buy it added to the cost. Fortunately, we didn’t lose too much money on it, but I don’t know where they’re putting the funds for our reserves where they will grow properly. So, difficult question for me.
BDP: Yes, for everyone. Well, in addition to your 2011 oral history, hopefully we’ve covered about everything. Do you have anything else?
TWP: No, that’s all I can think of now. Later on, if I have questions, I’d rather operate off of questions or they are like about specific things.
BDP: Tay, thank you so much for being with us here today in sharing your amazing stories of koa canoes. This would be a most interesting addition to our archives.
2018 Life Membership
Service to the Outrigger Canoe Club
Judges of Election Committee
Canoe Racing Committee
Beach and Water Safety Committee
Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation Board of Directors
OCC Athletic Accomplishments
Hawaii Canoe Racing Association Championships
1991 Senior Masters
1992 Senior Masters
1996 Golden Masters
1998 Masters 55
2008 Masters 60
Outrigger Molokai Hoe Races
1990 3rd, Men 45
1991 3rd, Men 45
1992 4th, Men 45
1999 6th, Men 45
2008 Coach, Men 55, 4th
2009 2nd, Men 60
Macfarlane Regatta Wins
1995 Masters 45
2001 Masters 55
2002 Masters 55
2005 Masters 55 (Lanikai)
2006 Masters 60 (Lanikai)
2011 Masters 65
2012 Masters 65
Na Wahine O Ke Kai
1990 Coach of 1st Place, OCC Masters