This oral history interview is a project of the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The legal rights to 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
September 9, 1993
JWR: I am Ward Russell (JWR), a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club’s Historical Committee. For sometime our Committee has been conducting oral interviews of prominent members of our Club. Today, it is my pleasure to interview Thad Ekstrand (TWE). Thad is a long time member and past president of the Outrigger Canoe Club. We are in the Boardroom of the Club on a beautiful Hawaiian afternoon. Thad, aloha. It’s nice to have you with us today.
TWE: I am very happy to be here, Ward.
JWR: First, I am going to ask about you and your family background. Tell me . . . When were you born and where?
TWE: I was born in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii at 1920 Young Street, on November 20, 1920. My dad (Elton Wight Ekstrand) came here when he was a young lad from Chicago and went to school at Punahou, in the Class of 1912. He then went to work for Theo. H. Davies. He met my mother, Mabel Ross, over here who was teaching school from California. They got married and consequently here I am! I also have an older sister, June (Snyder) and a twin sister, Elizabeth Ann (Thompson). Pat and I have one daughter, Gina Louise (Whitney).
I have a large background over here of school teachers – My aunts and my grandmothers all taught school here. Great-grandfather, Walter Carruthers, came over on the Oregon Trail and worked in the gold fields of California. He came to Honolulu as a young man and invented the sugar extractor which he presented to King Kalakaua’s privy to use in the . . . to extract sugar from sugar cane fields over here, which I believe is probably still used.
JWR: That’s interesting.
TWE: He was quite a character. He wrote a journal on his Oregon Trail – he cut off the Oregon Trail and went down south more towards California into the gold fields instead of going on to Oregon.
JWR: You said your father was in the Class of 1912?
TWE: Yes. Punahou.
JWR: You know he was probably in the same class as one of my uncles. My mother was the Class of 1905.
TWE: I think he was in the same class as Cline Mann’s mother, too.
JWR: Oh, really? That’s interesting. Where did you go to school?
TWE: I went to school at Roosevelt High School and that was the extent of my schooling. I originally joined the Club in 1930 and Duke Kahanamoku was my sponsor.
JWR: Oh, Duke sponsored you?
TWE: My uncle, John Whitenack, who worked for Lewers and Cooke, met Duke and asked him on my tenth birthday if he would sponsor me into the Club. Consequently, Duke was not only my sponsor, but just like a father figure to me and my coach. He coached me in paddling and many other things about the Outrigger Canoe Club.
JWR: I know you were one of “Duke’s boys.”
TWE: I was one of “Duke’s boys.”
JWR: In your high school years, did you do any athletics – paddling?
TWE: Not really. I was basically a fairly small young, skinny kid at that time and I was really too skinny to get into any athletics until later on when I joined the Club. The Club got me into volleyball, canoe paddling and surfing. The Club was where I started my athletics, not in high school.
JWR: You really blossomed.
TWE: That’s when I blossomed.
JWR: Tell me about your early years at the Club. You said you started in 1930.
TWE: Yes 1930 – as I recollect. You know I have very fond memories. The kitchen was on the first floor with the old gas ovens and we used to come in the evenings with my Dad and Mother. She would prepare dinner here and we’d sit out in the old pavilion with wicker chairs and rockers. We’d sit out there and watch the surf and the sunset. It was really a wonderful time.
JWR: I’ve had a couple of interviews with the members who recall the early days in the twenties and thirties as junior members. It seems to be the consensus that junior members were seen but not heard as far as the older members were concerned.
TWE: That was very, very true. If we were able to get on the volleyball courts at all, we were lucky. For a kid to get over on the small court or something like that, you know they’d chase us off. It was the same way in the surf, you know, until you really learned how to surf. All the old beach boys would chase you off – ‘Oh, don’t come near the water until you learn how to surf.’ We learned to surf in what they called “Baby Surf” in those days.
JWR: When was that?
TWE: That was in the thirties, early thirties.
JWR: Where was “Baby Surf?”
TWE: “Baby Surf” (aka Cornucopia surf) was inside the regular break in front of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. It was the second break inside of Canoes, where you could surf, but didn’t go outside in the big waves until you could stay out of the way of the good surfers.
JWR: What age were you when you got up the nerve to go out to the big surf? I was almost a teenager. As I say I started at ten, but before you could really get up (on the board) and get out with them in the surf, I was around twelve or fourteen years old. We started getting into the big surf and one had to prove oneself. Once you were accepted there by the others, it was OK. Tommy O’Brien, Tommy Arnott and Bob Bush were part of my old gang and we did a lot of board surfing and canoe surfing together. It was a remarkable time.
JWR: I know you were on a lot of canoe paddling crews because I’ve seen pictures of you. When did you start paddling?
TWE: The first big race for us was in 1943 with Duke. It was Arnott, Bush, Jimmy Fernie, myself, Jack Beaumont with Duke steering. We paddled in the first canoe race in the forties since the war. They still had the barbed wire up and everything. Of course, we won. We beat everybody in the four-mile race in those days.
JWR: Was that a senior crew?
TWE: Senior crew and we paddled in the canoe Leilani. It was a koa canoe. They didn’t have fiberglass canoes then. It was about four miles with three times around the buoy.
JWR: It was a real race.
TWE: It was a real race. It was a sprint all the way. We paddled against only about four crews the first year. It was a really tough one.
JWR: In those particular races did you finish parallel to the beach or was the finish line on the beach?
TWE: They finished all races on the beach in front of the old Outrigger Club. As we paddled in different years, they had different finishes. Sometimes it was straight in past the buoy, but usually it was around the buoy located just a few feet off the beach and you made a sprint parallel to the beach and past another buoy before you finished – that wasn’t too satisfactory.
JWR: Because you never could tell what kind of surf you would run into. I want to talk a little about your recollections of Alexander Hume “Pop” Ford.
TWE: “Pop” Ford used to come around the Club when we were young kids. This is in the thirties and early forties. I can’t remember when he died, but he was always there. He was always dressed up in a suit with a tie and we’d always get a kick because he’d have a white sock and a blue sock on and he’d have his right shoe on his left foot or vice versa. He was an eccentric old guy, always very nice to the kids. He always came up and talked with the children and the younger kids around the Club. We enjoyed it very much because he was a really neat old man. Just a nice guy.
He did a wonderful thing to get this Club started because he really dreamed of water sports, perpetuating water sports and making sure the kids were involved, not just the grown-ups. That was one of the main things I remember about “Pop” Ford.
JWR: OK. Thank you. Now, the war years.
TWE: The war years weren’t so bad. Just before the war the clubhouse was rebuilt. They tore down the old clubhouse and a lot of us had no place to go. There was no clubhouse or anything and many of us debated whether we’d drop out or what we would do. We had privileges to use the lockers over at the Moana Hotel where the Hui Nalu was. We’d use that facility and we got in arrears with the Club because we didn’t always pay our dues. Finally, when the new clubhouse was completed, we all got back in and naturally paid up our dues.
JWR: That was 1941, wasn’t it?
TWE: Yeah, it was around 1941 – just before the war. It worked out real good – the new clubhouse was just fine.
JWR: Do you remember some of the characters who were prominent – the beach boys, Club managers, the Club employees?
TWE: When I joined the Club old Lewis F. “Pop” Haehnlen was the manager and the dues for a junior member at that time were . . . I think the initiation fee was $10 and the dues were a dollar a month. The dance floor was on top of the men’s locker room overlooking Kalakaua Avenue, which was more or less a dirt street with streetcar (trolley) tracks. It was really a fine place. There were two volleyball courts with a small court. We had a lot of other things to exercise with. We had medicine balls. We even had boxing matches.
TWE: It was pretty horrendous boxing – if anyone had a disagreement with somebody, it was to put on the gloves . . . in the old days then.
JWR: No kidding!
TWE: Of course, “Willie” Whittle was around. The old boxing coach. Yeah, that’s right. “Willie” Whittle was there and there were a lot of old-timers there – I am trying to remember some of their names. I am looking around at the list here. There are not too many guys left here.
JWR: Were you involved in the establishment of the beach services at all?
TWE: No, but I know it was Bill Mullahey. He went on to Pam Am afterwards. Mullahey was one of the instigators in the formation of the beach services.
We had a fantastic snack shop at the old (pre-1941) Club. It was May’s Snack Shop and she served a scoop of rice for five cents, with ham gravy on it. If you had a quarter you’d get five scoops of rice, with a grape soda. That was the big thing in those days. We had a lot of fun with that, coming in after surfing for a few hours out in the surf. Coming in blue, cold and all wrinkled.
JWR: I remember “Sally” (Louis Salisbury) Hale.
TWE: “Sally” Hale was an old, old-timer He came in with Mullahey and became the beach captain for many, many years. There were a lot of the old beach boys. I knew just about all of them, but I can’t name them right off hand.
JWR: I think the book recently published (The Waikiki Beach Boys) that the first of . . .
TWE: That’s a wonderful book.
JWR: Tell me of your recollections of Duke.
TWE: Duke to us was just a tremendous figure. He took good care of us boys and he made us work. We had to rake the sand in the volleyball courts. We had to learn how to tie (lashings) up the canoes, and take proper care and use of the canoes. He didn’t like any horseplay and there was no swearing around him.
TWE: Duke never drank or smoked and we never drank or smoked around him. [Laugh] He was very strict about that. After paddling practice during canoe season, we’d have dinner together at the Club. Then we’d go across the street to the Waikiki Theater to a movie and Duke would be in the back row. We could hear him snoring all around the whole theater. [Laughter] He was just a super guy.
JWR: Let’s see if I can remember — Gay Harris . . .
TWE: Gay Harris I knew very well. He was around the Club, a good athlete in his younger days along with George David “Dad” Center and many others. I brought an old roster here – I could probably read off a few names of some of the guys I knew. It was the last Outrigger Canoe Club, 1943, where we use to list the names of all the members. It has the Regular and the Life Members and this is where I could check up as to who was and who wasn’t a member.
JWR: Who were Life Members at that time?
TWE: A Life Member was old (Ernest Tucker) Chase. He and (Jack) Mackenzie; and then Honorary Life Members – Henry Ashe, Reynolds Burkland, Mrs. (Helen Moses) Cassiday, George David “Dad” Center, Clarence “Buster” Crabbe, Joseph Rider Farrington, Alexander Hume Ford – the guy who organized the Club, Mrs. Forest, A. Gay Harris, William W. Harris, Mariechen Wehselau Jackson and Duke Kahanamoku were all Life Members at that time in 1943.
Then we had Term Memberships and Sustaining Memberships, Island, Special and Regular Memberships. They had quite a few different membership categories in those days.
JWR: I am going to ask a favor of you. I don’t think the Club has in its historical records a copy of that.
TWE: I gave a copy of this to Ruby (Yabiku) in the office. She copied this listing and so they do have it. They had Associate, Junior and Service memberships in those days. They also had Service Nonresident, and they had members who were prorated, et cetera, et cetera. Bond holders and a Junior in the Service.
JWR: That’s interesting. Now the membership is so big, so huge, you can’t put out a book like this any more.
I want to go back to your early surfing. What kind of board did you first start to surf with?
TWE: My first board was a solid redwood plank, it was heavy and it was hard to bring back in across the breach. You’d drag it . . [Laugh]
JWR: Where did you get it?
TWE: I bought it here from someone at the Club at that time. They had a lot of boards around and people were always buying and selling surfboards, moving up to a larger size or a different type, and this one was for sale. Shortly thereafter they started coming in with the balsa and the balsa-redwood (Tom Blake) boards. They didn’t have fiberglass in those days and one would just varnish them. With the slightest “nick” you would have a waterlogged boat. They would have to be dried out and it seemed that every time that would happen the big waves would come in. Very frustrating. [Laugh]
Then the hollow boards came into vogue and from thereon, the technology became better.
My God, those boards weighed 90 to 100 pounds. We didn’t have transportation and no one surfed on the North Shore in those days. It was all off Waikiki Beach.
JWR: That takes us up to the war years. Did you spend much time at the Club during the war years?
TWE: Yes. I was in the service for two-and-a-half years in the Army. Before that I was with the Army Transport Service as a crew member on a little 90-foot sampan, the Yamada Maru. It was the flagship of the old Hawaiian Tuna Packers fleet. The Army had turned it into a little cargo boat between the Islands and I crewed on that. It had a little 50-caliber machine gun. We received hazardous duty pay as soon as we left the harbor. We’d go to Maui, Molokai and Lanai and back for military purposes. That’s what I did mostly, then when the war retreated, they took me out of there and put me on active duty. My basic training was at Schofield and then a Colonel Schum saw me in uniform one day and he laughed and the next day I was in the Military Police. This probably saved my life because I didn’t get sent to the South Pacific where all my battalion went that I’d trained with. There were about three or four of us who were kept back here because we were local boys and they had martial law. So that’s how I lucked out.
JWR: I remember Col. Steer, the Provost Marshal.
TWE: Oh, Colonel Steer I remember very well. In fact, I dated his daughter, Beverly.
JWR: Oh, really?
TWE: She’s now married to a very nice guy, Clinton Ashford.
JWR: Tell me about your wife.
TWE: My wife, Pat, I met one summer evening over here at the Outrigger. I was playing volleyball about seven o’clock in the evening with Tommy O’Brien and a couple of others. A group of gals came into the Club- a group of good-looking (“Coeds”) girls and they were from some tour from the mainland and were going to summer classes at the University of Hawaii. We asked them if they wanted to play. No, they didn’t want to play and eventually they disappeared.
We finished playing, took a shower and went up to the bar upstairs in the Outrigger and there were the girls. We bought them a drink and eventually took them home. I made a date with this one girl who was Pat Anthony – no relation to the Pat Anthony locally. It was a different Pat Anthony and when we got engaged and it was announced that I was marrying Pat Anthony there was quite an uproar around here. [Laughter]
JWR: They mistook her for Pat Anthony, Garner Anthony’s daughter?
TWE: What’s the difference, she was a very lovely lady, too, she was completely different. That’s how I met Pat and I knew her for about six weeks while she was here then she left on the Lurline. I had proposed and she turned me down. She got over to the mainland and wrote me a letter to say “Yes.” So actually I only knew her for six weeks and we’ve been married now for forty-two years.
JWR: Oh, for heaven’s sake. Forty-two years.
TWE: It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me, I can tell you.
JWR: You are retired now.
TWE: I am retired from the National Biscuit Co. “Nabisco”. After thirty-seven years, I am just enjoying life.
JWR: I know you spent a lot of time doing things for the Club You were on a number of committees. Can you recall which committees you served on?
TWE: I think I’ve been on just about every committee, including the Long Range. Most of my years outside of the Board were on the Admissions Committee. Many, many years on the Admissions Committee. I’ve been chair of the Admissions. I was on the Athetic Committee. I was at one time on the House Committee – I think, most of them at one time or another.
JWR: Did you serve as Vice President or President?
TWE: I was on the board of Directors and I served as Vice President and then I went up to President (1972-72). I followed Don Avery who was President and I served as President when he went out and of course I had Tom Haine and “Rab” Guild.
JWR: I worked for Don’s father at the Phone Company.
TWE: Don was an old, old friend, too – a very good friend of mine.
JWR: You know, you must had had some interesting experiences during the years of your membership. Can you think of any that would be able to tell me, shall we say? [Laugh]
TWE: Well, off hand, I can’t think of . . . I don’t want to tell any tales out of school. All of my experiences were with other boys around here – the guys and gals. Neil Ifversen, of course, is a very good friend of mine and he was a real rascal in his younger day – probably still is . . .
JWR: I think he is.
TWE: He had a way of getting into trouble.
JWR: Wasn’t he responsible for a platform that you used to have off the beach?
TWE: Well, Neil Ifversen, myself and Tommy Arnott and I think Bob Bush were basically responsible. What we did for a time out there was that we built a platform and we lashed two canoes together. We took the outriggers off and we put on about a ten-foot square platform. We took the canoes out at night in the bay in front of the Royal and the Outrigger. We’d take one of those big milk containers full of Anzai’s Banzai along with a couple of guys with guitars and ukuleles. We had a small two-man canoe as a ferry back and forth. We anchored out there, just outside the surf line, it must have been a couple of hundred feet offshore and just party. It got to be quite popular, in fact there was a . . . We had a couple of movie stars – I can’t remember their names who came out and joined us and the beach boys. It came to be a pretty popular thing for a couple of summers – one summer in particular.
JWR: There were stories about it.
TWE: Yeah, it was pretty wild at times and finally I guess the Club and the hotels put the kibosh on it. We were making too much noise or something. What we used to do was we would sneak up in our younger days up to the roof of the Royal and we’d turn the spotlights on to the surf to suit us. So we could see the surf or light up our canoes and the platform. The security guards would chase us around the place. We had a lot of fun – we didn’t do anything bad, criminal or anything like that, just kind of rascally things.
JWR: Really? Did somebody tell me once something about locking “Del” (Delicano Estanislao, the dining room waiter) in a closet – he was nipping or something?
TWE: I remember the incident but I wasn’t involved. Yeah, Del . . We had some wonderful waiters and wonderful help here at the Club. “Maxie” (Masimillius Fertus) the matre’d who was head of the dining room and Richard . . . who worked in the snack bar.
JWR: That did the dancing . . .
TWE: That did the dancing kind of questionable . . [Laughter]
TWE: No, Anzai was the bartender. Anzai goes way back. He was strict with the kids, too. You know, the kids couldn’t get a (alcoholic) drink from him for love nor money.
The Hau Terrace and the parties we had there with the beach boys that came in to have a good time and play music. In fact Waltah Clarke recorded one time over there all the beach boys, and the tape is in our little shop (The Logo Shop) where you can buy it and hear all the old boys who played there.
JWR: I remember that. Do you remember any of the personalities, celebrities, who visited the Club?
TWE: I can remember a lot of them. I met Clark Gable through Duke. Quite a few movie actors in those days came through here – Jimmy Stewart was pretty much of a regular; we met David Niven. Took him canoeing. In fact, he liked to to go out with the beach boys and he’d go second captain many times. There were quite a few – I’d have to look around and write down a few of the names of some of those fellows because I knew a lot of them.
JWR: We could put it in the record later on.
TWE: Put in the record later on. There were a lot of them: Alan Ladd, a little guy and his family. I was at the Hau Terrace and we were playing music with Chris Cusack – he taught us a drinking song called “Cardinal Puff”. We were playing with Arnott, O’Brien, Bush and myself and a few others – Chris Cusack and this comedian, Joe E. Brown, a well-known comedian was with us at the same time and he got the news that his son had been killed in the South Pacific. It was a real tragedy; he was a neat guy. He was the guy with the big mouth, a very funny guy.
We got to know people like Admiral Halsey very well. He joined in a lot of our parties and we took him canoeing. He’d join with us and bring a couple of Navy nurses along and we just had some wonderful times with the Navy. Of course, we had some pretty good parties, blackout parties, during the war and some of them, I guess, shouldn’t be mentioned, but they were fun anyhow.
JWR: What was your attitude, or your thoughts, concerning the move to our present location?
TWE: I’ll tell you I was like a lot of people . . . At that time most of us weren’t too favorable, but we kind of knew that something was happening. We were still pretty young in those days and we were not involved in the running of the Club, but I remember going to Les Hicks because I knew him pretty well. I had worked for Hawaiian Electric. I had worked for him and he was at that time, I think he was President or had been President of the Club and was in charge of long range planning. He told me that if we stayed at the old site we would eventually lose the Club and it would no longer be the Outrigger, but a club taken over by somebody else – and you know who. So it was then that I joined his team – he was a pretty sharp guy and knew more than I did. So I listened to him and we all decided that this would be the place and we came down here and looked it over. I used to bring my wife and my baby daughter here and we’d barbecue on the wall by the Elks Club. The Club had a couple of apartments and we’d watch the sunset. I studied the water and I thought, “Gee, this would make a good place here.”
I was very thrilled when they finally decided to make the move and I know that there was very strong opposition by a group. I know that “Marty” Martin Anderson was one of them, very strong against moving the Club here, but in the long run. A lot of people quit the Club and joined the old Uluniu Club which originally was an offshoot of the women’s side of the Club. After we were here for about a year, all of a sudden all of those people started wanting to come back into the Club when they finally saw what it really was and how wonderful it was. So we gave them the chance to come back into the Club, some of them I guess without any initiation fee. It was very reasonable. I think most of them came back who were interested in the Club.
JWR: When you look at the number of people who are on the waiting list today it’s a test of how successful we’ve been in this location.
TWE: Yes, it’s probably one of the most successful clubs in the whole United States, maybe the world. I’ve talked to people on our auditing team – what’s the name of it, you know the people who come in and audit us every year. When I was President they told me they were amazed. Clubs were dropping off right and left all over. You really have to have a purpose to have a club. You can start a club, but if you don’t have a really good purpose for it, a good reason, it is not going to last.
JWR: What year were you President?
JWR: 1971, that was when we really began to . . . Anything particularly of note that occurred during your presidency that you can think of?
TWE: Well, that was the year we put out the Outrigger book. [Laugh] We had a lot of problems with that – some people didn’t want it, but we took it to the membership at the Annual Meeting and the membership voted for it, the majority. We adopted it and that meant that every member had to buy a book. There were a few people who were kind of obstinate about it, but I thought it was a good idea.
JWR: Twenty-two years ago.
TWE: Yes, that was quite a while ago.
JWR: About time we should think of updating it.
TWE: I think it would be a very good idea.
JWR: It came up at the Historical Committee last year and they were thinking of the 25th Anniversary.
TWE: Of the new Club? I think that would be a very good idea.
JWR: 25th. No, it would be the 30th Anniversary because the 25th had already passed.
TWE: Yes, I think so. The 30th would sound right. In 1962 we moved here.
TWE: 1964. OK. That was a great move and I just wish that something could happen that we could buy this piece of property. I think the only way we will ever do it is to really shock the Elks Club with a larger amount of money. Really go out and offer to pay a lot more than it is worth. The only other way is to infiltrate them (membership-wise). [Laugh}
JWR: Have you been on any of the committees that were involved with the Elks Club?
TWE: It was quite a while ago. I was on one of the long range committees when I was President. We used to invite their Board and their officers over for a cocktail party and then they’d invite us over there. We did this several times, but nothing ever came of it. For some reason or other I never could figure out why they were unhappy with us, because we did them more favors than they ever did us . . . We put them back in business – they were really out of business prior to the Outrigger.
JWR: Absolutely. They didn’t have the money to build their club and we made it possible for them to do that.
TWE: For some reason or other when you help somebody like that they resent it. They take your money, but they resent it.
JWR: Well, we are working towards it. I think the monthly assessment that goes into the building fund – or rather the initiation fees . . .
TWE: The initiation fees basically were set aside for long range and the building fund.
JWR: Well, can you think of any anecdotes or reminisce?
TWE: There’s a million of them. They only way you could get something as that is to get two or three people and sit them down and start “talking stories” and then one person gives something that wakes up the other guy and it goes back and forth and pretty soon you bring out all kinds of things.
JWR: I’ll tell you what. After today’s interview is over, anything you want to add, any particular incidents that you’d like to have included in the oral history, don’t hesitate to put them down on paper. Give me a call and we can continue – we can make an addendum anytime you want.
TWE: There are so many old-time parties at the old Club you know, and the fun we had at the old Club it is just hard to . . Stories about the beach boys and the old kitchen and everything.
JWR: I am going to ask you just one other question. When you think about the past, and now about the present, are you happy with the new Club?
TWE: I am very happy with the new Club. There are a few areas that some of the Boards have gone into that I question, but as a whole, times change. One of the things I brought up to the membership when I left as the President was that there are going to be a lot of changes and we had to change with it. You know you can’t fight it, so make the best of it and try to guide it as best you can. Sure as heaven has little apples you are going to get change.
JWR: Well, Thad shall we leave it at that?
TWE: OK Ward. I’ll try to think of some more things, some good stories.
JWR: They’ll come to you.