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.
Part 1 can be found here
An Interview by Marilyn Kali
November 2, 2018
MK: Today is Friday, November 2nd, 2018. We’re in the Board Room at the Outrigger Canoe Club and I’m Marilyn Kali (MK), a member of the Club’s Historical Committee. One of the Historical Committee’s projects is to do oral histories of longtime members and today it’s my pleasure to be talking to one of the Club’s great watermen and past President’s, Walter Guild (WFG). Good morning Walter.
WFG: Good morning.
MK: There were so many things we wanted to ask you that we’re doing two interviews today. In part one we asked you about your life and times at the Club and in this second part we want to ask you about your involvement with the Club’s canoes and equipment, the development of the OC1 and OHCRA and HCRA racing rules.
Over the years you’ve become the go-to man on the Club’s Koa canoes. In fact, you head the Club’s Koa Canoe Committee. How did you first become involved with the canoes and the Koa’s especially and what does the Koa Canoe Committee do?
WFG: Well I, at a very young age, was interested in the Koa boats back into the early 1970s when the membership really were the ones that did the work, the patching, the refinishing, the preparation for each season, sanding, varnishing, all the things that went on in maintaining the canoes. I, along with Mike Mason and other members at the time and under the guidance of Mark Buck and Tommy Conner and Brant Ackerman, also Wayne Faulkner, who was working here at the time, who developed his skills.
We all chipped in on what was going on during that period of time. In my early years it was the period of time that the canoe designs began to change, so the rethinking and the reconfiguring of boats was contemplated, not an easy thing at first, because for decades those boats had been raced and were successful just as they were. As my father would say, “They worked fine when we raced them. Why do you need to tinker with them?” It was a difficult time, but also very exciting and that sparked my interest in how they worked and how they could be improved.
MK: What does the Koa Canoe Committee do?
WFG: The Koa Canoe Committee has been charged, over the years, as we redeveloped and redesigned our Koa boats, with taking the older boats and really making the recommendation of whether or not it was the time. We had the resources to redesign a boat and to take one of our older boats, like the Kakina or the Leilani, for instance that were built in 1933, and make the decision to drastically change their design is not something that was taken lightly. I actually was apprehensive of doing that in some cases.
That group of designers and people that had an interest in the boats would make a decision and plot a course as to the time frame, the shape, the design, the appropriate things that needed to be done when a project like that would be undertaken. That committee does go all the way back to the early 1980s when it became obvious that our Koa boats were not as competitive as some of the newer boats that were being built at the time. We were racing our boats that were from the 1930s against boats that were now being built in the 1980s under more modern circumstances. We actually decided to build new boats as well as look into updating our older ones.
MK: Who else serves on this committee?
WFG: Over the years it’s changed. Primarily the core of the committee as the bulk of the work was done was by Domie Gose, Joe Quigg, Tay Perry and myself. That’s been the core group.
MK: The two oldest canoes that the Club has are the Leilani and Kakina. Dad Center purchased them in 1936 on the Big Island along with the sister canoe, the Malia. I just found a recent article that said that when the canoes came Outrigger was only going to buy one and they left the canoes sitting on the beach in hopes that somebody else would want to buy the other two. At some point Outrigger changed its mind and decided to buy two canoes. The next day, after the canoes had been sitting on the beach, they decided to have a race. There were three canoe clubs.
There was the Outrigger and Hui Nalu and the Beach Patrol. They decided to race those canoes and each take a turn so they could all try them out and see which one was the best. One canoe won all of the races. We don’t know which one it was. They had some comments about it. It was described as “long, low and sleek with sweeping lines that appeared to scarcely touch the water as she flicked the spray easily from her bow”. What canoe, which one of them do you think it was?
WFG: I would guess that it was the Malia, because that boat was considered … it evolved, but that boat was considered the most pure design. I think that’s why Dad kept that boat for himself. I think out of the other two, just based on what I’ve heard from my father and that generation, the Leilani was considered the finer of the two boats. The Kakina was more thought of as the practice boat over the years. It may have been the Leilani.
MK: Well, when you look at the picture of the three of them sitting on the beach the Leilani and the Kakina have the same shape and design with the back coming up and the front coming up like they still have today. The Malia didn’t have that. I’ve been wondering ever since which one of the three it could possibly be, because when they’re sitting on the beach they don’t have names on them yet. I just thought that was a really interesting thing. We’ll never know which one it was.
WFG: That’s too bad.
MK: I wish there was a way to find that out.
WFG: I do too.
MK: Let’s talk about the Leilani first. For a lot of people at Outrigger that’s their favorite of the Koa’s. She was severely damaged in the 1966 Molokai and had to be brought in, in pieces. Had she ever been remodeled before that?
WFG: I don’t believe so. Not anything major. Just maintenance with patching and things.
MK: What had to be done to her back in 1966 to get her back?
WFG: Well, in 1966 she was very severely damaged. Swamped during the race and they didn’t have a way to get the boat out (of the water). They tried to tow it and it ended up breaking the ends of the boat off. There’s a wonderful picture, I don’t know if it’s in the archives, of the hull, the broken hull down the center of the escort boat, which was a big fishing boat. As Cline Mann recited to me on that day, “The swells were so big that as the boat would get down in the trough the end of the Leilani would actually be floating on the swell that was chasing the boat. I’ve seen pictures over the years of that whole thing going on, but it was quite a heartbreaker. It was a major reconstruction. If I’m correct I think the Perry family with Tay Perry’s father George, who did most of the work for the Club at that time on the boats, helped put that boat back together. They may have made some minor changes to it at that point, but it was intended to put it back into its original shape as much as possible.
MK: Then was it remodeled after that?
WFG: It was remodeled in the early 1970s, again, George and Tay Perry were contracted by the Outrigger under the guidance of our senior crew at the time, which was Mark Buck and Tom Conner and Marshall Rosa and Brant Ackerman in that era. They made some changes primarily to the bow of the boat to widen it. It was a very, very narrow gunnel, very difficult to sit in. They were beginning to fool around with hull designs and that sort of thing. They ended up widening the boat quite a bit. I don’t think it was as successful a renovation as everybody had hoped, but they were a very strong and successful crew and the Leilani won races as a result, so it went on.
MK: Then for a while it sat. We used it and then it sat in the warehouse for a number of years.
MK: When did the committee decide to do something else to it?
WFG: In the early 1980s we contracted Sonny Bradley to do some modifications to the boat. He improved it. He redid the bow again and took out … there was a big wide flat entry line on it. He modified that and made it a little sharper where it entered the water. We changed the rocker in it, bent the boat a little bit at that point. Then very shortly following that Joe Quigg did some additional work to it, which was probably the biggest improvement made to the boat. It came out of Joe’s modifications in 1982. 1981, 1982 is when those modifications were taking on. Then in 1983 we raced it and won the Molokai race and then it again won in 1984 and set a record. That was really when the boat was in its prime under those design era there.
MK: Then again after the Kaoloa was built it sat again.
WFG: Correct, yes.
MK: Then in 2015 you brought it out of storage and updated it again. What was done during that period?
WFG: That was a complete modern renovation to the boat. Domie (Gose) really was the impetus behind that. He said he had the energy and the understanding and certainly the skill. We all knew that. We discussed it as a committee and Joe gave his input and blessing and involvement and did much of the design criteria. We tried to model it after some of the modern fiberglass boats that were being very successful. Domie really took the lead on that. That became his boat.
MK: Oh yes.
WFG: He did a wonderful job. It’s turned out spectacular.
MK: Is it finished?
WFG: Hard to say. We don’t take modifying those boats lightly. I hope it’s finished. I would really like for these boats to remain as they are and not have to be modified. I think they’re all in a very good place. All three of our Koa boats have now been brought up to a modern era where they’re competitive and have their own specific strengths. I’m hoping that we’re looking at those three boats in their form for many years to come.
MK: What’s the Leilani’s strength?
WFG: Well, it’s a good all-around boat for regattas. It’s a larger boat for bigger crews. It does very well in rougher conditions, certainly. It’s our best Molokai Channel Koa boat at this point. It’s the most competitive. It really is competitive with the modern fiberglass boats. If one of our crews felt that they would want to race it they would be very competitive in it. It’s proven that, of course. I would say bigger conditions, bigger crews. That’s probably its strength.
MK: How much of the original canoe do you think is still left?
WFG: A few feet in pieces here and there. Not necessarily from this last modification, although there’s a lot of new wood there, but just over the years with patching and rot areas and cracks and things like that, primarily the Kakina and Leilani have lost a lot of their original wood.
MK: Are we going to keep using the Leilani?
WFG: Oh yes.
MK: We’re using her in regattas now.
WFG: That’s correct, yes.
MK: She also was in the Molokai this year.
WFG: Mm-hmm (affirmative), several years.
MK: The men and women raced her. We’ll continue to see lots of action.
WFG: I think so. I hope so. I think there’s a lot of pride in racing that. With the competitive level of the Molokai races, to have a subdivision that has that much meaning, that we can be competitive, not many clubs will put their boats out there in the Channel. This Club’s been consistently dedicated to entering a Koa boat. I hope that continues on and the rewards come.
MK: Well, the Leilani’s been raced across the Kaiwi Channel 19 times by the men and five times by the women and has won five Molokai championships. Four for the men and one for the women.
MK: What makes her so special?
WFG: Well, certainly because she’s one of those three original boats and the history of the Outrigger Canoe Club and its success, there’s certain boats that have created a mystique or a legend for themselves. The Leilani has that. She has spanned so many decades of racing now. Even the Malia, which was considered the premiere boat of its era, is no longer raced. I’m glad, just for the historical purpose, it was never modified to the modern design criteria. It’s left in its original historic shape, so not likely to see that. I think she carries a lot of spiritual historical feel to it.
WFG: A lot of mana.
MK: Tell me about the Kakina.
WFG: Kakina was always a little sister to the Leilani. At least when I grew up the Leilani was modified, turned into the bigger boat, the open ocean boat. The Kakina was a very small boat, as all of those were originally, 38 feet long. The new boats now being 45 feet or slightly under that. All three Koa boats today are that long. It was a low draft, low volume boat, great for the kids when they were racing the boat when I was young. It was our preferred boat. Leilani was too big for us, and for the big guys so to speak. It turned easy, it accelerated easy. You could get it into rough conditions and control it if you were a small crew. It was always thought of as the little sister to the Leilani when I grew up.
MK: Well, she’s been damaged and repaired a number of times as well. What has been done to her?
WFG: Well, under the guidance of, at the time, Bill Danford really took the project of updating the Kakina with Domie and also Joe Quigg involved with design on that. Actually, the whole committee was involved. That’s one of the examples of when I was apprehensive about that boat being modified, because it was the closest thing to the original design that we have. The Leilani had been modified a number of times throughout the years. When we got into the late 1990s and were talking about modifying the Kakina I personally felt that we may want to just leave it and hang it in the bar and be able to always look at it the way Waikiki Surf Club looks at the Malia. This is what we used to race in. Domie, in looking at the boats, without having access to logs and things that you would normally build a new boat from, we really had considered those two boats, after the Kaoloa had been built, as our log bank.
If something had ever happened to the Kaoloa we could take one of those boats and modernize it and still have a Koa boat. To bring it up into the modern era made sense anyway. We, as a group, decided it was the right thing to do. Again, all of the parties agreed that it could be done relatively efficiently. Domie came up with a plan, a way to do it. At the time there were a couple of competing fiberglass designs that were at the top of the sport. We took measurements off of everything available and then took some of our own input and tried to make it into a blend of all of those.
MK: Are we talking about a Bradley?
WFG: A Bradley, a Mirage, a Force 5. The things that were racing at the time. We tried to pick the best things out of all of those and put them into one Koa canoe. That’s probably the biggest difference between the Kakina and the Leilani, is the Kakina was a little more of a composite thought process. The Leilani was just a stand alone, built her as a single design.
MK: After it was upgraded we haven’t used it. We used it during the time that the Leilani was being redone. Now the Kakina hangs in storage. Why aren’t we using her?
WFG: Well, at the same time, or in that same period of time, we also were making small modifications to the Kaoloa. The Kaoloa was a very specific boat when it was originally built. It was a full length, 45 feet and very narrow. It was difficult for all crews to use. Consequently we made some modifications to it. Joe did initial modifications to widen it a little bit. Then Domie had done some more widening it again, and then changing the rocker to make it a better regatta boat. Not necessarily a Molokai racing boat.
We tried to make the Kakina into a boat that would be a good regatta boat to balance that and something that would be better to be used in the Channel. As it turned out we leap frogged the Kakina a bit with the design of the Leilani. I think everybody agrees that the Kakina is still a great boat, a great regatta boat. It’s a little more difficult to steer in open ocean conditions. It’s just a nature of the technical side of the design of it. Primarily in the stern and the balance of the boat. The other two boats get more preferred treatment, because they’re a little easier boat to paddle and navigate and work with. Kakina is still a competitive boat, but I think we’ve designed past it slightly with the Kaoloa and the Leilani being the balance. She sits in the middle of the two.
MK: Is it a boat we’re going to use again?
WFG: I think so. Again, we’re what we would call log banked. Keep in mind, at any given time one, two or three of those Koa boats can be on a trailer on the H1 freeway and it could all go wrong, or on a shipping platform going to Molokai or anything. The intent of our generation and that design committee was to bring the three Koa boats up to the point where we could leave them with the Club and the Club knew that they had competitive Koa boats.
They wouldn’t have to go through the exercise of having an older boat or an uncompetitive boat and now what do we do? One of the reasons that we did the Leilani when we did it was Domie said, “This will probably be the last project I do like this. If you want to modify the Leilani we need to do it now.” That’s why it was done when it was done. We really have more equipment than we need, but we had to take advantage of the resources we had with Domie and Joe.
MK: They weren’t getting any younger.
WFG: None of us are.
MK: The Kakina has been raced across the Kaiwi Channel 18 times by the men and 11 times by the women, more than the Leilani. It’s won Molokai five times. Three by the men and two by the women. They’ve got a tie on wins across the Channel. They’re better for different things you said. One isn’t better than the other per se.
WFG: I hate to call one better than the other, because everything’s a trade off in design. In certain aspects the Kaoloa is a better boat under certain circumstances. You could pick all three. It’s more, I think the win record and how those fall, was more when it happened historically. During the 1960s and into the early 1970s the Kakina was considered by our senior crew as the premier boat, which is ironic to look back at that little tiny boat and think about that. That’s when it won the bulk of its races. It was just a matter of how it fell in the historical time frame.
MK: Well, you’ve mentioned the Kaoloa. I know you’ve been involved with that since the start. Tell me a little bit about the Kaoloa.
WFG: Well, that’s a modern era boat that many of us had the opportunity be a part of it, that are still around. We look at the Kakina and Leilani and the story of them sitting on the beach at Waikiki and none of us were there for that. Kaoloa is obviously a very special thing. It was a unique period of time when that boat was designed and built, because we were coming into the modern era of canoe design. That goes back to our involvement with the Fiberglass Shop and the manufacturing side of it. I think I mentioned in our earlier session that in 1980 when only Outrigger and Hui Nalu had modern, what I’ll call one-off hulls in fiberglass, and everybody else was pretty much racing in Malia mold fiberglass boats, Outrigger won that year and Hui Nalu was very competitive. Off Shore Canoe Club had been coming to Hawaii and we had been lending them boats. We had lent them a Malia mold.
They felt they lost the race because of the difference in the hulls, which I can’t argue with. There was a huge difference and they were a very good crew. Billy Whitford said to me at the time, “We’re not going to come back to Hawaii and race again unless we have equal equipment.” We took that as we really have, in fairness, we have to come up with a standard hull that’s competitive. We decided to take on a project with Outrigger Canoe Club and the Fiberglass Shop and design a couple of different designs and try to decide on the ultimate design. The Kaoloa’s thought process began with those designs because we asked Joe to build two prototypes in model form. Jeff Kissel was working for the oil company here and had a friend that was in the shipping business. He had gotten him interested in this whole idea of these canoes and he sponsored us on a one day tank test at Steven’s Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.
He said, “If you will build models of the canoes you want to design I will pay for this tank test.” It was $25,000 for one day. We asked Joe to build these. I think they were one sixth scale or one third. One sixth scale I believe, canoes. Beautiful. Looked exactly like our canoes we have. We took those, packed them up and took them to this tank, which designed nuclear submarines and oil tankers and things, and ran this tank test for a day there of the two hulls. We came back to Hawaii and we had the data from that. We said, “Okay, we have the opportunity to build a production boat for the Fiberglass Shop that can go to the world.
Then if we ever have an opportunity to build a Koa canoe we could build this specific different design for that. Well, as it turned out that year we won a log that Hui Nalu had donated. Hui Nalu had gotten a log from the Big Island and it was so large they were able to cut it in half and make two logs out of it. They offered it up to the highest point getting club from the two divisions in regatta. At the end of the season, I believe, we were tied. I can’t remember what other club we were tied with.
MK: Hui Nalu.
WFG: Oh, you’re right. It was Hui Nalu. I think we ended up, by default, getting it by more wins. There was a tie breaker for it, so we ended up with the log. Joe agreed to start building the Kaoloa and use that design, the second design, or different design, it wasn’t a first or a second. He went ahead and built it and to this day we have the only Joe Quigg built Koa canoe in the world. It was just a magnificent piece of art and design.
MK: Tell me a little bit about Joe Quigg.
WFG: Well, wonderful guy, spent a lot of time with him in the designing and building of those boats. He would travel with me when he built the plug we called it for the molded boat out at Fiberglass Shop. He’d ride out with me every day and just a great interesting guy. An incredible mind and craftsmen, can look at a piece of paper and just form it into something that would be so sleek. Great surfboard designer, catamaran designer, just from a hands on engineering perspective, just understands how things float and move through the water. Fantastic. Just a wonderful warm fantastic guy to just sit down and speak to for hours and hours about those designs.
MK: He actually designed the Kaoloa.
WFG: Yes, he did.
MK: Then he built it.
WFG: Yes, he did.
MK: I remember the dedication ceremony.
WFG: Here at the Club.
MK: You were the emcee for it.
WFG: I don’t remember that, but I’ll take your word.
MK: Auntie Eva (Pomroy) gave the blessing.
WFG: Yes, I remember that.
MK: Then I remember you guys taking the boat out in the water for its first run. What did you think?
WFG: Well, what an incredible thing to be a part of for anybody, for a brand new canoe to go in the water. Many people go through their entire lifetime and never have that experience. Again, the mana, the feel. I had watched the process from the beginning to the end. One thing about Joe is he’s very meticulous and took a long time to build that boat. Everything had to be perfect and he made every component by hand down to the nth degree. It was a long time coming and we were very, very proud of it. We knew it was a specialized boat. It was a very high level, high bred piece of equipment that would require a lot of ability in order to make it perform. He handed us a tool, that we as paddlers, then had to rise to the level to really take advantage of.
MK: Well, I remember the next day we paddled. Our regatta was at Kāneʻohe Bay. I remember everybody carrying her into the water. I think the 12 girls were the very first to race in her. Then the novice B men were the first crew to win a race in her. I remember everybody standing on the shoreline watching. Everybody was a critic that day. What did you think after the first races?
WFG: Well, I was proud and I was very excited about it. Knowing how difficult it is to get a canoe right the first time, my experience had been just even in the fine tuning and rigging and balancing of seats it’s rare that a canoe would go in the water and be at its best. Joe had calculated every seat position, every seat height, the balance of the boat, the rigging of the boat and had gotten it so close from his mind, to paper to his hand. It was just an amazing thing. It goes to show that we went on for years of fine tuning and fine tuning that boat. In deed there was still room to work with it, but to have gotten it so good the first time, it’s a testament to how fantastic a mind and craftsman he is.
MK: Well, I remember the biggest thing was them telling me the boat wasn’t straight.
WFG: Joe telling you that?
MK: No, not him. He thought it was perfect. Other people that were watching it kept saying, “It’s not straight. It’s not-”
WFG: Well, there’s something to that and Joe knew it. The log itself was not ideal and when Joe was building the boat and I would go down there and visit with him, and he was hollowing it out and narrowing it down and taking weight out of it, he says, “I’ll get this thing perfect at five o’ clock, six o’ clock in the afternoon. I’ll cover it up and I’ll go home. The sun will go down and a rain shower will come through. I’ll come back the next morning and take the cover off and it will have changed.” It was a tree. It was moving all the time.
MK: It’s a living thing.
WFG: Yes. Which is natural. It did take some time and we did need to correct some of the imperfections of it that were not from Joe. He got it perfect, but the log was not done moving around on its own.
MK: Well, we used the Kaoloa, the rest of the regatta season, and we won the state championship in it. Everybody was happy. I remember the kids thinking it was too hard to turn.
WFG: Yes, by design. By design it was more a straight-away boat.
MK: The adults thought it was a good boat. What all did we do to it after that?
WFG: Primarily what we began to look at, the difference between the Kaoloa and the Hawaiian Class Racer, so the two designs that Joe had worked with. The Hawaiian Class Racer was about an inch wider in the center of the boat, which floated it higher and allowed it to turn easier. That’s what people were comparing it to and having a more difficult time with. We knew that in hull designs that everything’s a trade off. By doing a wider easier boat to turn it would surf a little easier, but it would give up some speed in what we called zero conditions, so flat water, straight line. We designed the Kaoloa to take advantage of those things. We began to look at it, reevaluate it and we determined that we could split it and add a little bit of width to the center of it, which would float the ends up a little bit and give it a little more turning ability. We did that, actually, over a period of time. It did improve the boat and improved its steering and made it a little more of a regatta boat, so to speak.
MK: Well, those modifications took several years to make.
WFG: Many years.
MK: We didn’t enter her in the Molokai during any of that period.
MK: In 1990 the senior men decided, after racing in fiberglass canoes for a number of years that they were going to race Kaoloa in the Molokai race. Tell me about that race and the decision to …
WFG: Well, the decision came down to, at that point the Hawaiian Class Racer, which I’ll call the sister design to the Kaoloa. We did extensive testing, went out off of Hanauma Bay and the rough water and that sort of thing. We rightfully came to the conclusion that the Hawaiian Class Racer is a better all-around Molokai Channel boat, but that the Kaoloa, because of its narrowness and little more sleek design, if your crew could get to the level of being able to be strong enough and coordinated enough to make that boat catch a bump, you would travel further on the bump. We found this to be the case as we did our testing.
That particular set of circumstances and crew was probably the only things that could have come together to make the Kaoloa win that year. It was the most physical Molokai race that I had been in, even though we had won it and I had been in many more competitive races. It was just a very, very physical tough Channel to cross, because the Kaoloa was not made for those conditions. To make her surf and move fast in there really took a major effort. We happened to have the crew that could do that. We left it all on the race course and when it was done we were exhausted and collapsed. Yes, she performed and to this day is the last Koa canoe to have won the Channel.
MK: When Steve Scott did his oral history we asked him that same question. He said that you won, because you believed in the canoe. You believed the Kaoloa could win. He said if you hadn’t believed that, if even one person hadn’t believed it, you probably wouldn’t have won. He said you guys just felt it and you gave it. The result was amazing. Nobody believed that a Koa could win again.
WFG: Without a doubt. We were all in and it’s not that we were destined to race the Koa division, or that boat is the only boat we had. We had choices and the crew, as a crew and coaches decided this is the boat we want to be in. It was a pretty special day to be able to do that.
MK: It was. Well, the last time the Kaoloa was upgraded was 2006.
WFG: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
MK: That brought her up to the HCRA standards with taking out all the non-native woods out of her, I guess.
WFG: Yes. With the Koa gunnel and Koa manu, which are now mandated, yes. Fiberglass was removed.
MK: We’re you using her in regattas now?
WFG: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
MK: Is there anything next for her or is she as complete as you think she should be at this time?
WFG: There may be some additional minor modifications that we may want to do, but I think the major work has been done on her. She’s been performing as we had hoped. Very competitive. People enjoy racing in her. I don’t see anything on the horizon for her necessarily.
MK: What’s next for the Koa Canoe Committee? Do you have any plans for new canoes, for doing anything to any of them at this point?
WFG: We’ve lost our artist with … not lost them, but we knew that we were getting to the end of the era of Domie and Joe and certainly Tay is still doing work, and I’m available if need be. We would, in fairness to them, we have tapped them for many, many years. We don’t have a plan. I don’t think there’s a need for the committee at this point. Certainly we’ll be close by and if there’s an opinion needed we’ll step back in. Probably the next generation of those people will be coming forward. We want to make sure that it’s not taken lightly that those boats have a saw or a blade taken to them on a whim. We want to protect them and have a conscience have somebody watching over them.
MK: Who do you think that might be?
WFG: Well, there’s some great … Billy Philpotts does great work. He’s got a lot of interest. I’m sure, when needed, there’ll be some younger people that will be ready. He’s taking the lead at this point.
MK: Other than Billy I don’t see anybody that’s-
WFG: Not at the moment. We will have to get more involved. Now that Domie has stepped away its really come back to us, as it should. Hopefully the membership, as it did many years ago, are the ones that take care of them.
MK: When did we shift from the membership doing it to the maintenance people doing it?
WFG: Primarily in the late 1970s early 1980s when Wayne (Faulkner) was the head of the Beach Services here.
MK: Well, there was another Koa canoe that the Club built for very special purposes, the Paoa, in 1969. We never really raced her. Tell me about the Paoa.
WFG: Paoa was built by George Perry. It followed the era that we just spoke about in that the Kakina had, in the early 1960s, had been damaged, and the Leilani in 1966. Right at that time it was decided we needed another Koa boat, just to have in case the Leilani was not put back in competitive form. The Club had access to a log. I believe it had been at Ulu Mau Village and was purchased and commissioned to be built. There were some limitations on that log. It wasn’t what we would have considered, or we did consider at the time, an ideal design, even though it was before the Hawaiian specifications. It was still a good little boat. It didn’t necessarily have the rocker that was necessary to make it a great boat and that sort of thing. It was raced and again it was a kids boat. When I was young we raced in it.
The group of paddlers in the mid 1970s, formed and tried some new training techniques. We were led by Mike Holmes and Paul MacLaughlin and some others, and we were younger paddlers and were invited to be part of that group. We started a long distance program parallel to our senior crews and things and we called ourselves LSD, which was for what Jack Scaff and the Honolulu Marathon called their training methods, long slow distance. It began the era of putting in more mileage and we experimented with that. We actually used the Paoa as our boat and we raced it. We were fairly successful and had a great time on that. It historically wasn’t … went back to many years and design wise was not something that we needed to hang onto necessarily.
MK: We sold it for $10,000 to the Ewa Beach Canoe Club.
WFG: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
MK: Now a Koa canoe would go for $100,000.
WFG: Maybe, depending on . . . it’s hard to put a number on them. A lot of the work that gets done is donated work. Somebody takes on a project like that many times of building it for their club. Certainly the value of it is, I would say, over $100,000.
MK: I guess that’s what we ensure them for these days.
WFG: That’s right.
MK: That brings to mind the Club’s very first canoe, Hanakeoki. It was a gift to the Club in 1908. We raced in that up until we got the Leilani and the Kakina. It sat in the shed for a long time and nobody used it. I guess when we moved here in 1964 it hadn’t been used for a while and we loaned it to Hui Nalu for a while, because their White Horse got damaged making the movie Hawaii.
WFG: That’s right.
MK: Then we sold it to Makaha Canoe Club in 1971 for $1,500.
WFG: Wow, what a deal.
MK: Yes. Should we have sold it?
WFG: That’s a hard one. We certainly were not using it. I think the Paoa is another example of that. Nobody was building Koa canoes during that era. There was nobody that knew how to build them. There weren’t many suitable logs for it. A lot of the lumber had been cut, or a lot of the trees had been cut for lumber and furniture and things like that. People didn’t really know where logs that were suitable for Koa canoes were. Since then there’s been an entire evolution of that. There’s seeded forests and forests that are set aside. There are canoe logs that are growing now that have been identified that are tagged. That went on the late 1970s into this modern era. Looking back on those two boats, the Hanakeoki and the Paoa primarily, those two boats, by going to clubs gave birth to an entire community’s central focal point. I think it was the right thing to do. It was a gift certainly, in both cases. It spawned entire communities of canoe clubs and things.
MK: Yes, and paddlers.
WFG: Yes. I think it was good.
MK: Well, Makaha hasn’t been active for a while as a canoe club. It’s a beautiful canoe. They remodeled it and it looks great.
WFG: Mm-hmm (affirmative), it’s gorgeous.
MK: Do you think the Club would consider trying to buy it back?
WFG: For $1,500 sure. I’ll buy it. That might be an interesting thing to consider. I have a feeling it would be a hard thing to do because I think that community knows that, that boat is part of Makaha and even though it’s not active, it’s still there and the families, the DeSoto family and families out there, once that boat were gotten rid of it would symbolize something that they probably would rather not have happen.
MK: We enter Koa canoes in both the men’s and women’s Molokai every year. Do you think a Koa will ever win again?
WFG: A Koa is capable of winning with the right crew in it. I think the Leilani is competitive enough that if a crew was good enough to win and were in that boat it could win. The most difficult thing, and we’ve seen this over the years, and this was what made winning in the Kaoloa such a special thing, is it’s very difficult for a top crew to put themselves in a piece of equipment that’s different than their competition unless they are certain they have a distinctive advantage. If you don’t know whether or not you do have an advantage, and you’re competitive, what you ask for is equal and then make a difference with the crew, the course, your intangibles. The things that you don’t have control over you don’t want to make a variable. That’s a mindset of a crew. Give me the same piece of equipment as my competition and if they beat me I know it was them, not the canoe. It’s very difficult to see a top, top crew take that leap or take a chance. That’s, again, what made that win in the Kaoloa so much more.
MK: Steve said because you all believed.
WFG: Right, right, right.
MK: Outrigger is very fortunate to have the maintenance shop that we do. They work on our canoes and they help get them in shape for us. Other canoe clubs have to do all the work themselves. I noticed we’ve tried to get the kids. Mark Sandvold tried really hard getting all his crews to come and to do some work, to sand and all of that. What’s the relationship between maintenance shop and the canoes, and the members and the canoes?
WFG: Well, it’s certainly when we have the resources in Wayne and Domie and they have the interest. Not all maintenance people will have the love and the understanding. We’ve been very fortunate to have people that love working on wood and Koa boats and the significance of that. We still have some here now. Ultimately the healthiest situation is to bring it back to where the members take care of it. What we had done many years ago were everybody would come down when it was time to get the boats ready for the race and come down on a Tuesday night and all get in the parking lot and have a couple of beers and give everybody a block and show them the right way to sand it. The thing that came out of that was every time the boat was taken on and off the trailer those people made sure that it was put down perfectly, when it’s brought into shore don’t get it anywhere near the sand or the … they were-
WFG: They were invested in it. They understood how fragile and special and things those are. It’s like anything in life. If we could get back to that and people would really feel that they’re a part of it and it’s a legacy of those boats for all these generations it would be a much healthier place to be.
MK: What’s keeping us from doing that?
WFG: Leadership. Hard thing to do. Not to take away from the people that are working within the program. Program is so big now that it’s so demanding. There’s so much time and training and the other equipment that has to be moved. Just logistically everything that goes on, it’s very difficult to get people to have that kind of time.
MK: Domie was a gem.
MK: I know you worked closely with him. Tell me a little bit about him, just briefly.
WFG: Well, so understated. His work really would speak for him. He would never ring his own bell. Very, very proud person. You could see it when he would produce something that he was proud of, when the work he did on those boats, when they would come out to the beach he would come to the regattas and watch the canoes race.
MK: And listen to what everybody had to say.
WFG: Right, right and formed opinions and sometimes he and I would get into discussions where I would have to dial him back because some 16 year old girl would say, “I didn’t like the way it turned.” He would be, “We got to cut it.” I’m like, No, no, no. Slow it down.” He took all of that seriously. He took the opinion of a young paddler on par with the senior steersman. Very wonderful as far as that’s concerned and just gave his life to this Club.
MK: He did and he loved every member.
WFG: He did.
MK: Not just the canoes. Everybody loves him back.
MK: He talked about, in his oral history, how people would bring him fish. They’d go fishing and they’d bring him back fish or they’d find something and they’d say, “Can you use this?” He said he got so much from the members.
WFG: That’s wonderful.
MK: He loves everybody. I thought it was really nice that the Club made him an honorary member.
WFG: Absolutely, so deserving.
MK: Yes, he is. Well, when they were building the Kaoloa you also had to build a new ama for it. Tell me how the new ama came about.
WFG: That was a very difficult exercise. Up until that point all the racing ama were hand shaped primarily out of Wiliwili wood, which was equivalent to Hawaiian balsa. Very difficult to get. Trees were not abundant and certainly to mill enough usable wood out of a tree that grows like a piece of coral is not easy. We were racing with ama that were decades old. The association (HCRA) had allowed, over the years, for the ama, once they were built out of wood, to be covered in fiberglass, which was very practical. We had already established that fiberglass had been introduced into the process. When I looked through the rules and asked for interpretation, I had my own interpretation and looked at it, it didn’t specify that it had to be shaped out of wood and then covered with fiberglass. It said it must be Hawaiian wood and can be covered with fiberglass.
Being in the manufacturing side of things I realized that we could take our modern designed ama that we had designed for, actually Joe Quigg had designed, to be used with a Hawaiian Class Racer. We could, from the outside working in, laminate Hawaiian wood, Wiliwili, to the inside of the ama. I went ahead and did that. I felt that it was important, if we were going to take the time, the effort to build a state of the art Koa canoe, that we were able to give it, its second hull in essence. They’re catamarans. Outrigger canoes are catamarans. … that the second hull needed to be as high a level. That was the only way that we could really accomplish that.
We went through a process of doing that and it was very controversial at the time to say the least. Both in design and then of course verifying that there was actually wood in there and things like that. I was challenged. Consequently the concept was adopted and to this day virtually all of the modern Koa canoes are racing with an ama that’s been manufactured or built using a molded system. It’s a much stronger lighter composite construction rather than something that is very difficult to do and very fragile and heavy and not productive.
MK: I remember the challenge was during a regatta. I’m trying to remember. It was at Keehi.
WFG: Initially at Keehi and then at Kaneohe, was a second.
MK: Yes. They challenged you on the equipment and you had to drill a hole. You had to prove to them.
WFG: Well, it wasn’t practical to make the entire ama clear, because where the shape got tight the wood was not … I wasn’t laying in a veneer that could conform. We were actually using wood. It was not as pretty where the joints and the butt joints and everything were made, especially out towards the end of the ama. We did that in a solid color and we made a band towards the center of the ama, which was basically a window where you could see the wood to establish there was wood in there. Well, during the challenge they said, “How do they know there’s wood all the way to the ends?” I said, “Go ahead and drill it any place you want.” They brought a hole saw down.
MK: Was that Tilton (Morse)?
WFG: No, Paul Gay was the one that insisted on it. I told him, “Pick the spot.” He went all over and said right there. We drilled a core out, pulled it out and there was Wiliwili wood laminated. It was right up near the front of the ama on the side. I then patched it. It was easy to just put tape over it that day, put the piece in and put tape. When I went back and patched it I put a big red X where that was so they would be reminded.
MK: That they had challenged it. Well, Outrigger was winning and that was the time when they thought we would cheat to win.
WFG: We were definitely pushing the envelope with everything we did, without any doubt. We were careful to try to advance the sport, and certainly weren’t breaking any rules.
MK: Well, you’ve also designed the manufactured fiberglass canoes. Did you come up with any new designs while you were … The Malia was the standard at one point. Then the Hawaiian Class Racer, which you … Did Joe design the Hawaiian Class Race?
WFG: Joe did. Joe designed the Hawaiian Class Racer entirely. I then worked with some of our other designers and builders after that and modified the Hawaiian Class Racer into a couple of different designs. One of them, I thought it would be a really cool thing to have a high performance four-man canoe that’s not just a surfing canoe. We took the first 15 feet of the Hawaiian Class Racer and the last 10 feet and then took five feet in between to blend it into a 30 foot four-man canoe, which we named the Stiletto. There’s actually one of them sitting here. George Norcross owns one. That was a great little boat. It was intended to make a new division. We tried to make it a lighter weight boat. We built those and used them for the Hawaiian Canoe and Kayak Championships in the Ala Wai and sold a number of them around the globe. Not a lot of them, but that was a hybrid design. Then later on we took the Hawaiian Class Racer after different designs came out, the Bradley design and things like that, and we made it wider and created a boat called the Force 5, which then went on to become a competitive successful boat for six-man Molokai racing and all of that.
MK: Outrigger then phased out, at the Club, we phased out our Malias. Eventually we phased out our Hawaiian Class Racers.
WFG: We still own Hawaiian Class Racers.
MK: We still have one, I think.
WFG: Yes. We may have a few. They’re at the Ala Wai. They became the training boats at the Ala Wai for many years.
MK: Then you got out of the making of the … No, then you started making the one-mans.
WFG: One-mans were in the early 1990s, late 1980s, early 1990s. We were transitioning into the open ocean one-man canoes.
MK: Then you stopped making them. You decided to close the business.
WFG: Well, at one point we were the only ones building Hawaiian fiberglass hybrid canoes in the world. We exported that. We went to Tonga and taught, as a guest of the king of Tonga for two weeks. Brant Ackerman and myself and Kala Kukea, and took the sport to them. They came up and raced at Molokai. We went to Australia and I licensed builders down there to build my boats there. We went to the west coast and the east coast and then eventually boats to Europe. We got the sport to spread. As a result of the modernization, the one-man canoe and others, other builders got involved and it became competitive.
We were in a location and an environment that was … it’s a high risk industry. There’s a lot of dangerous chemicals and things being used so you’re rated very high. It’s very difficult to be in on a legitimate basis. It got very competitive and other builders entered the market and were advancing the sport very quickly. It was good. For the years that we did it we got the sport established. We put a number of events in the water that launched the different aspects of it. It was time for other people to take over and take it to the next level. It was time for me to move onto something else.
MK: And you did.
WFG: I did.
MK: What kind of canoes is the Club buying now, the fiberglass?
WFG: Well, the premier racing boat at the moment, out of fiberglass, is made by Sonny Bradley. He’s had several design enhancements or advances in his designs. That’s considered the premier boat. The two primary boats are Karel’s (Tresnak) boat, which was the Mirage and then Sonny Bradley’s boats that have become the most competitive. Those are really the two in the market at the moment. There’s a lot of energy now going into the open class canoes. Those are the ones that a lot of design changes are taking place, because there’s no criteria as far as design.
MK: Explain what an open class canoe is.
WFG: It’s basically an unlimited boat. It can be made very, very light weight. It has a narrow hull, it’s not built to any Hawaiian specifications, which the other boats are limited to, because they’re tied back into the design of the original Koa boats. A lot of the advancement and new designs are moving in the open class division. There’s races that the open class boats can be raced. In some cases against Hawaiian canoes. They can all be in the water at the same time. Then there are other races that are primarily just open class. Open class will correspond a lot to what Tahiti uses. Their boats look very much the same. It’s part of the movement towards higher speed, greater performance, the desire of everybody to go faster and catch waves further and just do everything at a higher level and be competitive on the Tahitian world stage.
MK: What is the V class? In results I see V class, V division. I don’t know what that is.
WFG: That would probably be the open. I’m not sure what they’re referring to that.
MK: What do you think the odds are that we’ll at some point we’ll see one-man’s become an Olympic sport?
WFG: I’m not sure that … that might have lost its window of opportunity. I think we had our best shot at that probably about 10 or 15 years ago when the sport was really expanding. The problem for it is that the paddling sports in the Olympics have all been really challenged. They’re a difficult sport for spectator involvement and that’s where the money follows. The kayaking events, the rowing events, even though they’re more traditional and they’re well established, they’ve had a more difficult time sustaining themselves because you’re not in a stadium. You’re not in that environment where you can have a lot of sponsorship, exposure and things.
MK: Well they’re talking surfing in the Olympics, so that will be interesting.
WFG: What that’s doing is that bringing that into a controlled situation. White water kayaking and canoeing, because it’s on a closed course now, it’s modeled after a river, but it’s actually a manmade river so they can control it. That’s really the venue that those things have to go to.
MK: Now, six-man’s have evolved into one-man’s. Paddleboards have evolved into prone paddle boards and standup boards and now the foils. What’s the next ocean sports equipment racing that we’re going to see?
WFG: I’m not sure. My mind turns on the foil. What would a foil be on a one-man? Is there a way to adapt that sort of thing? That may come. It may be a two or three or four-man or even a six-man version of it. You would need to control … somebody would need to control the foil flight and things like that. Of course, the ama would have the foil with it. I don’t know. That’s the next leap in speed. It’s always driven by speed. What’s the most fun is going the fastest. Who knows. Lighter and lighter weight and higher performance design will always push the envelope. The big changes and the big gains, as far as those are concerned, have probably taken place for the most part. It’s more fine tuning until it takes a leap like something like the foil has done for the others.
MK: Okay, we’ve talked a lot about the fiberglass and the Koa canoes. Is there anything you’d like to add?
WFG: Not really. I think it’s a very exciting time. The international aspect of the sport is something that I’m proud that we were able to be a part of and help seed. Not only the competitive side of it, but I think it brings so much of the comradery and the relationships together. Some of my best friends in the paddling world are not necessarily my friends that I raced with on this team, but ones that I was able to travel with to other parts of the world and develop relationships. I’m happy to see that happen and I hope that continues.
MK: Any idea how many one-mans there are out there in the world now?
WFG: Thousands. I can’t even put a number on it.
MK: Way too many.
WFG: You’d have to go to each individual builder and say, “Give me a guess how many …” They’re mass produced from China by the container load now. Those containers are shipped all over the world. Literally all over the world.
MK: Were there patents on any of those?
WFG: No. That’s a funny story. That’s whole another … We tried to patent the concept initially and were actually given some patents, but it’s such a broad concept and minor changes could be made to it that it’s difficult to contain as far as a patent is concerned.
MK: Okay, so I’d like to move on a little bit and talk … You were Outrigger’s representative to the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association and some of the HCRA committees for years. What all committees did you serve on with them?
WFG: Primarily the Rules Committee and the Canoe Specification’s Design Committee, those were my main involvement.
MK: Were the rules the race rules or what?
WFG: Race rules and overall-
MK: Tell me how you got involved and how the rules have changed over time.
WFG: Well, the period of time that I was on there primarily the sport was growing in numbers and events and things like that. Many of the rules that were in place were being pushed. One of my main reasons for the interest in it was the crossover from the race rules to the design concepts and the conversation we had on the ama earlier was a good example of how does a design, once something is done, what’s the process for a builder or a club to have it reviewed and interpreted, that sort of thing. I felt I needed to be on both sides of that. There were some qualification issues and just basically much of it was being involved with being on the referee side of looking at things and keeping the sport as fair as possible. Not every club had representation on those. It was an honor and something that was very advantageous for the Outrigger to be a part of, to have a representative on that.
MK: Give me an example of a rule that got changed during that period.
WFG: I can’t think of any specifically.
MK: I know that we changed how you qualify for states. Outrigger used to bump people up. If you won the Oahu you automatically were one of the four crews to go to states.
MK: That’s not true anymore.
WFG: No. That’s a good example of some of the things that were addressed. What was happening there is people were able to stack crews on a given day. You could have poor performance and then shift all your paddlers into a specific race and win that race and get an automatic first. That was a toss up item. Some of the other things that went on that I can think of, now that you mentioned that, was the way you could race on a given regatta day. As I mentioned earlier, when I first started paddling you went from freshman, sophomore, junior, senior.
As you moved up you never moved back down. As we evolved to the point where, as a result of the senior race for instance, when we had a strong senior crew during the 1980s nobody wanted to put their best teams into the senior race, because they knew they wouldn’t get first place points. The next best crew would then go and park in the junior division and win that race. The next best crew would go to the sophomores. You never had the associations best crew racing against each other. We changed the rules to make the senior race an open race. You could race any of the other races and not be penalized if you showed up and raced in the senior race. It was a bonus race or bonus points.
MK: You could paddle in two races.
WFG: Correct. That was very controversial because people felt it wasn’t fair to do that. Part of it was we adjusted the points back so you didn’t get extra points racing in the senior race on top of that.
MK: You mentioned earlier about giving … The senior race got different points than the-
WFG: Originally, yes.
MK: … than the other races. Now it’s the same in-
WFG: Seniors get the same as the 12 and unders and the masters and everything. Everything is the same point system.
MK: I remember during the (Macfarlane) pep rally you tell the younger kids, “Hey, your race is just as important as the senior race, because you get the same number of points as they do.”
MK: They all count toward winning that trophy at the end.
WFG: That’s right. That’s absolutely right.
MK: Let’s talk about the equipment. Equipment has changed. The requirements, the specifications over the years. Now, Outrigger members were among those who wrote the original equipment rules, set the weight limit at 400 pounds, basically decided how regattas would be held and all that, so that it was standard from race to race instead of every race having its own rules. Those rules stood for quite a while. It was the 1970s when things started to change.
WFG: To go all the way back to the weight limit; the Malia was the one that drove that requirement because Wally Froiseth, and George Downing and Waikiki Surf Club had purchased the Malia from Dad Center. They started to clean it up and lighten it up and made it thinner and thinner. It was an obvious advantage over the other boats. In our case, the Leilani, Kakina and others that were much heavier. They decided there had to be a minimum weight you can’t go below. If you are below it you’d have to put weight back on. That went all the way back into the 1950s I believe is where that came from.
MK: What I remember George (Downing) telling me was that they weighed all of the Koa canoes that they had at that time and there were maybe 15 of them. The Malia was the lightest at 400 pounds. That’s how they settled on that weight, because the others were 405 or 410 or whatever. Because she was the-
WFG: Lightest they set that as the floor. It’s interesting because George was involved in the late 1970s with a very similar exercise when the Hawaiian specifications were arrived at, when it became evident after the Tahitians won. Once the Tahitians came and raced here in the mid 1970s and were allowed to bring their own canoes, before we had any Hawaiian specifications other than the 400 pounds, and finished first through whatever it was. It was actually a calm day anyway, so it was ideal for their canoes. All of a sudden people started designing fast canoes. It became evident that the sport would leave the traditional Hawaiian design if something wasn’t done.
They started the canoe specification exercise by coming up with a waterline loaded canoe, waterline measuring, of every Koa boat in the state of Hawaii. It’s a very involved explanation, but they basically took the narrowest points all the way down that composite of measurements and came up with the minimum for waterline measurement. The reason I say that is because if you look at the specifications the waterline measurement is not a fair line that would come off of one canoe. It looks like the stars in the sky. It goes like this and this and this, because it was each minimum measurement at each station. It was a composite of all of these boats put together. That created what we build to today. Leilani, Kakina, Kalaoa all fit that template. That happened in the late 1970s that was arrived at.
MK: They did it because of the Tahitian boats. They wanted them to have the same boats we had?
WFG: We wanted the Koa canoes to remain competitive and wanted to establish what was a Hawaiian racing canoe. How do you explain it, determine it, give somebody guidelines as to how to build one.
MK: Briefly, what were the specifications?
WFG: Well, they was length 45 feet long, there’s a total length in waterline and then there are numbered stations that identified and you would put a boat in the water loaded with weight from the center to a certain amount of feet out on each end so that the weight is distributed that way. Make as many consistencies as possible. It’s a very intricate process.
MK: Well, I’ve watched them weigh the canoes and do the waterlining. It is, it’s a very long process. That’s just to make everything fair.
MK: Now, the Tahitians built some boats for canoe clubs on the Big Island after they won here. How did those canoes … Did they meet the Hawaiian specs?
WFG: No, they did not. There were some variations of those. There were some that were quite a bit off that were very much a Tahitian design, flat water design, which for Kona made … That water is similar to Tahiti so they performed very well there. There were some other boats built there that missed the specifications by quite a bit, but were still very Hawaiian in design. They weren’t allowed in either. As a result of that whole thing going on there was quite a rift between the Big Island association and HCRA to the point where we didn’t race with each other in certain circumstances. The clubs in OHCRA actually boycotted the Kona race for a number of years as a result of that. Part of it was because their rules in that race said that you had to race what was legal on your island. We couldn’t show up with a boat similar to theirs, but they could race those. That was obviously … has been amended and we’ve gone beyond that.
MK: Is there a specific shape that defines a Hawaiian canoe?
WFG: In a broad sense no longer than 45 feet. Wider in the back half of the boat than the front and traditionally even widest point in the back third. It was more suited for a following sea to lift the stern more versus a shape, if you would, like a torpedo where you would get to your widest point early and then have the rest of the shape taper from there. Those are the main differences.
MK: Did all of these changes affect any of the Outrigger’s canoes?
WFG: We were in the middle of that, because in the 1977 race that the Tahitians won with their own boats, Tommy Conner took a shell off of one of those boats and built it, manufactured or built a one-off boat that he named the Manu ‘Ula. That boat was raced by Outrigger in the following season and did very well. It was extremely fast, raced in the Lanikai race. That really is what ignited the need for the specifications. It was outlawed. Then what is a Hawaiian canoe came up and so the discussion really began from there and the process. That boat was modified a couple of times as specifications were evolving. It led to the modern era.
MK: Well, that was the canoe. Then the other equipment, the ama we talked about, and how it changed over the years. Now everybody is pretty much using the ama made from a core, a mold like you had designed.
WFG: Yes, for Koa boats.
MK: What about ‘iako? Are they changed?
WFG: They have. The biggest difference there is the original concept with the Wiliwili ama and the Koa hull would be a Hau ‘iaku that would be selected from wild growth somewhere, find the right shape. As a matter of fact when we would go up and cut those we’d take one of our ‘iaku up there and we’d use it as a template, put it up against other ones and say, “This one is good.” Then you’d have to bring it down and strip it and soak it in salt water for a period of time. We actually had Hau submerged out here from time to time. Very difficult process to go through. Again, like the Wiliwili what made it difficult was it’s a very soft wood so the bugs loved it. You could put your Wiliwili here, your Hau on the side for a couple months and come back and it would be dust. We went to a laminated … you could laminate Koa and Hau and put the right curves you wanted into it on a jig. It evolved into that. It was much stiffer, much stronger and lighter.
MK: The Leilani has a Koa ‘iaku.
WFG: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Laminated.
MK: I remember when, I guess Karl Heyer IV gave the wood to Domie when he was remodeling it and I remember it sitting out in the front for a while in the water, for a month, maybe a month or so . .
WFG: That would have been Hau. They wouldn’t have put the Koa in there I don’t think.
MK: That was Hau?
WFG: Yes. You wouldn’t put the Koa under water.
MK: The Leilani has a Hau?
WFG: Well, Domie made a number of sets of ‘iakus. He did make laminated curved Hau ‘iakus. That would have been the Hau that was-
MK: That was what was out there.
MK: Well, what about the paddles? Paddles have evolved as well. What are the rules?
WFG: That was an issue for the Rules Committee as well. Originally there were no rules on paddles. Composite paddles came about, like everything else has. The Rules Committee decided, or came to the conclusion that, again, it was okay to have a composite skin on the paddle, but the core material must be made of wood. Foam was being used and things like that, or hollow shaft carbon fiber and that sort of thing. The Hawaiian canoe paddle must have a core of wood and then can be covered in a composite material.
MK: Is there a specific shape that’s required?
MK: Some of them are T-paddles. That’s not a requirement.
WFG: No. That was something that was evolved when the mainland teams, Blazing Paddles was the first one that came and-
MK: And won.
WFG: And won. Tahiti and Hawaii were still using straight shafts. They also had the angled shaft with the T handle. Those two things were then incorporated.
MK: On the angle of the paddle is there a Hawaiian style for that?
WFG: No. The Hawaiian style blades originally all had a straight shaft, no angle at all. The angle has varied depending on the conditions and the teams that come from the marathon paddling area would normally have more angle. It’s usually between five and seven degrees is generally what’s used.
MK: Anything else that has evolved in the last 20-30 years that the Rules Committee or the Canoe Specs Committee has been involved with?
WFG: No. Probably the only thing was trying to find a way to take that waterline measuring system and convert it to a dryland system that could be duplicated so you could confirm and build a boat using a template or a dryland measuring system. Then if you put it in the water and did the waterline it would pass that as well. That’s been explored a number of different ways. There’s been some advancements there, but it’s been very difficult. It’s always just gone back to waterlining. That would be something that would be a great advancement for boat builders. They could actually, in their shop, rebuild a Koa canoe today or at anytime. You don’t actually know if it’s legal until the first time you put it in the water. You’re guessing.
MK: As I recall the Kaoloa passed its waterline the very first time.
MK: When Domie redid the Leilani it did not pass the first time. Everybody was very disappointed, but it was too narrow at one point in the front. He went back and fixed it and when he came back the second time it passed that time.
WFG: That’s right. He added two bumps to it right where that measurement is. He put a little bump.
MK: To make it legal.
MK: During the 1980s and the 1990s when Outrigger was the team to beat we always felt that both the OCHRA and the HCRA rules discriminated against us. When a race was close Outrigger always lost. I’m sure you remember those days. We got DQ’d a lot more often than anybody else. We got challenged on everything from paddlers to the equipment. At the time it seemed very unfair that we were getting picked on. In retrospect, were we? Was it legitimate? Were we pushing the limits of everything?
WFG: We certainly were. We had always led the sport and were the ones evolving it. I would say pushing the limits in some cases. We went out of our way to not break any rules. I think, as any big successful organization in any sport that sits at the top for any length of time, people are going to look for reasons that they’re successful that are not right. We had many discussions and Cline Mann was, in my case, always the inspiration for it that we just, we don’t break the rules. We don’t cheat. They’re going to expect you to so you actually have to go the opposite direction even more. Give a bad call the benefit of the doubt and be understanding of things and just take it.
MK: We also paid fines for the challenges I recall.
WFG: Yes, we did. We’d always been questioned and challenged.
MK: Well, speaking of Cline Mann, one of the things that got challenged was his trainer. People thought we were cheating because of the trainer. How did that work out?
WFG: Well, there was no rule. There was nothing that it would fall under. It’s just a perfect example of us finding ways to advance the sport and modify and improve. I think that was an amazing engineering undertaking and thought process. To this day that same very trainer that was being developed and used when I was 12 years old, down here at the bottom of the driveway, which has spent many, many years, is still current and successful and used. That’s one of those things that falls in the category of what’s the secret.
MK: Right. You must be cheating because-
WFG: Because you’re winning.
MK: Outrigger has three of the greatest Koa racing canoes in Hawaii and our fleet of fiberglass canoes are ranging from the old to the new. In your opinion is it man or canoe that’s going to win the races?
WFG: Man. With that comes an appreciation and understanding of the canoes. Those canoes are not capable of getting onto a trailer or being taken to the starting line. It will be what people bring to the party as individuals. We can have the best canoes. We certainly do have the most beautiful spectacular Koa canoes competitive with anything anywhere. Our fiberglass boats are standard. If we don’t have the tradition and the heart and the reason to be winners they’re just going to be pieces of equipment just sitting there.
MK: Walter, thank you very much for doing this today.
WFG: My pleasure. Thank you.