As I reflect about Tommy Conners and the impact he had on the sport, I keep going back to the other legendary "game-changers." There have been a small handful of people who literally changed the course of outrigger canoeing. Tommy, through his work on the development of the OC-1 and connections with Tahiti, is definitely one of them. Who else changed the face of outrigger canoeing?

I would be really interested to hear input (especially from some of the 'old-timers') on who has changed the face of paddling.

Toots Minville, from my perspective, probably did more to change paddling than anyone else. He brought it from a "gentleman's sport" with a format modeled after rowing (regattas) to what we have now: long distance inter-island racing.

Mainly interested in hearing of people or stories that most of us haven't heard of. Who really developed the T top? Who experimented with the first molded six mans? Who pushed for the Tahitians to come over in the 70s? Who brought the first OC-6s to California? East Coast? Canada? Europe? There are a ton of stories that we never hear.

Anyone have any game changing ones?

Equally as relevant, any historic canoes? I've read a lot of old articles from the Advertiser and the Star Bulletin and they used to put a lot of focus on the canoes (pre-molded canoes, so they were all different). But we don't have that anymore. Tere Mata'i is probably the most famous of the legendary canoes (open class winner of the 1976 Moloka'i Hoe from Tahiti which sparked the outcry which led to our current stringent regulations).

What others are there?

This thread is pretty wide open for input. Just looking for dialogue or a compilation of the legendary people and canoes that have brought us to where we are today.

Submitted by luke on Tue, 04/02/2013 - 12:53pm

Re-reading my comment and my reference to Toots is a little skewed. Not trying to say that outrigger canoeing doesn't have its roots in long distance inter-island travel, just that the modern racing scene wasn't there until Toots brought it back. Missionary influence nearly eliminated racing entirely, and as it re-emerged it did so in a very western form. Toots, in my opinion, brought it back to what it is about: long distance and inter-island racing.
Obviously the real game changers who deserve the most credit are the polynesians who developed the art of canoe building and paddling over two millenia of populating the pacific. What I'm referring to in this post are the modern day game changers. The people who brought paddling back to its current form today. But anyone with any stories pre Toots Minville would be hugely appreciated as well.

  • edited for clarity. Sorry, I tend to argue with myself when nobody responds :)

#1 Tue, 04/02/2013 - 2:35pm

This is good stuff here. This post could be made into a motion picture or e-book.

I always ask why Sam Alama is such a big name. I remember looking at Pacific Paddler magazine and seeing a one page picture of him paddling away from a camera and the caption saying "Sam's Back". Someone told me he was one of the first ones to get people training specific aspects of their paddling. Before him people would just paddle for fun then race and whoever won was just the best genitically gifted paddler. So what I gathered was that Sam broke that train of thought and training (by means more than just paddling for fun).

I recently bought a big book full of old pictures of OC 6 races. Pretty fun. Jim Foti on the cover and he looks the same today as he did back then.

#2 Wed, 04/03/2013 - 12:15pm

In launching the modern era, I'd nominate Walter Guild, who brought back from Tahiti, the long narrow needle nose "lagoon boat," the Horizon (OC1), which he manufactured, initially without rudder, at his Fiberglass Shop in Campbell Industrial Park. Later, he added a rudder to it and founded the Kaiwi Challenge relay race for one-mans. He also put on the Steinlager Sprint Races in the Ala Wai where OC1s, 3 mans and surfskis raced.

#3 Wed, 04/03/2013 - 3:34pm

this thread made me think of Malia mold canoes. when I first started paddling we used them in the ILH exclusively (as they do now). I never had an appreciation for the Malia until my coach shared some background info about the mold. I'm unsure if any of this is right so it'd be cool to hear if someone knows the full story.

I was told that all Malia canoes are made from a mold of an actual canoe named Malia. During its time the Malia was dominating all the races it was in. Apparently whoever the crew was that had the Malia was smashing everyone and refused to let anyone copy or borrow her for fear tat she'd be copied. So at some point individuals from another club either kidnapped the canoe to copy it or snuck out and molded it when it was at the beach without permission. From this stolen mold an entire category or canoes was created and an whole generation of paddlers got to use the fastest boats of an era.

Again I have no idea if this is true or if I totally ruined the story as I heard it about 20+ years ago. What I can remember is that I had a new found appreciation for Malia mold canoes at a time when Hawaiian Class Racers and other boats were taking over the racing scene. To this day I've still got a soft spot for them. Kind of like a classic car or a vintage long board.

#4 Wed, 04/03/2013 - 5:13pm

Jc- I heard the same story and I was told that it was a Koa canoe that Waikiki Surf Club had. I believe Luana's family had something to do with the building of it.

#5 Wed, 04/03/2013 - 5:54pm

A lot of history lessons are needed here

#6 Wed, 04/03/2013 - 7:24pm

do tell, mbsski... i know you've got plenty of great stories!

#7 Wed, 04/03/2013 - 8:40pm

Thought is was interesting to see the Hawaiian side of things:

After the overthrow of the Kapu system by Liholiho (urged on by Ka‘ahumanu and Keopuolani), chaos ensued. It was if the Pope and President declared that religion and government was all rubbish. Ka‘ahumanu declared herself Kahina Nui, effectively Prime Minister, and no one resisted that strong-willed woman. She effectively controlled Liholiho (Kamehameha II) who was only about 21 years old. Ten months later, the 1st company of Calvinist missionaries arrived in Kailua-Kona. The Thurstons with Dr. Holman and wife were the only members allowed to land and were appalled at the dry conditions. (I imagine the Hawaiians were appalled by the missionaries smell after six months at sea!) The rest of the company was sent on to O‘ahu. Eventually, and after much hard work and resistance, the missionaries got control of the Royalty. Ka‘ahumanu banned canoe racing before 1830 and the sport died out. In fact, anything equated with fun was banned. There was intermittant racing of whale boats, shells and other vessels in the mid-1800’s, but not until Kalakaua was elected king did boat racing become a regular event. Kalakaua revived shell regatta racing in Honolulu Harbor. Outrigger canoe racing followed, using any kind of canoe available. In Tommy Holmes’s book The Hawaiian Canoe, photos show crews of 5 and 6 paddlers racing against each other.

In 1906, Prince Kuhio had the racing canoe, A or A‘a (pronounced AH or AH‘AH, this word has many meanings from “fiery” to “giving” and probably only Kuhio and Moku‘ohai really knew what it meant). The canoe was built in Kona by Kahuna Kalaiwa‘a Moku‘ohai (Master Canoe Builder Moku‘ohai came from a family of canoe builders whose descendants still live in the Kealakekua Bay area). This hei‘hei wa‘a had a long and successful carreer and is now housed in Bishop Museum.

In my opinion, Prince Kuhio is the father of International Hawaiian Canoe racing as Duke Kahanamoku is the father of Surfing. If Hawaiian Canoe racing is included as a demonstration sport in the next Olympics, Prince Kuhio should get recognition!

War, politics and social conditions caused interest in the sport to wax and wane. The late 1920’s and up until WWII was a good time for racing. Some of the women’s teams were strong with competition including swimming races before and after canoe events. Especially for the Kealakekua and Honaunau teams. These teams were mostly fishermen before outboard motors. All they did was paddle. Then, after fishing all night, they would train! Needless to say, Honaunau won almost every race. If they didn’t win, it was because they hadn't entered.

After WWII, interest revived when the men came home. During the war, canoe surfing continued along Waikiki, taking the canoes out through the openings in the barbed wire strung along the beach.

When paddling started up again, racing equipment had not changed. Nor had techniques. Canoes were wood, mostly koa hulls with hau wood ‘iako and wiliwili wood ama. Most of these canoes were survivors of the resurging interest of the early 1900’s. Paddles were made from whatever wood was available. Like the old “plank” surfboards with no fin, one time out in the water and your equipment had to dry for a couple of days. Imagine a 3 to 5 pound paddle with a lau (blade) 13 X 21 inches. The shaft was straight with no grip. There were generally two sizes, child and adult.

Paddle shape created paddling technique. Really slow! But with that big blade, paddlers could generate power. Try it sometime, that big paddle will make a believer out of you!

#8 Thu, 04/04/2013 - 9:40am

Lots of story to tell; Someone should make a Movie about ( or if there is already one) how did really the Canoe, Polynesia or the Pacific Islander started cutting tree in the notion in mind of trasporting or getting across the waterways or get to the other island they can see from afar. and Adventuring later thinking that there is another one like this somewhere out there- populated by another tribe. Until fight broke loose and start on conquering the others like "King Kamehameha". Til the modern Voyage,Who brought what Knowlege ( from OC1 to OC 6 )and design from their travel, to racing KOA to Fiber glass, to Unlimited Foam core canoe building and Racing.

Who Got connection with Steven Spleberg Here!

#9 Thu, 04/04/2013 - 9:49am

Hey jc9_0 and healthy, Malia was used in the first Catalina crossing (spearheaded by Toots) after being shipped to Cali for that purpose. You can read all about it at the Catalina Crossing website. From second to last paragraph: "The boats used for that first Catalina race were scheduled to be shipped back to Hawaii after the competition was completed. Noah Kalama and Tom Johnson realizing the development of California outrigger racing would hinge upon a local boat supply, were quick to act. They made a mold of the Malia hull – and California outrigger boat building was born." Also check out the steering blade one of the Cali guys used for 5 hours, supposedly w/o a single drink of water... all in all a great story and definitely supports Luke's vote for Toots as modern-day game-changer.

Wikipedia gives more background on the canoe and has the same story of the plug "reportedly taken without authorization".

#10 Thu, 04/04/2013 - 12:30pm

Just re-read the story myself, and was thinking, if the Cali guys who'd never raced before kept up with an elite Hawaiian crew until the huli, why didn't they take a mold of their canoe! Then we'd all have a bunch of fiberglass Niuhis. (Story sez Niuhe but there's a pic where you can see IUHI... this canoe is listed in Tommy Holmes' book as being 37' 10" and belonging to Leeward Kai, with Malia being 39' 4" and belonging to Surf Club. Can anyone from those clubs confirm or deny they're still around? And, thanks Luke for a mini-vacation from work!

#11 Thu, 04/04/2013 - 12:48pm

Yes, very sad that Tommy Conner has passed. He did so much for the sport and was extremely talented. I don't think there was a paddler who did not look up to him. He bridged the gap from old school to new school with the development of his one mans. Auwe.

I also can think of another legend named Tommy, Tommy Holmes. Aside from his accomplishments on the water, his book, The Hawaiian Canoe, is a must have for any paddler. It has a lot of the (exact) same information mentioned in this thread.

We also can't ignore Karel Sr and John Martin. Karel Sr. helped reshape the way we all trained. His influence extended beyond where he coached. The Fotis as well, legends to say the least. There are many others, each island has a different story.

#12 Thu, 04/04/2013 - 1:09pm

A bit more on the Malia as I understand it. I don't know about now, but the name on the canoe was Malie, It was one of 3 canoes built on the big Island by a builder named Yamashita (I think) The story goes that the Outrigger or Dad Center controlled all 3 canoes and deemed the Malie to be expendable so it was sold to Waikiki Surf Club. Without checking I am sure the Malie has won more Molokai Races thany other canoe and definitely more Koa and first to finish. The Outrigger who has won more Molokais than any other club has done that in at least 6 different canoes. The name Nappy should be added to the Legends list as well.

#13 Thu, 04/04/2013 - 2:46pm

Uncle Nappy, a great human being and going strong. When I met him last summer in DC for the Hawaiian civics clubs convention he said he was still doing Moloka'i. I'm not sure how many he's done but he's like a terminator or something.


#14 Mon, 04/08/2013 - 6:39am

I nominate these guys.

Great video of Jim and John.

#15 Fri, 04/19/2013 - 2:23pm

taking 1st place at Battle of the Paddle SUP & Molokai Solo oc1 --in the same year-- seems pretty legendary.

is Danny Ching the best paddler in the world right now?

#16 Mon, 04/22/2013 - 8:52am

Perhaps Outrigger and SUP. However, when you say the "World", you have to include Tahiti in that mix. Danny may have to go over there and win some races there before claiming the "World's" best outrigger paddler.
No doubt he has the potential.
Still, have to give Danny credit, one tough paddler. Congrats on another Molo win

#17 Mon, 04/22/2013 - 9:24am

legends who I greatly respect....;Nick Neck...Hanalei and Lorrin Harrison,,,Dana Point. Both canoe builders, both great paddlers and both awesome coaches. each with early historical roots to the Molokai Hoe. I am greatly honored to have shared a canoe with each of them.

#18 Mon, 04/22/2013 - 8:45pm

*Nick Beck - My old elementary school principal.

#19 Fri, 04/26/2013 - 5:21am

I nominate Patty Eames.

I think she was on winning Na Wahine winning crews 4 times and last won it at age 52 and many times World Sprint champion. She is also an extremely loving and humble person and a role model for many.


#20 Fri, 04/26/2013 - 5:39am

Luke's original post is asking us to nominate "game changers" people who's exploits and example helped change outrigger paddling.
Well judging by the great performances by all the women in last weeks brutal solo and acknowledging her incredible 10 th solo victory and past success Lauren is a " game changer" and very worthy of being on the list.

#21 Fri, 04/26/2013 - 11:54am

Kisi Haine

#22 Fri, 04/26/2013 - 10:34pm

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