Tommy Connor

I heard Tommy Connor has passed away. Maybe not everyone knew who this great paddler was, but he was certainly among the greatest in in local scene, and I belive the winner of 11 Molokai Hoe, including his last victory w/ Faaa from Tahiti in 1994 at something like age 50, an unparallleled feat to my knowledge. Anyway, I post this to pay homage to the man as the paddling world mourns the passing of one its most brilliant stars. Apologies if any of my information is wrong, I heard this just now from a mutual friend.

Submitted by Jim on Thu, 03/28/2013 - 4:41pm

Thanks for the information Jim. I had not heard this before seeing your post. This is a very sad loss for the paddling world as Tommy Conner was one of the true legends of our sport. RIP Waterman.

#1 Fri, 04/19/2013 - 6:00am

Paddling, coaching, knowledge.
He has always had my respect.
A hui hou Tommy.

#2 Fri, 03/29/2013 - 7:02am

Tommy Conner is a true legend and inspiration.

There will be many stories shared and tears shed for Tommy. In many ways a bridge from Tahiti and Hawaii.

Article from 2008:

From a 1993 Sports Illustrated Article:


Tom Conner, 48, has steered the men's team of the Outrigger Canoe Club of Oahu to nine wins in 20 Molokai races and coached many of Outrigger's female crews as well. He is so coolly analytical that it's no great surprise to learn that he once was a Honolulu police detective. His wife is Lesline Conner of the Outrigger women's crew, who communes with the spirits of the sea. "Let's say she has a different outlook on this," he says, grinning.

Tom will spend the entire race in the canoe, calling upon years of channel observation for his steering decisions. "I'd say that in more than half of our winning years, there were stronger, faster crews," he says, "but we had more finesse, more expertise in a big ocean and perhaps more knowledge of ourselves than the dial-a-team crews like Offshore, who recruit paddlers for this race. We practice together for six months. I want to know as much as I can about my crew members. The basic idea is to start the race with your fastest six men so you can sprint for position, then put in fresh paddlers who can hold that level."

The reputation for efficiency that Outrigger has attained must be due in some part to Conner. But a rational man examining all the variables in this sport is soon overwhelmed, and a really rational man admits it. "The more you know about paddling," says Conner, "about the wind, waves, current, training, canoe design, pace, crew changes and your own limits...the less you know."

#3 Fri, 03/29/2013 - 7:06am

Tom Connor will definitely be missed. He was a great paddler, steersman, and coach. Although a year younger I was Tommy's first coach in paddling. He started as a novice in 1967 and in 1968 was on our winning Molokai crew with the Outrigger Canoe Club. Although being credited with many wins as a steersman Tommy won his first 3 Molokai races as a paddler, and in the 4th steered in relief and later became a steersman. In 1984 he shared steering/paddling with Fred Hemmings and we won the first Masters Molokai division and were 3rd overall. It was a pleasure for me to paddle with Tommy over all of those years, and gradually hand over the coaching to him knowing he would take it to a higher level

I could go on for quite awhile talking about our Molokai wins and coaching triumphs, but wanted to share a bit of my " TC" days with the current paddling world.

Aloha Tommy,
Mark Buck

#4 Fri, 03/29/2013 - 9:03pm

I was honored to meet and talk with Tommy in his prime. He was a fantastic wealth of information. He'll be missed.
Cano Maui

#5 Fri, 03/29/2013 - 9:27pm

Just want to say that the world of one-man outrigger racing, as we know it today, would not exist if it were not for Tom Connor, who outfitted his C-Ski with ama and iako, and surfed to victory in the 1991 Kaiwi Challenge. He and his relay partner demonstrated that single bladed propelled one-man's could surf the bumps just as well as surfskis. After this Molokai to Oahu Relay Race, everyone wanted a bump riding one-man and demand for them exploded, which revolutionized the sport of outrigger canoeing to where most of us now have our own personal canoe. Mahalo Tom for help paving a lifestyle we all enjoy today.

#6 Mon, 04/01/2013 - 12:27am

Obituary from 4/12/13 edition of Star Advertiser:

Tommy Conner
Published On April 12th, 2013 - Honolulu Star-Advertiser

March 28, 2013
Tommy Conner, 68, of Kailua, a retired fire captain and waterman, died in St. Francis Hospice. He was born in Mountain View, Hawaii. He is survived by wife Rene’e; sons Vaimana I., Kalena T. and Kalaeloa T.; daughter Kananilehua V.; stepdaughters Jana M.W.L. Goo-Akaka and Kira K. Kaloi; sister Maureen L.; and eight grandchildren. Services pending.

#8 Fri, 04/12/2013 - 4:24am

A celebration of Tommy's life will be held April 21 at 10:00 am at Lanikai Community Park with a scattering of ashes off Lanikai and kanikapila at the park following. Please join the Conner & paddling Ohana with your watercraft to send Tommy on his final journey.

Tommy was generally credited with bringing the surf ski to Hawaii from Tahiti and was an original designer of the OC1 that radically changed the face of the sport. Attached is a photo of his circa 1978 OC1 prototype.

#9 Wed, 04/17/2013 - 12:54pm

That picture is awesome. Is that Tommy in Hawai'i with that canoe? Could that be the first OC-1 in Hawai'i?

Wow. That is epic.

#10 Wed, 04/17/2013 - 1:05pm

As far as I can tell this was Tommy's first prototype and was made in Hawaii. He left numerous stages of inventions behind, it could take years to figure out what he was building. What ever it is I know it's FAST & DIFFERENT.

#11 Wed, 04/17/2013 - 11:16pm

that's cool! Check out he super low rider in the background too.

#12 Thu, 04/18/2013 - 8:32am

I guess what I was getting at, is that that could be the oldest picture of an OC-1 in Hawai'i?

Who made the first sit-on top?
What came first, John Martin's Honu? Walter Guild's Kaiwi Challenger? Or Tommy Conners OC-1? Or something else? What year? Any pictures? Thanks Aeloa for sharing.

#13 Thu, 04/18/2013 - 8:55am

I believe the first one mans built that also raced in the Molokai Oahu Surfski Race were made by Joe Quigg and Dale Hope paddled one of them. Although Tommy was instrumental in the development of the surfski he did not bring them from Tahiti. Rather they were brought to Hawaii by Hayden Kenney of Australia, who later furnished a couple of molds to a local group here. Tommy and Wayne Faulkner were some of the people taught how to build the Hayden Skis. Later Tommy and Marshall Rosa each went on their own and started to make different models and push the envelope. As an owner of numerous C-skis I can certainly appreciate what Tommy did for the sport!

#14 Thu, 04/18/2013 - 9:23am

Was that Joe Quigg and Dale Hope canoe a sit on top? Was it molded, or just a modified Ski?
What was the first production molded OC-1?

Sorry for all the questions. Thanks MB for answering.

#15 Thu, 04/18/2013 - 9:56am


The quigg canoes were sit on top, more like surfboards almost. I think the first molded OC1 was the long skinny one made by Walter Guild and the Fiberglass Shop back in the 80s.

Hope that helps!

#17 Thu, 04/18/2013 - 11:17am

Tommy was a good guy, very well respected and will be remembered as one of the 'hero's' of our sport.
I wanted to comment on mbsski's post and luke's questions about the first one man's. I had the pleasure of becoming friends with Tommy Holmes in 1975 when Hokule'a came to Molokai. After meeting him and sailing with him on Hokule'a, we became good friends. He was writing his Hawaiian Canoe book at the time. I cannot remember what year it was, but I would guess the late 70's, maybe 78, 79 or maybe even 80, Tommy called me to ask if I could help him pick up his one man canoe from the pier at Kaunakakai and take it to Hale O Lono. What was happening was he, Dale Hope, and Paul Gay each had one man's and the three of them were going to jump in the kayak race and race to Oahu. Paul Gay was bringing Dale's boat up on his boat. This was back when Kalai Handly and the other kayakers would start from Laau point, and race to Oahu. Nothing organized or official. It was the start of the surf ski races...those years. At Hale O Lono, Dale and Paul was there. All three boats were rather large. Tommy's was a long, kind of wide yet slick design that he threw together..I believe Dale's boat was made from two bows of a malia mold canoe that was put together, and Paul had some kind of a long, slick spooky looking thing as well. I couldn't see Paul's up close because he had it on the roof of his escort boat., but all 3 sat inside the boat like a traditional canoe, not like cockpit style from Tahiti. Looking at those 3 boats and comparing them to what we all ride today, there is absolutely NO WAY anyone today would paddle those boats, let alone take it across the channel.

Wanted to share this because I had the pleasure of being associated with the first known one man race/ least as far as I know...done by these three pioneers. Dale Hope and Paul Gay could probably give you guys way more information. Along with Dale Hope, Mr. Budweiser himself, Uncle Cline Mann was there as well. Me and Cline were having refreshments as Dale and Tommy were putting the finishing touches on their boats. Cline and Tommy. Now Tommy C. can join them and start swapping canoe stories.

#18 Thu, 04/18/2013 - 1:29pm

That story is amazing, thank you for sharing.

When people say "so and so could race a bathtub across and still win," it sounds like Dale really raced a bathtub across the channel. I keep trying to picture the bow and stern of a Malia... and, no offense to the Malia (of which I have been paddling one a lot recently), take out the middle of a Malia and you're left with a beast of a canoe.

Any one have any idea where these canoes are? I can sort of imagine them all in Paul Gay's garage. Someone needs to take these canoes in and preserve them.

#19 Thu, 04/18/2013 - 1:41pm

Solo outriggers always existed in Hawaii in some form or the other: whether they'd be a hollow balsa board with outrigger sticks and a float attached, or a 3 boarder with an outboard motor. Tom liked to experiment, even converting a Van Dusen K-1 Eagle to an outrigger canoe, which he raced out in the ocean and at HCKT Knockout Races in the Ala Wai. At the last Knockout Race, many years ago, I was surprised, that for the final heat, he switched from his converted Eagle and borrowed my long needle nose Horizon OC-1 to win the Master's Division. So even in the flat, the man knew when to make a change.

Prior to 1993, Walter Guild's long needle nose Horizon was the first factory production OC-1 made in Hawaii. He later added a rudder and a strongback. They were referred to as "long boats." The Tahitians called them "lagoon boats."

1993, John Martin's Honu was the second factory production OC-1 made in Hawaii. However, it was the first production OC-1 designed and made to surf and milk the open ocean waves or bumps. They were called "short boats," to differentiate them from the "long boats," which were not designed to surf or ride bumps.

As a response to the popular Honu, Walter teamed up with Brent Bixler and debuted their version of the "short boat" called the Kaiwi Challenger. This was 2nd factory production bump riding OC-1 made in Hawaii after the Honu. The mold for the "long boat" Horizon was later sold and shipped to Tiger in Kona

ps: Often overlooked is Karel Sr., who also crossed the Channel, but in a mono hull instead of an outrigger. He paddled on his knees and never switched sides paddling. He paddled and steered only on one side in his rudderless canoe. Eventually, he did get the mold for an OC-1 from Paul Gay's back yard, added a rudder and made his own production "long boat" for Lanikai and Waikiki Beach Boy paddlers.

#20 Thu, 04/18/2013 - 2:01pm

It is nice to see you all discussing the history of one man paddling again, especially in honor of Tommy Connor! Attached is another of one of my father's one man canoes. We have a mold in the back yard - not sure which canoe it is for. Dale Hope and Tommy Holmes canoes were Hawaiian designs. My dad took his cues from Tahitian designs, he and my Uncle Gale Berengue got the bug when they used to go down to Tahiti for the Bastille fete celebrations in July. They represented Lanikai Canoe Club a few times. Lots of partying! They brought back new toys! All these creative minds have helped get us where we are today...amazing evolution! Thank you to each and very one of them and you who keep perpetuating our beloved sport! ~ Dani Gay

#21 Thu, 04/18/2013 - 2:52pm

Hey Dani...tell your dad that Ron said hi. Tell him to come visit.

#22 Thu, 04/18/2013 - 3:49pm


You might check with Dale Hope or Joe Quigg for the early models

#23 Thu, 04/18/2013 - 6:25pm

Great stories all, glad there were so many pioneers to lead the way!

One rumor that I would like to put to rest once and for all is that Tommy's last name was CONNER, not Connor, Connors, Conners or any of the other myriad of variations in print or reference. Now that he's gone it's probably time to finally set the record straight. As he always told me, he wasn't plural. :-) there was only one of him.

#24 Thu, 04/18/2013 - 6:55pm

Kailuapoidawg: your uncle Gale and Tom were high school classmates at Roosevelt High School with both graduating in 1962 over 50 years ago.

#25 Thu, 04/18/2013 - 7:50pm

Ron - I will tell him to visit you and you said hi, Koacanoe - cool! My Mom is '62 from Kailua High same age also. Aloha!

#26 Fri, 04/19/2013 - 12:53am

Yesterday at the Service for Tommy Conner I was able to find out a little more about the Quigg one mans that Dale Hope and Bill Bright paddled in the 1980 Molokai Surfski Race. They were both there and we chatted for a while about the brutal experience! Dale donated his to the Outrigger Foundation and Bill's was borrowed from Joe. Pretty much more of a surfboard construction with a pad on top and an ama!

#27 Mon, 04/22/2013 - 8:17am

Please register or login to post a comment.

Page loaded in 0.208 seconds.