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Wahine o Hawai`i
1999 Kawika Sands

Doris Duke, Rell Sunn

Da Hanna Batta Days:
From 1900 to 1950 saw a phenomenon called the "Beach boy." The most famous? Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku. Duke loved water sports including surfing, paddling and of course, swimming. His swimming ability took him to the Olympics where he won four gold medals and was eventually elected Sheriff. In paddling an outrigger, he was a fanatic about keeping sand/dirt out and insisted everyone keep it clean. Duke died of a heart attack at the age of 77. In tribute, his ashes were paddled out to sea and spread over the waves.

In the first decade, Prince Kuhio commissioned the A`a (by Henry Weeks in Kona) winning races in 1906, 1907, 1908, and 1910. Intended to be the fastest canoe, it was also designed for sailing, surfing and fishing. By 1922 the first "open" regatta was held. During the 1930's, Congress sent a committee to Hawai`i to see if it was ready for statehood. In South Kona, the modern outrigger canoe racer was built from which the Kalani, Leilani, and Malia class racers would come. During this time there was competition from other sports for the athlete's time, so outrigging was not as popular. By 1939 "Toots" Minvielle (Outrigger Canoe Club) proposed the Moloka`i to O`ahu race. Many thought it impossible (or crazy) but Toots kept pushing for it. In the 40's, Pearl Harbor was attacked bringing American involvement in World War II starting the Japanese Isei and Nisei (first and second generation Japanese) in Hawai`i (mostly community leaders) at any one of several camps throughout the Islands.

DORIS DUKE (-1993)
To say this woman led an incredibly interesting life would be a gross understatement! Daughter of American Tobacco Company and Duke University founder, James Buchanan Duke, she was dubbed "The Billion Dollar Baby" and "Richest girl in the world." The last figure in America's gilded age. Aside from being a talented jazz pianist (and an American agent and spy during World War II), she was also a women's surfing champion and a noted canoe sailing enthusiast. She traveled the world several times over but her favorite place was her estate at the foot of Diamond Head (Black's Point) she called "Shangri-La."

Here, she came to know Sam Kahanamoku and one of his brothers, Duke. She learned to surf off Waikiki and the local boys found the tall blonde wahine fascinating in contrast to the local girls. Doris likewise found the bronze-skinned boys interesting, particularly Duke. While Duke Kahanamoku was Sheriff, he and Doris became openly romantic (though she was married at the time). During this time, she also became pregnant. The ramifications were not lost on either of them. Doris, emotionally upset, surfed near Waikiki with a vengeance, wiping-out over and over again until bruised and bleeding. Some say while praying for her baby to be taken. Her prayers were answered. Arden was born premature and died a day later. According to one biography, the baby had dark skin.

A generous donor throughout her life, Doris left more than 90% of her estate to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation providing continuing support for the wide variety of causes she favored from medical research, the prevention of cruelty to children and animals, child and youth services, and international relief to the performing arts and cultural causes. Upon her death in 1993, her ashes were spread out at sea in view of Diamond Head.

During the 50's, Hawai`i was granted statehood (1959). Contrary to what many may think, the feeling of the day was revelry. The Catalina race was born thanks again to Toots and Noah Kalama (who helped form the Kalifornia Outrigger Association). Canoes were being made from fiberglass, and Toots finally succeeded in convincing Waikiki Surf (O`ahu), Hawaiian Surf (O`ahu), and Kukui o Lanakila (Moloka`i) Clubs to enter the first Moloka`i to O`ahu race and convinced the Aloha Week Committee to sponsor it. In 1954, six women from the Waikiki Surf Club wanted to paddle the Kaiwi Channel but they couldn't find enough support. Nor would the U.S. Coast Guard let them for "safety" reasons. The idea would have to wait until the 70's.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Rell. I was still living in Laguna Beach, California (before moving to Honolulu) when I first saw her picture in a surfing magazine with friends on Victoria Beach. To this day, I remember the picture of a slender island girl with long dark hair, big round sunglasses and an AMAZING smile.

Although women surfed alongside men in Hawai`i for centuries, since the arrival of Christian missionaries, their participation in surfing had been discouraged. During the 1950's, boys generally rode the waves while girls stayed on the beach. A native of Makaha (on the leeward coast of O`ahu, about 25 miles northwest of Honolulu), she grew up just blocks from the world's most famous surf spot.

Rell began surfing at age 4, started competing at 14 and won her first contest at 16 with virtually no competition for women. Rell entered men's competitions and nearly ALWAYS made the finals. By 1975 Rell and other pioneers, like Joyce Hoffman (world champion 1966-67 of San Juan Capistrano, California) and Linda Benson (Pacific Coast Women's Champion 1959, 1960 and 1961), inspired enough women to start surfing that Rell was able to help found the Women's Professional Surfing Association and establish the first professional tour for women. She created and produced the Menehune contest and was Hawaii`s first female lifeguard. Hawaiians considered her a state treasure who used her fame to celebrate Hawaiian culture. Briefly ranked No. 1 on the tour in 1982, Rell competed in California, Australia, South Africa, France, and elsewhere as the top-ranked women on the longboard. Rell had established the credentials that would qualify her to become one of the first women inducted into the International Surfing Museum's Walk of Fame in Huntington Beach, California.

Then, tragedy struck. In 1983, Rell was diagnosed with breast cancer. In typical Rell Sunn style, she referred to it as her "Biggest wave ever." Rell began treatment including a mastectomy, a bone marrow transplant, and so much chemotherapy that she lost her beautiful, long hair FIVE times. But never her sense of humor. The only concession she made to the disease was to wear a bathing cap when she surfed. After an impatient hospital stay, she persuaded the doctors to let her go home. The doctors begrudgingly allowed her to go only AFTER they made her promise to go strait to bed and STAY there. Of course, as soon as she got home she headed strait to the beach saying "Surfing is the best therapy." On another occasion, she stated "...I've never forsaken my friend the ocean that gave me surfing, canoeing, diving, tide pool browsing, sailing and friends on the beach all over the world...."

In October of 1997, she was feeling well enough to paddle around the island of Moloka`i with her friends. However, she weakened rapidly after that. On New Year's Day, 1998, Rell was taken down to the beach on a stretcher to taste the sea on her lips one last time. After a 14 year battle with breast cancer, she died the very next evening. Two weeks later, in a service Rell had planned, thousands of people gathered at the beach to pay their respects. At about 11:30 a.m., January 17, 1998, Rell's ashes were placed in a transparent, light-green glass bowl, taken to the Makaha Blowhole, and offered to the ocean. After her ashes were scattered over the water, several hundred surfers made a final ride with Rell.

It was Rell's great fear that she would be remembered not as a woman of the sea, but rather, as a victim of cancer. "Her prognosis the whole time I knew her was 'she has six months'" said Tara Torburn (member of the Oceanside Longboard Surfing Club, a key organizer of the Rell Sunn Menehune Contest, and longtime friend of Rell's). Another recalled "She made every person feel like you were her special friend." Despite all of her accomplishments, Rell remained a completely humble and unselfish person. Rell often explained, "The aloha spirit is real simple. You give and you give and you give . . . and you give from here (the heart), until you have nothing else to give."

Of all the adoring appellations bestowed upon her: "Surfing's Sunny Ambassador," "The Queen of Makaha," "Matriarch of surfing in Hawai`i," The one that suited her best was the name her parents gave her: Kapolioka`ehukai "The heart of the sea."


http://topex.ucsd.edu/luau/sunn/sunn.html http://www.surflink.com/justsurf/women/rellsunn/wahine.html http://starbulletin.com/98/01/12/editorial/special.html


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Hele on to Canoe Club News

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