History of Keoua Honaunau Canoe Club

Collected and retold by Jeanie Cluff, 1997
From the Honaunau News, Spring 1997

"Inspired by Ted Ralston's story, and the follow up article of Kathie Dunn I've decided to add it to the scrapbook, though it's long. Hope you enjoy."

Polynesian cultural heritage is primarily an oral history. The genealogies and stories have been maintained and retold through the chant. With the missionary influence, spoken Hawaiian was discouraged, the remaining chants became secret treasures within families, occasionally used publicly in some hula. A huge gap occurred in the lives of Hawaiians and the practices of their cultural arts. Children are no longer disciplined in the memorization of the chants. Our canoe family has grown, but the history of the growth within our family has not been recorded. What remains are many people's memories. This is an attempt to document Keoua / Honaunau Canoe Club's history for our understanding and preservation of the art of Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Paddling.

In and about the 1930s, fishermen lived and worked out of Honaunau Bay. According to many resources, they also had an unbeatable canoe club. Some of the people of that paddling team were: Abe Kahili, Ben Kekuewa, Eli Carter, George Keli'i, Eugene Gaspar, Charlie Hua. Julian Yates was the coach. Some of the paddlers were County workers and maintained the pathway and land between Honaunau and Ho'okena and it's rumored that Yates, a fierce taskmaster, encouraged the workers, "you work hard, come lunch you can paddle and get paid."

In the 1933 regatta at Napo'opo'o, there were 5 Hawaii Canoe Clubs: Miloli'i, Ho'okena, Honaunau, Kona and Hilo. Outrigger Canoe Club placed first that year. In 1934, in Kailua Bay, some "20,000 spectators watched a Kailua Club defeat all comers." In 1935, "Julian Yates' persistent coaching of Honaunau's great collection of canoe crews, paid off with Honaunau winning six of eight races."1. In 1936, the races were in Honolulu Harbor, Honaunau "won the regatta with the most team points, with Kona crews reaching their peak of performance in 1936 when the Honaunau Club won 7 out of the 9 races. It was a startling and sweeping victory for Kona, and came as a fitting tribute to the untiring work and coaching of Julian Yates."2. It was told to me that in the 1936 winning crew, a woman, Adeline Kaneau, steered the Honaunau Canoe Club to victory.

It is documented that the Hawaiian Canoe Racing and Surfing Association (HCRSA) was established in the early '50s on Oahu due to much chaos and bitterness in the races with no written rules, with reports of jamming paddles in opponents canoes, etc.

August 9,1952, the HCRSA welcomed the First Annual Julian R Yates Hawaiian Canoe Racing Championships at Kailua Bay, Kona. The affiliated clubs were: Healani, Honaunau Canoe Club, Hui Kalia, Hui Nalu, Kai Opua Canoe Club, Koolaupoko Canoe Club, Maalaea Boat and Fishing Club, Outrigger Canoe Club and Waikiki Canoe Club. This following paragraphs are from the Official program that sold for 15 cents:

"The revival of canoe racing on the Big Island comes with the running of the Julian R Yates Hawaiian Canoe Racing Championships today at Kailua Bay. It pays tribute to Julian Yates for obvious reasons, since had it not been for Julian Yates, canoe racing would not have achieved the tremendous popularity it enjoyed 20 years ago. It's revival in 1952 has it's roots in those thrilling regattas staged along the Kona Coast in the mid '''30s.

In the old days, the outrigger canoes of Honolulu swept to so many victories, the races became monotonous, and the winner was conceded before the starting gun sounded. Julian Yates, and other community leaders of Kona, did something about it. A fighting spirit was instilled in the paddlers of Miloli'i, Honaunau and Kailua. The crews trained long hours and Kona sunsets would find canoes silhouetted against the sky, gliding swiftly across the water."3

Participation in this festival began two days before the races when the Oahu clubs flew from Honolulu, tuned up and practiced in Kailua Bay. The following day, there were prearranged sightseeing trips for paddlers, practice and then music and entertainment by Hawaii's own Iolani Luahine at Hulihee Palace featuring Ancient and Modern Hulas.

Racing took place all day with awards presented by the Racing Association Queen and the Hawaii County Band. A luau followed, Bon Dance and a Ball at the Kona Inn, admission free , dress: something Hawaiian.

Contestants: any club belonging to the association.
Paddlers: any bona-fide member of an affiliated club.
Canoes: must be hollowed out of solid Koa log. No limit on length.
Lanes: each club draws its lane for each race several days ahead, these will differ from race to race.
Paddles: wooden of any design, size limiter. One extra allowed per crew. Two bailing buckets allowed.
Turns: Must be made to the left around the buoy or marker to the left of the canoe.
Disqualifications: Touching the marker, two false starts causing collision, finishing in the wrong lane.4

Honaunau entered in every event, and had two canoes named Naia and Palamimo. The coach was Charles Hua and the names of paddlers are repeating names from the '30s list: E Gaspar, B Kekuewa, A Kahili, E Carter, P Carter, Kelii, Wali, E Leslie, M Leslie, H Leslie, P Kelekolio, W Cho, H Cho, F Thompson, B Tabil, L Ako, L Kelekolio, N Olsen, M Olsen, T Kaupu, S DeMello, B Burke, P Medeiros, L Travis. Are these fathers and sons, Uncles, sisters Aunties from the early paddlers? Did these guys paddle as teens in 1936 and as 30 year old in the '50s? Where are they now?

During the 1960s on the Big Island, there were three clubs: Kawaihae, Waikea (now Kamehameha) and Kai O Pua. Also in the early ''60s, Pu'uhonua O Honaunau was established as a National Park.

In the early '70s, Hale O Ho'oponopono was established to fill the need of many local kids who had a difficult time relating to the education process as presented by Konawaena. It brought in good people and ideas, to create an education system that included cultural history and studies, as well as traditional educational basics. Uncle Moses and Auntie Lily were the house parents, advisers and friends to students. They took the kids fishing, 'opihi picking, taught canoe maintenance, paddling and Halau upkeep. Whatever needed to be done at Pu'uhonua O Honaunau was a part of their curriculum. There was also a reemergence of learning the Hawaiian language. The school bought the canoe Tutu Pele and started the canoe club. Other people involved in that project were Boots Matthews, Dixon Enos and Joe Tassell. Andrew Coito was the president and Calvin Kelekolio, the coach. Somewhere in those early days, Tutu Clara renamed the club, Keoua.

"Tutu Clara in her big papale, gathering everyone around our two fiberglass canoes, Keoua and Kaahumanu, on the beach in Hilo, before the regatta begins...holding hands...pule kakou! Going to Hilo on a bus, we stop at a cemetery on a hill above the bay, Braddah Joe Tassell leading the way, we stop and gather round Tutu Clara...pule kakou, mahalo!"5

In the early '70s, the County bought and distributed 10 "Malia" glass canoes to the Moku O Hawaii clubs. They were assigned to new clubs as they were formed, older clubs having then to relinquish theirs. Kaahumanu was thus reassigned to Queen Lili'uokalani CC in '76. By that time we already acquired Keoua Elua.

Herb Kane reports he brought the Hokule'a into Honaunau Bay in 1975, and they were practicing. In '78-'79 Herb and the Benson's designed and built Kanaloa with Calvin's input.

"My first gold medal crew, Sophomore Division: Obed Hooper, Henry Cho, Mike Delaries, Harry Alu, Mel Kadohiro, and Rafael Ramirez. Our first Senior Men, the "gorillas": Kaipo Deguair, John Spencer, Elwood Hooper, Stan Dzura, Alton Hooper, Alex Waitai, Jim Higgins, and Kini Uyeshiro.

Koa canoes were only used at State Championships, and only a few clubs had koa, the rest borrowed for that day. In 1980, all regattas had to be in koa. Uncle John Deguair bought the KeaukahaoKalani for use by Keoua that year. This was used by Keoua until they lost the manu in a Puna race. The canoe went to Kawaihae to be repaired, and was hit with the residual winds of Hurricane Iwa (11/23/82). She was rebuilt and later renamed Lei Momi."6

The Tahitians arrived in the mid ''70s. At the Hilo race in '76, a 'special events race' was arranged. The Tahitians entered with some "crazy looking stroke" and blew them all away. Everybody wanted to paddle Tahitian after that, and it has created 23 years of good arguments about what is the "better stroke". It was also rumored when the Tahitians went to Moloka'i in '76, they would have won, but they had to wait for Outrigger to show them the way to go in, on Oahu.

Also in 1980, the club paddled from Napo'opo'o.

"In '82 I was approached by Uncle Louie Kahanamoku of Kauikeaouli CC (now Keauhou) and we discussed a collaboration between our clubs to cut and bring down several koa logs, then have the Tahitians carve them into canoes. We would put up some money ($5,000) and provide most of the heavy labor. In exchange, we would get one koa canoe! Kauikeaouli CC had the connection for the logs and the Tahitians. They would arrange for the trip to Hawaii and care for the Tahitians while the logs were carved. After several years of asking for permission and looking for a suitable log on different properties in South Kona, this sounded too good to be true!

The big day came, I visited Uncle Moses who gave us his blessing and instructions, we headed up to Puuwaawaa. Tom Barboza climbed the first koa tree and topped some branches before cutting it down. It was so difficult that afterwards we just cut the trees without climbing them. We spent three days up there, sandalwood all over, and many birds, akiapola'au and elepaio, quite a camping trip. A lot of hard work and play. It was very cold at night but Kawika walked all around barefoot and in shorts.

Before leaving the forest, Manny came up from Kawaihae and asked us to cut a log for him. I cut one we had been saving, probably the best of the bunch. We should ask him which canoe was born from it.

Now the logs were down, we had to get them to the Old Airport for the Tahitians. Finally they came, there was a group of 8 or 10, and on the first day they cut most of the logs in half. The canoes began taking shape immediately, and in less than one month they had carved 6 canoes."7 "It is interesting to note that almost every canoe in existence was built on the Kona Coast, in whose forests today can still be found an occasional Koa tree of sufficient girth and height required for these graceful, bird-like crafts."8

"The blessing was held at Keauhou Bay, birthplace of Kauikeaouli. We thought we would get to pick our canoe, the Honaunau was chosen for us and we gratefully accepted. Uncle Moses blessed the canoes, Healani and Hualani danced hula, we slowly paddled them out to sea and dropped ho'okupu into the ocean. Honaunau came home to our Ohana..."9

In 1983, paddlers remember there were two men's crews, novice B and Senior Men, and one wahine, novice B. That year at Big Island Championships, both men's teams got the gold and the wahine, the silver. The wahines went to States on Oahu and won the gold. Their canoes were Keoua, Keoua Elua, Kanaloa,

Calvin died in 1986, shortly before "Tutu Clara's Regatta" sponsored by Keoua. There was concern about doing the event, but it was felt Calvin would have wanted to see the Club press onward. Calvin had been carving a piece of Koa for a perpetual trophy of this regatta, which was not completed. In four 24 hour days, Dave Kermott, Kawika Spaulding, Mike from Kau and James Siu finished the carving, in time to be presented at the regatta. The trophy now resides in the lobby of the Manago Hotel. It surfaces for special awards and in 1996 was given to Puna Canoe Club in honor of their great spirit shown throughout the season. After Calvin's death, Keoua began sponsoring a long distance race in his honor.

Kurtis Yamauchi become head coach the season before Calvin's death, with Calvin as advisor / mentor. Past presidents: Andrew Coito, John Deguair, Joe Tassell, Tony Amonuis, Rafael Ramirez, John Olson, Katherine Howard, Meredith Lenell, and Steve Koolpe.

Kapuwai came in 1986. The log for our Koa Ka'ahumanu was on the lot in 1990, she was roughed out by Jacque Wong in '91. He returned in '93 to finish her. Successful fundraisers were held in '93: the MacAThon, and Kawika's "Three Peaks Run", to help the club finalize the purchase.

In '93 Keoua Ku'ahu'ula and Kaholo were purchased from California Canoe Clubs, San Diego. In the spring of 1996 we blessed Ku'ahu'ula and began to use her. __

Spring 1994 I came to paddle in Honaunau. There were enough novice women to create a new division, the Senior Master's Women. With only three canoes in that division, we had a wonderful year, we metaled every time. By the second year, I recognized my competitive side, and had opinions of how I thought things should be. In my third year I began to see that every combination of people has it's possibility, and the art is to find the key that unlocks the potential of everyone in the canoe to work together to make it meld into one effort, one heart.

Kaiwi Channel drew the Men of Keoua to the Moloka'i Hoe in 1996. They departed with high hopes, and were moving into the top 10 off of Koko Head, when a big wave broke over Kaahumanu, "something sent the a'ama under the canoe and flipped us upside down the hard way".10 The canoe was righted, but the rigging had loosened and the a'ama was upside down on the iakus. In the 8-12 feet waves, and the chaos of the situation, she filled and submerged, and when attempting to tow her into safety, she began breaking up. No one was hurt physically in the circumstance, but each one's heart was broken.

Years of watching the loving care given to the canoes, brings a sense of the ache these men had to feel. A Queen of Koa canoes, Kaahumanu brought us many moments of great joy. I raced in her at Pohoiki. Most of her torso sits in the Halau at Honaunau and is being rebuilt. We also have purchased a new koa log that rests in our lower lot. This is our future, based on our past. We will have the opportunity to observe this ancient of arts relived in our daily lives.

February 1997, Kialoa CC from Kauai paddling out of Nawiliwili Harbor hulid in a remote area, and while in the water securing their lashings, someone spotted the manu to our Kaahumanu. She too has returned to our Ohana.

Keouans tell me in their early memories of paddling at Honaunau, there was the presence of the Kupuna watching practices and races. In particular, Uncle Sam, a well respected man, was to be found on the beach by the school. People came to seek his advice and paddlers would greet him, receiving his blessing as they paddled and blended to create one spirit of the canoe. There was always a Pule before going out to meet the challenge, and before departing the event, all would gather to sing Hawaii Aloha to acknowledge thanks for the gifts of the day and ask for safe passage home. The image of this visionary person blessing our work, watching over us as a group, should remain with every paddler who sits in a canoe. Our canoe is a vehicle to teach us how to grow, remain strong and and to rely on each other.

1997 brings Jacque Wikum as our head coach, and with her comes energy and enthuesiasm. Our spirit remains strong with solid foundations, and we wait for our lessons in the canoe.

1. Tommy Holmes, The Hawaiian Canoe, p 139
2. notes from the 'Official Program', "Julian R Yates Canoe Championships", Kailua Kona, August 9, 1952
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Raefel Ramirez
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid
8. 'Official Program', "Julian R Yates Canoe Championships", Kailua Kona, August 9, 1952
9. Raefel Ramirez
10. Kawika Spaulding

A hui hou, Jean Cluff

Hele On Back