Some history of the Molokai to Oahu canoe race

The annual Molokai to Oahu canoe race has come a long way from its beginnings back in 1952, as I was reminded when watching news of this year’s race.

Only a handful of teams competed in that first race, including the Waikiki Surf Club, shown here.


What follows is a repeat of an entry first posted back in November 2009.

In 2002, my father was asked for his recollections of the founding of the Molokai to Oahu canoe race on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.

It became an opportunity for him to record some memories of that period in the history of Hawaii’s competitive surfing and canoeing.

I’ve found several drafts of his short history, each containing different details, names of people and descriptions of events.

The race was started as part of Aloha Week by the Junior Chamber of Commerce “Oldtimers”, a group of men active in the Jaycees who had aged out of the organization.

He recalls Harry Nardmark, the group’s first president, and several others, who threw themselves into organizing of a range of events, along with the members of the Waikiki Surf Club, which had a committee for surfing and canoeing which was headed by Wally Froiseth, assisted by George Downing.

“Toots” Minville had been talking about the potential for a Molokai-Oahu race for years, based on his experience of conditions in the channel.

His idea was picked up by the “Oldtimers”.

Toots was called in and he went to work in an effort to get organized clubs with outrigger canoes to participate. Outrigger and Hui Nalu were the only organized clubs at the time, other than the newly organized Waikiki Surt Club. Wally Froseth, the head of the canoe committee of the surf club, relished the idea of the event and was the first to volunteer and entry. Henrietta Newman, a resident of Molokai, also was interesting in competing but did not have a canoe to paddle–Toots went to work and obtained the use of an outrigger owned by Doris Duke Cromwell that was loaned for the event.

And so it went.

Canoe owners were reluctant to allow their boats into the race, fearing damage from the often treacherous conditions of the Molokai Channel.

The Outrigger Canoe Club declined to loan its equipment to others for the race, but George “Dad” Center, a prominent Outrigger member, personally offered his 40 foot Koa racing canoe, the “Malia”, to the Waikiki Surf Club.

There’s a funny story unrelated to the Molokai-Oahu race.

When my dad arrived in Honolulu in 1939, he needed a place to store the two surfboards he had brought with him from California.

He quickly found out that the only place on the beach was the Outrigger, but its facilities were available to members only. Membership at the time was $10, so he applied for membership and two lockers for his boards, a solid board shaped by Hoppy Swartz of Venice, California, and a 17′ hollow paddle board.

When I took the boards into the Outrigger Club area, a little dark skinned Hawaiian boy greeted me with, “Hey, haole, where you goin with the ‘Pineapple barge’?”

This little guy was Blue Makua, my first introduction to Waikiki. Blue must have been around 12 years old at the time (maybe younger).

Of course, Blue Makua went on to become one of the best known of the Waikiki beachboys.

In any case, it all makes for interesting reading.

A September 1953 editorial clipped from the Star-Bulletin or Advertiser lauded my father’s role in promoting surfing and canoe racing in the post-WWII years, among other things as a leader in organizing the Hawaii Surfing Association before the outbreak of WWII, and after the war being among the founders of the Waikiki Surf Club and the Hawaiian Canoe Racing and Surfing Association.

The editorial quoted from the 1953 season canoe program:

Lind’s indefatigable perseverance, organizing ability and great interest in preserving the art of canoe paddling has, with the help of many devoted members of the association, made possible the carrying on of the 1952 ad 1953 races.

Next week will mark the third anniversary of his death, but he left his mark, didn’t he!

6 responses to “Some history of the Molokai to Oahu canoe race

  1. I know it sounds corny, but your Dad is proof that there really is such a thing as “Hawaiian at heart”!

  2. I am waiting for a full biography of your father and his exploits. Kickstarter, Ian? I think it would be great.

  3. Brings back memories. I paddled the 1979 Molokai – Oahu race in the Maila then owned by Waikiki Surf Club. My crew came in third in the koa canoe division but still pretty far back in the pack since there were lots of faster crews in reshaped fiberglass canoes.

  4. james marciel

    I am cofounder and first head coach of Kailua CC. in 1971. I also coached the 1966 Lanikai CC to a undefeated season and State championship that year. I have been looking for photos of the Molokai race of 1961 that appeared in the Advertiser or Star Bulletin that include Waikiki Surf about to be passed by my Lanikai crew. We are just to the rear of Blue and Surf Club at Kokohead. I am wearing a white bandana …help ? Much aloha.

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