Kumu Hina



Over the course of a momentous year, Kumu Hina, a native Hawaiian mahu (transgender) teacher, inspires a tomboyish young girl to claim her place as leader of an all-male hula troupe, as Kumu Hina herself searches for love and a fulfilling romantic relationship with an unpredictable young Tongan man.






Real Boy


This film tells the coming-of-age story of Bennett, a trans teenager with dreams of musical stardom. During the first two years of his gender transition, as Bennett works to repair a strained relationship with his family, he is taken under the wing of his friend and musical hero, celebrated trans folk singer Joe Stevens.


The Perfect Crime


Re-examine the shocking story of Leopold and Loeb, two wealthy college students who murdered a 14-year-old boy in 1924 to prove they were smart enough to get away with it. Their trial set off a national debate about morality and capital punishment.


This program will encore Fri., Feb. 12, 11:00 pm


How Can Our Community Better Understand Gender Diversity?


The film A Place in the Middle tells the true story of a young girl who feels at home in an all-male halau. Other young people in Hawai‘i are also trying to navigate a world traditionally defined by gender roles. How can our community better understand gender diversity?


Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.


Phone Lines:
973-1000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.




Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights


Victor Marx


As a young boy growing up in Lafayette, Louisiana, Victor Marx was beaten, electrocuted, and tortured by his stepfather. By the time he graduated from high school, he was “using drugs, fighting and stealing.” It took the discipline of the United States Marine Corps and faith in God to help him recover from his traumatic childhood. Today, Victor Marx dedicates himself to helping troubled and abused youth and traumatized war veterans.


Victor Marx Audio


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You know, most people who are victimized as a young kid will feel an X on them, ‘cause it doesn’t stop. It’s typically not an incident. And for me, the instability of fourteen schools, seventeen different homes, all the different stepfathers coming in. You know, one’s a murdered, one was in prison. I mean, just the craziness of it, you believe, that becomes normal as a kid. Again, you can’t process as right. But for me, I will say this. I never wanted to give up, because I just kept thinking, When I’m older, when I’m older, I’m gonna have a good life.


Victor Marx survived the upheaval and abuse he suffered during his youth, growing up to become an excellent shooter in the U.S. Marine Corps, a martial arts master, and a weapons instructor. Now, he uses his lethal skills to heal troubled youth. Victor Marx, next on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Victor Marx is known for many things, including his seventh-degree black belt in Keichu-do karate and Jiu-jitsu, fourth-degree black belt in weapons, and a record time in fastest gun disarm. A resident of California, and the founder and president of All Things Possible Ministries, the Louisiana-born Marx once operated a martial arts business in Honolulu at the Ward Warehouse. At the time of our conversation in 2015, Marx travels around the world, offering hope to young people who are suffering from abuse. Before he was able to become an inspiration to others, though, he had to first recover from the severe trauma of his own childhood. In a way, it started even before he was born, in Lafayette, Louisiana.


I was born in the 60s, and I had three siblings already. My mother, who was young, she had her first child at sixteen. Their marriage didn’t make it, and they were divorced when I was born. My father actually became a drug dealer and a pimp. And the night that I was conceived, he actually put a gun to her head. Didn’t claim me when she was pregnant. He actually told her, That ain’t mine. Didn’t call me a kid; he said, That ain’t mine. Because she had gotten into other relationships already. And the next man she married we call Mr. K in the book. You know, this wasn’t like some drug dealer on a street corner. This was an educated man who had served in the military, who had been in counterintelligence.


So, he seemed like a respectable man.


Correct. And at the time, he actually even owned a bookstore, a college bookstore. Hemmingway was one of his favorite reads. And you know, my mother—I think she was twenty-two at the time, four children. You know, she’s thinking, Ah, okay. But something intuitively knew he was kinda messed up.


He was horrifying. He would torture you.


Yes. Yeah. Yeah; you know, there was perversion, but there was also intentional, what the experts would say, torture. You know, being electrocuted, being dunked in a tub until I would pass out. I remember waking up on the cold bathroom floor to him breathing into my mouth. And I’m sputtering. And he just said, Boy, don’t ever forget I’m the one that gives you life. And those are what I call lies based on reality. And until you really come to exchange those out for what the truth is, a person will remain really hamstrung by what’s happened in his childhood, ‘cause that’s implanted into you, becomes part of your fabric. ‘Cause as kid, all you can process is … I wasn’t breathing, I am now, he was the one dunking me in the tub, holding me in. I guess he does give me life. Actually, I thought he was my biological dad. I wasn’t told, you know. But I want to share this publicly. He wanted to seal to what he had done to me. And the way of protecting themselves, abusers will always use fear. Fear of death, or whatnot. And he actually had brought me to a house one night out in the country, early morning. It was a little wooden house, and there was single light in it. There was another guy, and there was a hole in the floor. It was wooden floor. And then a hole had been dug. And I thought at that point, This is when I’m gonna die. And you know, fear is a different thing. When you’ve experienced terror for a while, your mind associates. There’s no fight left in you. You just yield. And for him, he was having a conversation with man. And I remember hearing the guy say, I don’t want to do this anymore. And my stepfather was a very good communicator. He made him relax. He said, Oh, I understand. When the guy relaxed, he hit him. He cracked him and knocked him unconscious. And he was a fighter. But when he drops, he handcuffs him and he drags him up to this hole, pulls him up on his knees, handcuffed. And he pulls out a pistol, his pistol. He said, Come here, boy. And then, he put the gun in my hand said, You’re gonna shoot this man. And he raised my hand. And the guy is semi-conscious, and he sees what’s going on. Because I think he thought this was what was gonna happen to me, and now it’s happening to him. And you know, I have the pistol to the back of his head, and I remember trying to pull the trigger, and I couldn’t. And I don’t know if it was the pounds per square inch. You know, I was seven. But I’m squeezing, and I can’t pull it. And I feel his hand come over and grab my wrist, and then his right hand comes around and he slips his finger over mine, and he presses until the revolver goes off. When it fired, it hit the guy in the back of his head, and it killed him. And then, you know, he pushed his body into the hole. And then he told me, Boy, you know, this is your first kill.




And he buried him, and he took that pistol and wrapped it in a handkerchief. And he said, If you ever tell anyone what I’ve done to you, it doesn’t matter how old you get, he said, I’ll tell the police that you killed this man, and I have the pistol with your fingerprint on it. And he said, They’ll electrocute you. And I knew what electrocution was, ‘cause he’d done it a few times. And so, it sealed and instilled in me a fear where I never talked about that ‘til I was an adult.


What a horrible thing. And your mother didn’t know this, any of this stuff was happening?


She did not know.


Victor Marx acknowledges he can’t substantiate this account. He said he as a kid did not know the location, the body was never found, and the crime was not reported. Marx’s mother finally escaped from her marriage to Mr. K, but she continued to marry men who were abusive to her children. By the time he finished high school, Victor Marx had already been in trouble with the law. Rather than go to jail, he made a decision that took his life in an entirely new direction.


You didn’t join the Marines ‘cause you wanted to.


Well, yeah; it was … again, at that point in my life, I’d just graduated high school. Hallelujah. But I was spiraling, using drugs, fighting, and stealing. And again, for me, stealing was my way to say, This world owes me, and they’re gonna start paying me back. And every opportunity that I could take advantage, I would. But I got caught, and I was looking at being sentenced because of my stealing and getting in trouble. So, my best option at that point was to join the United States Marine Corps. And I did, and that’s what really kept me from going to jail, ‘cause they would have prosecuted me. And the Corps was a very good thing for me, ‘cause, one, it was structured, disciplined, and it showed me that life isn’t about being fair. So just, you know, suck it up, buttercup, and time to do the deal. And it worked for me tremendously. And I really like the Marine Corps. Never loved it, but I liked it. So much, I put ink on my shoulder. And you know what? They were able to teach me skillsets I didn’t have before, which gave me a level of confidence, including starting to train in the martial arts, shooting. You know, I hunted as a little kid, but when they taught me how to put ten rounds into a target of a man from five hundred and forty-six yards without a scope—




–that gave me a skillset that, you know, felt good. And again, there was there, ‘cause you know, I’m training, martial arts, karate, jujitsu, kempo, judo, anything I could, boxing. ‘Cause I said, If I can’t beat a man this way, I’ll beat him this way, ‘cause I never want to get hurt again. So, that was kinda my driver.


And you did well. But you didn’t want to stay in; you left after, what, three years?


Yeah; I did one term of enlistment. And I had actually got in trouble while I was in, which I was facing, you know, brig time. Again, there was a pattern. ‘Cause you can only do things for so long, but your character and your baby’s gonna tell on you. And I was in trouble, was facing some stuff. And actually, this was when my biological dad came back into my life, which is really the redemptive aspect of this whole deal. You know, really, an absentee father all my life. At that point, I’m twenty. But really engaged me, apologized for not being a father. Which blew me away. He wanted to call me son in a letter, which made me mad, ‘cause I thought, You don’t have a right to call me son. But he told me had a spiritual encounter that really changed his life, and it’s not about perfection, but the direction of his life had changed. So much so that he said, Why don’t you come visit me?   And the Marine Corps actually let me go visit him, ‘cause they knew the circumstances, you know, I’d never known him. And they just said, You come back to face your court martial. I said, Okay. I said, I’ll be back. And I went, and it was interesting getting to really spend time with him in depth.


This was the pimp. This was the guy who held a gun to your mother’s head.


Yeah; yeah.


The guy who wouldn’t claim you.


Yeah; by all means, he was a loser. He was a loser as a father, and had justified his own absentee. And so here he is; his life, I can tell is different. And okay, not perfect, but different. He cared about me, and I knew he wanted to make a new start. So, I gave him an opportunity, and it was really through seeing his faith of a life change that, you know, really impacted me so much that I had a life change through faith. And you know, I told him; I said, Well, I’m going back to face court martial. What should I do? And I had developed an elaborate lie—it was a pretty good lie, to try to get me out of it. Which it wouldn’t have, but your mind thinks it will. I’ll never forget; he looked at me and he said, Son … learn from me. Just tell the truth. ‘Cause a lie, you gotta keep it going. And I was like, Okay. I went back, and I actually told them the truth. You know, I didn’t fight it; I said, I’m guilty. You know, I told them; I said, I was gonna lie. You know, I said, but here’s the truth. I did this, this, and I deserve my punishment. And they were actually so taken back, because my nickname, my handle on the Marine Corps was Thumper.


‘Cause you were a hothead?


I was a hothead. I tell people it was because I like the little Bambi bunny.




You know, in the movie, the little bunny, Thumper. But it’s because I liked to thump people back then. And so, they were all shocked, and I’ll never forget the commanding officer who presided over it, he said, Well, this is a shock. And he goes, You are gonna pay the price for the crime, you’re breaking the code of military justice. He said, But I’m gonna suspend the sentence; you won’t have to do brig time, but I’m keeping you to your barracks. Which was unbelievable. And it really was the first time in my life, first time, that I thought, Telling the truth is a better way to go.


And was your dad for real? Had he really had a conversion?


He did.


He changed?


He did. Which, it stuck all the years until his passing. You know, twenty-something years. And again, I’m grateful that coming to faith or you know, finding a higher power, it’s not about perfection. But the direction of your life changes. And you know what? It not only worked for him, it worked for me.


Victor Marx’s acceptance of his father didn’t turn his life around immediately. He would still have to come to terms with the trauma of his childhood before he could start to put it behind him. And his newfound faith would play an important role in his healing.


I can see you saying, Why did God allow all that to happen to me? Why couldn’t He have kept me from some of it and distribute it equally?


Right. You know what? That is such a great question, and one that anybody who’s suffered, it’s an honest question.


Right. It’s the old, Why me?, question.




A variation of.


Right. And for me, it came in a dramatic form where, you know … because you know, I’d been to church as kid, and those things. You know, Jesus loves all the little children of the world. And I’m like, Yeah. No, I believed that, ‘cause He’s good, so He loves all the kids, just not me. That’s how you start to process it as a kid, because bad things happen. And I’ll never forget when it changed for me. And it was actually a counseling appointment, as a result of it. This old country boy counselor, boot-wearing Texas guy. And he was just like, Hey. But he had all kinda degrees on his wall, so he knew what he was doing. He just said, Well, you know, where was God in all this? If He’s so loving, and He can stop evil, why did He allow it to happen to you? He said, Why don’t you ask Him? And I remember telling him, You need to shut up. That you need to just stand down; that’s not a question I need to ask God. And he’s like, Why not? Because … and this is real, and it’s deep, but people who’ve been … people who over a lifetime or a number of years have experienced disappointment and failure again, and again, and again, and you assign it to God, you know, Why don’t you give me a better break, why don’t you give me better parents, I mean, I’m stuck in hell, or whatever it is … to ask God that question, for me, I’d rather have a false hope than not have … the right answer, and have my hope dashed forever. And people in their heart know if they’re living off of false hope. Well, He’s—oh, and it’s okay. But the reality is in your heart; you’re just too scared.


Well, I can also see you having a really difficult time with this, because if God is your Heavenly Father … you know, the fatherhood record was really bad on this Earth.


Exactly. And it is hard not to assign that. I remember when someone first told me, Oh, God is your Heavenly Father. It was so offensive to me. I thought … uh, negative. You’re kidding me? But in my mind, I thought, Well, He must be some sadistic, crazy, unloving God. Maybe somebody else. You know, I’m the stepchild. You know, I’m getting the leftovers. But what changed my life and the lie that I believed is, I finally asked God that question.


What were the circumstances of asking Him?


I was in a counseling appointment, and I just said, God, where were you? You know, Jesus, if you’re so loving and you love the kids, what about me? Why did you allow it to happen to me? I’ll never forget, I remember my eyes were closed, and I saw the room, a room where a lot of abuse had happened. And I saw it so clearly, and I saw my stepfather, had a beer in his hand, he had a belt wrapped around his hand. He was getting ready to, you know, beat me with it. He had me lay down on the bed in my underwear; he would just—you know. And I saw everything so clearly. And then, I saw what I knew to be an image of Christ, a spiritual being appearing. And I thought, Okay, great; now turn and touch my stepfather’s heart and blow it out, kill him right now. That’s what I wanted, remembering this. But it would have been the truth. It would have been my own fantasy. The reality of what really happened to me was, right before he got ready to hit me, my stepfather is rearing back, I’m grabbing the sheets. ‘Cause the way he would hit you, he would hit you, bam [SLAP], and then he would wait. He’d wait ‘til all your little muscles relaxed from being tense in anticipation, you relax, and boom [SLAP], he’d hit you again. And he’d do it slow, until you gave up, ‘til there was no more fight in you. And right before he hit me, this image of Christ turned, kneeled, and placed his body on top of mine and sunk into mine so that He would take the greatest part of the beating for me, to allow me to survive. And I knew, if that’s a God who loves me and will share my suffering, that’s a God I can trust. I think God’s heart breaks for all the injustices that happen, all the evil. That’s not what He wants; it’s never what He’s assigning to children. You know, it’s the choice of evil people making horrible choices.


Victor Marx turned his skill in martial arts into a business, and he started teaching karate. He met Aileen, another believer, and a nationally recognized fitness instructor. She was at the leading edge of fitness kickboxing. And soon, they began working together, opening their own gym after they were married. An invitation from a youth pastor in Honolulu to teach a Christian karate school brought Marx and his growing family to the islands. Despite all the good things happening in his life, he still could not shake the horrors of his past.


I like that martial arts, good martial arts, does have a way to teach a person a code of honor, and understand the impact you can make on someone. So, I’ve used it for good. When we had our martial arts center here underneath, you know, the Spaghetti Factory at the Ward Warehouse as one of our locations, we had so many people come in to fight me because I’m this Haole from the mainland, and you know, what are you doing here? And, you know, some things got physical, which changed some people’s minds or hurt some people’s feelings, because they tried to get physical. But I made more friends. You know, I was able to use my words, not necessarily my fists or chokes, or cracking somebody. But it gives you a level of confidence that in a situation. You know, I’m looking at young guy who’s like, Oh, you’re so good. I’m thinking, Oh, my gosh.


You sound like you speak Pidgin. You’ve got that inflection.


Hey, we were here long enough. My children were raised here, my first three. When we went back to the mainland, I’ll never forget; my son’s out playing in the yard. He comes back, he’s playing with kids there. He goes, Dad; he said, there’s so many White kids here.


I said, Come here. I said, You are white. And he’s like, Oh, oh! So, you know, he got his Pidgin, still talks Pidgin. So, I love the islands. I have a little home here. We consider this home. We spent so many years here, through good and bad times.


How many years here?


We were here ’95 to ’01.


And you say some of them weren’t good years?


No. I mean, I had challenges emotionally that people didn’t know about.


Ah …


Right? It was part of my healing. You know, in martial arts, in many ways, I’ve reached the pinnacle. At least for myself. Here in Hawaii, huge student enrollment, you know, large staff. I mean, we were making an impact. ‘Cause after we got over the few things, people realized, Oh, you care about our keiki. And then, training adults. Yeah. And you know, we brought the fitness kickboxing here; it was just great. It was a great time. But I was having emotional problems hidden, and I would never tell anybody. Nobody knew that I was at Queen’s in an observation room, because I had horrible thoughts about hurting myself, or other people. You know. But I chose in that moment to go, I’m so unstable at this moment. You know. We lived at the top of Tantalus, you know, and man, I was having bad thoughts about, Oh, I have a good insurance policy, and I’m causing so much pain for my wife, you know, through my behavior, and all this. I’m like, you know, Maybe I should just end it, let her take the money and go. And I tell people, when someone wants to commit suicide, it’s not always just a rash deal. Sometimes it seems like a logical answer. I tell folks, it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Don’t give up; get help. And I did, particularly that night by driving down, checking myself into Queen’s, and I’m glad I did.


So, you’re saying that when you accepted God, accepted Jesus into your life, it wasn’t like it took away all your pain and problems.


No. It took away my past sin, because that’s what He promises, to lift the burden; that’s what the scriptures say. But it didn’t take away the challenges I would have because of my past. But the greatest thing is, He promised me He would redeem it. And I love redemption. You know, redemption is when somebody drinks a soda, throws the can side of the road, someone else comes by and says, Eh, this trash to you, but it’s money to me. And that’s what God did for me; He picked me up. He said, Other people consider you trash; I’ll redeem your life, watch what I do. And again, sometimes the greatest faith is just never giving up.


Do you have flashbacks?


Seldom anymore, because of the counseling and therapy I’ve gone through. But I still feel deeply. And what I’m glad about now is, my suffering has been turned. That purpose; I’ve learned the purpose. There is a purpose in the pain, is to help others who are still suffering, you give them hope. And that’s what I feel like I’m called to do.


Through their All Things Possible Ministries, Victor and Aileen Marx have dedicated themselves to advocating for youth who are troubled and abused. They help people, including war veterans who’ve suffered trauma, and they travel around the world to facilitate the rescue of children who’ve been abducted and trafficked. Mahalo to Victor Marx, now of Marietta, California, for sharing your stories with us. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.


For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store, or visit


My story is one of redemption. ‘Cause a lot of people experience abuse and injustice in their life, but I’m pretty happy to share. That’s why we do it so much. And actually, I didn’t do it ‘til later in life. I was in my late thirties before I started telling my story.


Is that because you didn’t want everyone to know the gory details?


Yes. You know, I stayed away from it because, really, in a lot of ways, I hadn’t healed from some of the trauma of the past. So, you use coping mechanisms, whether it’s excelling at a certain thing or staying away from other things so you don’t get triggered, or never wanting to revisit any of that. I kinda used all of ‘em in that way to protect myself. But when I took time and really trusted that the process of going through healing and counseling would make the greater difference in my life, it’s turned out really good, not only for me, but helping others.




Ralph Goto


Original air date: Tues., July 10, 2012


Leslie Wilcox talks with Ralph Goto, administrator of the City and County of Honolulu’s Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division. Over the past 30 years, he has helped to bring professionalism and respect to an occupation once viewed as being only for beach boys and surfers. Ralph is recognized in the International Swimming Hall of Fame for his contributions to the field of water safety.


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Lifeguards then, I think, were viewed as beach boys, surfers. That’s a real job, and you get paid to do this. So we addressed that, and we looked at what do we need to do to raise the level of training, what do we need to do to raise the level of funding, and try to stay within reality, and eventually worked our way—what’s this, thirty years now, to an operation I think that’s pretty well respected. And I think, given the resources that we get, I think we do a pretty good job.


For more than thirty years, one man has been at the helm of Oahu’s Division of Ocean Safety, and in that time, he’s helped bring professional standing and respect to the men and women who guard our beaches. Join us, as we meet Ralph Goto, here, on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, we’ll get to know Ralph Goto, the administrator of the Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division of the City and County of Honolulu. In his career at the City, he’s taken strategic steps to bring lifesaving into the modern era. In May of 2012, he was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame for his contributions to the field of water safety. And that’s not the first time Ralph Goto has received recognition.


You’ve won the prestigious Paragon Award from the International Swimming Hall of Fame, but you didn’t need to do anything other than be born in order to have a claim to fame.


[CHUCKLE] Thanks, Leslie.




Yeah, my claim to fame, what I tell people is that in 1946, I was born in Japan, in Sapporo. My dad was sent over there right after the war with the Intelligence Forces and the occupation troops, and so my claim to fame is that I was the first American baby born in Occupied Japan. And I’ve lived with that ever since.


[CHUCKLE] So your parents were from Hawaii?


They were originally from Hawaii; yeah.


And your father was sent as an interpreter, translator?


Military intelligence. He was an interpreter during the war, because he was bilingual. He didn’t speak about it very much. You know how those second generation Nisei were. But he did a lot of military intelligence, and that’s why he went to Japan right after the war.


Where did you grow up?


First ten years of my life, in Japan.


So you speak fluent Japanese?


I used to. And I speak survival Japanese, which I can catch the train and I can order some food.


Go to the bathroom.


Right; go the bathroom. But the Japanese influence is very strong. We have some of those values that were passed on by our folks, and we try to live through those.


Ten years in Japan, then where?


Ten years in Japan, then one year at Palolo Elementary School. Wonderful place. Sixth grade, and then went back to Japan for my junior high school years. And then, my dad was transferred to Baltimore, Maryland in the early 60s, and we went to Baltimore. We were the first Asians that they had seen in this neighborhood. And in the early 60s, Baltimore County was still segregated, so they had the White school, and then they had the Black school.


And where did you fit in?


Well, [CHUCKLE] there was a little debate, and I believe the officials decided that my brother and I could go to the White school. So we went to the White school, and my mother was told that, It’s because you guys are so clean and you’re nice, and so we’re gonna let you try there. We did fine. Brother and I played sports, and I think that’s why we were accepted. We did great.


Did you think about what your life would be like if you didn’t play sports and have that affinity with the other players?


I tried to relate that to my sons when they that age, and tried to tell them about my experiences in going to different places. And the sports really helped us, assimilate and get along with folks, and I think that was a really important part of our lives.


Because if you didn’t have that, you don’t know what you would have done?


Right. It’s just like, okay, who are you guys and, where did you come from, and what do you guys do? So I think just being able to shoot a basket or hit a ball, you establish some common ground.


Did you experience racism?


A little bit, but not really that much. I think we were more of kind of a novelty. Like, Oh, you guys are from Hawaii, do you still dance the hula, do live in a house or a shack. So, there was definitely racism, because it was segregated, but I don’t think that we experienced it seriously.


So at that time, your parents were the ones with the real experience in Hawaii. You had a year at Palolo School.


Right. [CHUCKLE]


But you did come back, and that was your first real in-depth experience in Hawaii.


Right. And it was not until after I graduated from high school. ‘Cause we went back to Japan, I graduated there, and then came to Hawaii in ’64. And I’ve been here since.


Did you come back with your parents after graduation?


I came back to go to the University of Hawaii in 1964.


And what was your major?


Well, I played basketball for the freshman team, and decided that I was going to be an English major, then decided I was gonna be a philosophy major. So the first bachelor’s degree was in philosophy.


The first bachelor’s? And what was the second?


The second was in PE, in secondary education.


Did you know how you were going to use that?


Philosophy was, why is there air? You know, that’s Bill Cosby’s line. And then, PE telling you that there’s air to blow up basketballs. So, that was the extent of my experience at the University.


Well, what happened when the UH turned you loose with your BA? Or BAs.


Where did we go? I worked at the YMCA for eight years in Kailua and ran the aquatics program there. And they’re the ones that sent me back to school to get my PE credentials. That kind of prepared me for the real world, and I applied for the job in the City in 1981, and have been there since.


So there wasn’t a driving urge to keep Oahu’s beaches safe that drove you?










I think that developed along the way.


Were you looking for a civil service job?


Yeah. You know, you want to get a job with the City.


And you aimed high, ‘cause that was a head of a department; right?


That was the head of a division.


Division; right.




And you already had experience in management in—


Through the Y.




And we taught lifesaving, and we taught the instructors for the Red Cross, and things like that. So, it was a fit, and I used to go to the beach a lot. I used to go to Makapuu a lot, and I knew the guards there, and there was familiarity with them.


A lot has changed in life guarding in three decades. What was once perceived as an easy job for surf bums has become more professional and disciplined, with some recruits even taking college degrees to the beach. Ralph Goto has done quite a bit to elevate professional standards and the image of a lifeguard.


What’s the profile? I don’t know if there is a typical lifeguard. I mean, you’ve had some people who are award-winning watermen there, and there are people we don’t know. What’s the typical lifeguard like?


The old guy or the new guy? [CHUCKLE]


Okay; is there a difference?


I think so. I mean, some of the veterans. Brian Keaulana, retired, Buffalo Keaulana, his father, was a lifeguard, Mark Cunningham, who’s a retired lifeguard. Those guys, in addition to being legends in the ocean, were also excellent lifeguards. They did it on their skill, they did it on their knowledge of the environment, and fortunately, they passed a lot of that on to the newer people. The new guys, I’d say, they’re quicker, they stronger, they’re faster. We have young people that come into recruit training with college degrees. We have people that are trained as paramedics. We have all kinds of people that come through our recruit training. I don’t know what it is that really attracts them. I get a hundred emails a day; I want to be a lifeguard in Hawaii; what do I have to do to be a lifeguard on the North Shore. They all have to do the same thing; they have to have the certifications and they have to take the swim test, and then they have to go through our training. But I think we’re getting now a more qualified, more motivated young person that comes into the Department. And there’s constant turnover, there’s people retiring, it’s the graying of the workforce, as in any kind of organization.


Have most lifeguards stayed in for the career? I would imagine people would get out earlier than that.


We’ve lost some to the Fire Department. We’ve had really good lifeguards go to the Fire Department because it’s a better schedule, it’s better pay, it’s better benefits. And you really can’t blame these guys for going. But we’ve also had people that have said, Hey, I don’t want to be a fireman, I don’t want to be a policeman, I want to be a lifeguard. And they can retire after twenty-five years, so they stay.


But you know, it is stressful.




And there’s not a lot of upward mobility; right?




And there’s the threat of skin cancer.


There’s threat of skin cancer.


And injury during rescues.




And aggravation from people who won’t listen.


We have had employees that have resigned to go get real jobs. My wife wants me to get a real job. Most of them come back. We’ve had people go down and work as stevedores on the docks for that great schedule and the great pay. We’ve had people go into other Public Safety agencies and come back and say, Hey, I’m a lifeguard, this is what I do and this is what I love to do. It’s interesting, Leslie, because the pay isn’t that great. We do it because we love to do it.


How much does an experienced lifeguard make in the City and County of Honolulu?


An experienced lifeguard.


And this is 2012, as we speak.


It’s based definitely on years of service. About four or five thousand a month. You know, the majority of the working lifeguards, not the supervisors, are probably about forty-eight thousand a year. It’s not that great. I think one of the common elements of why people are attracted to it, well, they love the outdoors or they love the ocean. They surf, they swim, they dive. But there’s also this common thread, I think, of helping people. You get some satisfaction out of helping people. And saving a life is probably the heaviest thing you can do, I mean, in terms of, how you feel about things in the grand scheme of things. I mean, saving a life is a pretty significant event.


But when Ralph Goto first started as an administrator back in 1981, things were different. The Division didn’t get the respect or the resources of other City emergency services. It became Ralph Goto’s mission to bring recognized standards to the City’s life guarding operation.


You could have taken another approach and gone to the beaches and said, Hey, you guys, you gotta shape up, I need you to do this, this, this, and that. But you said you opted for just investing in training.


Listening to what was going on, seeing what was needed, talking to the guards, and then beginning to implement some of those.


You did some really smart strategy, because it’s all people. It’s people on one side, and it’s resources on the other, and you figured out a way to bring one to the other.


It took a while, Leslie. Believe me, it took a while.


Did you have any experience? Essentially, this is politics. I mean, you’re working your way through a dense bureaucracy with lots of competing needs. And you’re working on perceptions, too, that are grounded in old stuff.


Yes. No management courses that taught you how to run a lifeguard service. We went around and looked at different places. I was told, If you want to learn about life guarding, you have to go to Australia, and you have to go to Los Angeles, and see the two best lifeguard operations in the world. We did that, and looked, and we said, Yeah, this is great, and we learned from places that we went to. We learned from what they did, we learned how they did certain things. But Hawaii is unique. The culture is unique, the environment’s unique, and understanding that, you have to pick and choose which things are gonna work. And we did that.


Were there some big disputes over, shall we do this or that, this approach, that approach?


Life guarding in some areas of the country is pretty military. It’s paramilitary, if you will. And it’s not to say that we don’t do that here. We have a chain of command, we have captains, we have lieutenants, we have senior lifeguards. But some places run it pretty formally. And I just didn’t think that that was gonna work here.


So you gave discretion and latitude?


There is discretion, yes, there is latitude. Because who knows more about a beach than the person that works there all week? He’s may not be an engineer, he may not be an architect, he may not be an oceanographer, but you know, in a real sense, they’re all of that, and they’re the guys who know what’s going on at the beach.


What have you done to professionalize life guarding? I mean, these are fulltime jobs, a lot of people, like you said, think it’s a lark. It’s certainly not. What have you done to raise the standing?


I think probably the most important thing that we’ve done—and I’m just Ralph Goto, it’s been everyone in the Department, is to understand the job that our lifeguards do. They’re not just out there sitting on a tower waiting for something to happen. Educated, lot of guys have degrees, college degrees. A lot of them are certified at the EMT level, so their medical training is comparable to a person that’s riding in the ambulance. It’s raising that level of professionalism and getting the employees to understand the importance of it. It’s projecting image. Wearing a uniform, being at work on time, those simple things that I think have really helped develop our division to where it is now.


What kinds of training have you given, or has the Division given the lifeguards to make them more effective?


It’s pretty extensive training, I think when people actually realize what’s going on. We’re running a recruit class right now, and those kids will be in recruit training for a month. They just finished their emergency medical training, and then they’ll be exposed to our environments. They’ll take them around the island and put them in the Moy Hole, and put them at Sandy’s, and put them on the North Shore. So that training is at least a month, unpaid, and after that, they do on-the-job training if they make it through there. The other thing we do, I have to throw this in. The physical performance standards are pretty stringent. You have to do a thousand run, thousand swim, a board paddle and a run-swim-run every year. I think we’re the only agency that does that. And if you don’t pass the swim test, you don’t work on the beach. I mean, we give you time to train and be able to do that, but I don’t know of any other agency, at least here, that makes their employees do that.


Tell me some of the dances you had to do to get to where you arrived.


The dances. I don’t know how to jitterbug.




The first City Council meeting I went to, in my exuberance and being naïve, I was asked, Well, do you need anything else? And I said, Sure, we needed some more money, we need some more equipment. And I was told that, No, you don’t go to the City Council and say you need that. You tow the party line and you say we’re doing well with what we have. That’s one of the dances you have do, the political dance, if you will. The other dance is working within the system, you know, and it takes a while to learn that, as you know.


And the characters change.


Sure; every four years.


Yes, with every election.


Every four years; right. And you just learn. I think you learn from experience, you learn from your mistakes, which there were a lot of those. And you just learn how to deal with people. That’s what I think it’s about, it’s the importance of relating to people.


And you’re known for your light touch with people.


Well … depends who you speak with. [CHUCKLE]


Okay; who would say otherwise?


Well, let’s see. Probably my two sons.




Thanks, boys. But that’s what I’ve tried to do, is listen. There’s always two sides of the story, and then somewhere in between there’s what’s really going on. And I’ve tried to believe in that and use that outlook on things as problems have come up.


There are a lot of parents who would say that a calm, measured approach to training goes out the window when you apply it to your own children. For Ralph Goto, running a City division populated with rugged individuals might not have taxed him as much as the challenge of raising two boys.


You said that your kids might not agree that you have a light touch. Why is that?


[CHUCKLE] My two sons who live on the mainland … the older one, Clark, went to Punahou, went to the University of San Francisco, has a degree in computer science, and works on the mainland for a medical software company. The younger son, Scott, went to Kalaheo High School, and went to Portland, Oregon to live the dream. He plays in a punk band, and he makes sushi in a sushi restaurant, and he’s living the dream. I coached both of them when they were younger in basketball, and ended up running the PAL league in Kailua for a while. And I don’t know if uh, that was a great idea.


To coach your kids?


To coach my kids and then, have those expectations of them. And as a father and a coach, you tend to push them. And they don’t play ball now. [CHUCKLE]


Have you talked about it with them?


I’ve talked to Clark about it, and he said, Yeah, he said, you’re a pretty hard act to follow, Dad. And that kinda shed some light on what goes on. But they’re both great, they’re doing very well.


What do you think your sons took away from you, that helps them most in their lives?


[CHUCKLE] Interesting. I don’t know. I think you’d have to interview them. Like, my older son told me a few years back that comment about you’re a hard act to follow. I mean, that had some impact on me, because I think any child or any offspring wants to do so much, with their life, and I’m sure that you look at your parents, how much your parents have accomplished in life, and you’re gonna either do that, or strive to attain that level. And I don’t know about Scotty, my young punk rocker, but I know that Clark’s more serious about it. And I know he’s thought about it, but hopefully, and what we tried to do while they were growing up, or what I tried to do is, at some point in life, your children are gonna be gone, they’re not gonna live in your house anymore. They’re gonna be on their own, and they’re gonna have to make some decisions on their own. And hopefully, they’re gonna be able to make good decisions. And I think that’s all you can really expect.


Have you ever seen your grown sons doing something that they reacted badly against when they were kids, but now they do that too, because, that’s what you taught them.


[CHUCKLE] Yeah, I think so. Young Scott called the other day about his taxes. And it’s like, Okay, Dad, I went to get my taxes done, and I owe money. And I’m like, Well, Son, you gotta file these things. He goes, Yeah, I know, that. And I think that they both are beginning to realize there’s certain things that you have to do in life. And you know, hopefully, some of that carries on from their father and, you know, their parents.


And right there beside him at every step of the journey has been Ralph Goto’s wife, Roberta, a registered nurse with a long career at the State Hospital in Kaneohe. She has provided him with a safe haven away from the stress of work. He says that what attracted him was how different she was from this guarded, quiet, third generation Japanese American.


Roberta’s just the opposite. Blond hair, blue eyes, very outgoing, very opinionated, very open, and because she’s a psychiatric mental health worker, keeps me straight. And I think that had a lot to do with the attraction.


Because she’s a mental health worker, she keeps you straight?


Yeah; right. [CHUCKLE]


What’s that mean? [CHUCKLE]


Keeps me grounded. How’s that?


Yeah. ‘Cause she’s very stable? Is that what you’re saying?


She’s very creative. What we say, and what people say is, because we’re so opposite, that’s why we were attracted to each other.


As life goes along, you start to think about retirement, and what do I do after this. Have you thought about that?


Oh, yes.


What’s next?


Oh, yes. Thinking about retirement, it’s interesting, because when you start your career, that’s the last thing you’re thinking about. But after thirty years, then you seriously begin to think about, okay, how much money am I gonna have, what am I gonna be able to do, and how much is left on the mortgage. And believe me, both Roberta and I have talked about it because we’re close, and it’s, okay, what are you gonna do. You’re not gonna sit at home and just look at each other. You’re gonna have a plan. Someone just told me, a former retired City official who has come back to work for the City told me a couple weeks ago, You better have a plan. If you’re gonna retire, you better have a plan. So some people travel some people volunteer at the church. And I would like to do more of that creative stuff that is an outlet for me now, and I’d like to do it a little more. So that turning wood, cutting wood, stapling it together appeals to me.


Yeah; a lot of people have too much time on their hands, and it doesn’t work for them.




So you have to have a passion that you pursue that is, you know, productive and feels good to you.


Right. And working with wood, I’ve always liked to do that. I kinda had a hand in building the two houses that we’ve lived in, and it’s an outlet, it’s a creative outlet.


And then, do you sell those bowls?


Not yet.


But that’s the plan?


You know, you give ‘em to Mom, and you give ‘em to friends for Christmas, and things like that.


But would you be pau working for money?


No, ‘cause I think we’re gonna need to have on top of the retirement income to do the things you want to do. I think that that’s important to plan out, what is it that you want to do.


It’s a good exercise, isn’t it?


Yeah; it’s great.


Who are you now, as opposed to when you made other big decisions.


You know, and it really has kinda changed my—not changed, but matured my outlook on my work. It’s like, Well, you can’t do this because, you gotta think about this now. And now, if it feels like the right thing to do, we’re gonna do it. And it’s nice to be able to do that.


While the man who has devoted his life to bettering the working conditions and professionalism of Oahu’s lifeguards is nearing the end of his career, he won’t go quietly. In 2012, Ralph Goto continues to fight for better pay and benefits for the men and women on the beach, those first responders when we run into trouble in the waters of paradise. For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit


And you were working with some of the legends of Hawaii, Buffalo Keaulana, et cetera. How did you manage?


I went around and met everyone. And you’re right; Buffalo Keaulana, what are you gonna say to Buffalo about life guarding or about the ocean, or anything. And I learned a lot from him, and tried to figure out what it was that the operation needed, and what we could to do to help bolster that up. Met a lot of really good people in my career, ocean guys that, you know, I consider friends, as well as colleagues and subordinates.