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GLOBE TREKKER
Hawai‘i

 

No other group of islands on earth fascinates the common traveler more than the lush archipelago of volcanic isles positioned so beautifully in the Pacific. With this in mind, Trekker Zoe D’Amato sets out on an adventure to explore Hawai‘i Island, Kaua‘i, Maui and O‘ahu.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Clyde Aikau

 

Part 1

 

Original air date: Tues., May 5, 2009

 

 

Part 2

 

Big Wave Surfing Champion

 

Leslie Wilcox talks with Clyde Aikau, big wave surfing champion, former North Shore life guard and younger brother of the late Eddie Aikau (of “Eddie Would Go” fame).

 

In part one of the conversation, Clyde talks about growing up in Chinese graveyard in Pauoa valley, surfing giant North Shore waves while approaching age 60, and his 15 year old son Ha’a’s approach to the sport.

 

In the concluding episode, Clyde speaks in-depth about the now-famous incident in which his older brother Eddie Aikau was lost at sea while trying to find help for the crew of the capsized Hokule’a in 1978. He also delivers a conciliatory message to the family of the late David Lyman, who was the captain of that ill-fated Hokule’a voyage, and speaks with pride about “living in the shadow” of his older brother Eddie.

 

Clyde Aikau Audio

 

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Transcript

 

Next, meet a surfing legend. He’s a man who grew up in a Chinese cemetery, won big time surfing contests, sailed on the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokulea, and saved lives as a Waimea Bay lifeguard. He’s a surfing legend. He’s Clyde Aikau, Eddie Aikau’s younger brother.

 

Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Welcome to the first edition of a special two part series of “Long Story Short.” Many know of Eddie Aikau, a waterman who was the first lifeguard at Waimea Bay, a big wave surfer who was lost at sea while attempting to save the crew of the Hokulea in 1978. But in the world of surfing, his brother Clyde Aikau is also renowned. He has won at Makaha, at the old Duke event on the North Shore, and the Eddie Aikau at Waimea. The Duke Kahanamoku Foundation named him a “Waikiki surfing legend.” In the Spring of 2009, Clyde is 59, and he’s not slowing down. He stopped long enough to talk with me about big waves, family and living at the graveyard in Pauoa.

 

When we um, first had the opportunity to um, have a house in the—in the graveyard, um, the deal was that we have to clean … clean the graveyard and cut the grass, and maintain the entire um, graveyard. And um, in 1959, we had to cut the grass with sickles it’s kinda like a wooden handle so far, with a— with a—with a half-moon blade. And we had to cut five acres, all of us six kids, with the sickle, by hand. But, you know, us kids growing up, um, during—doing all of our chores, which included washing the car and doing the housework, and cleaning the graveyard, was always first. You know, if we wanted to go surfing, we had to do all of the chores first.

 

—when your family took the job, and the home, did they have second thoughts about um …

 

Well—

 

—what it was, any spooky thoughts, or any thoughts about, you know, how do we properly revere this land?

 

… my dad um … has always been a very spiritual person. You know. he’s always had that spiritual uh … connection with uh, things that you can’t explain. And um, us kids, knowing that, you know, we felt very comfortable from the very beginning that, you know, if there was so-called spirits or so-called ghosts, um, we would be okay, because Pops was so strong he was sitting down um, in our house, i—in—in the graveyard at night, when all of a sudden, a big wind came from up on the street, blew right through the graveyard, blew the door open, and there was a loud crying of a baby, just crying out loud. And at that moment, my father went to the um, phone and called the hospital. And they told him, How did you know your son’s child just gave birth?

 

And there are plenty of other stories like that?

 

Oh; yeah—

 

—you’re family was actually fr—from Maui originally, right?

 

Yes; yes. Um, I have uncles and aunties who live in Hana. If you drive by, you’ll—you’ll see their last name there, Aikau. So our roots actually go back to um, to Hana, where my grandfather was the sheriff of Hana.

 

So does that mean the family was very, very good?

 

—well, my uncle uh, was chief of police, and my cousins were all policemen too.

 

There you go.

 

We always uh, tried to do the right thing. But you know, we come from a family uh, that was really bred old school. You know. And from—with our family, it was um, if one of us did something wrong, all of us would get spanking. And the spanking was, bend over, drop your pants, and big belt or a big paddle would come and hit you.

 

Everybody got the same thing?

 

Everybody got the same thing. And it’s amazing when I tell this story, that five brothers and one sister, we never laid one hand on each other. And of course, I was the youngest of the family. Um … we never touched one another physically. We would say words that wasn’t so nice, but we never physically touched each other. Because they way we were brought up was, you know, take care of each other, watch for each other, and that when—when someone uh, was gonna do something wrong, we’d all kinda like, you know, go to his aid and, No, no, no, don’t—don’t do that, ‘cause it’s trouble. But you know, with—with our family, you know, with—with Pops, you know, uh, just his look would really uh, really back you up about ten feet. You know, he—he didn’t really have to say anything, but just his look and his—you know, his stare would just send chills uh, on—on your back.

 

Well, let’s—you know, when people say they visited your family home in the cemetery, they say they were just uh, enveloped in aloha, and they felt accepted, and they felt a sense of belonging.

 

Well, you know, my—my dad, my mom, uh, we always was brought up to—you know, you—you meet people and try to be—uh, try to um … bring them in, in the family, make them comfortable. Um, you know, if you have food, always share your food with them, you know, talk story. Uh, if you have knowledge that they can use, always—always share that. You know. And I think when people come down to the … you know, the graveyard, which is our—our home, um, uh, it’s—it’s—it’s the same way, although my mom and dad is not here anymore. Uh, my sister Myra, my brother Solomon, and me, always try to keep that going for the family.

 

What if they came over, and you didn’t have enough food? How’d you handle that?

 

Uh … we’d just give them our love and aloha. You know, and—and that uh, um … that was … more than enough for ninety-nine percent of the people who came down. You know, we used to go to the North Shore, and my mom and dad used to always bring a lot of food, you know. And at that time, there was a lot of surfers who … who was also from poor families, but they were great surfers, and you know, they were hungry. You know. So we had food, and we had extra food, so you know, help out.

 

And your family often jumped into that gray utility truck you folks used to have, and went to the North Shore all together.

 

Well, you know, we had this truck that was uh, encased. And uh, believe it or not, all six of us would—would fit ourselves in the back of that truck, and Mom, Pop, and my sister would be in the front, and all five brothers would be in the back. But—but it didn’t matter for us, because we had all our surfboards on top of the truck, and we know that—we knew that we were going surfing. So that’s all that mattered.

 

I’ve heard that when your family got together and they were singing, it was in these wonderful harmonies—

 

Well, you know, harmony for us was always um … it was always important. You know, because it—it just … it just sounds good. [chuckle] It just sounds good.

 

And you could do it.

 

I had a high pitch, and Eddie had kinda like a medium to low pitch. But uh, his expertise was playing slack key music, Hawaiian slack key. I mean, if he was alive today, he would be probably one of the great masters of slack key. Because back in um … the mid-60s and the late 60s, he was already really, really uh, really accomplished at playing slack key music. —and my mom had a real high, high, high pitch, and Gerald, my brother, had um … uh, his voice was higher than mine. So you had a super high pitch, and then uh, next to that, and next to that, and it all blends together. And you know, we—we used to enjoy um, you know, the luaus at the graveyard, and Pops used to make uh, Hawaiian swipe, which was called uh … hekapu, uh, in Hawaiian. And he used to make it out of … pineapple juice, brown sugar, yeast, put it into a wooden barrel, and have it ferment for like seventeen days.

 

And it was lethal.

 

It was—

 

Practically. [chuckle]

 

It was lethal; it was very lethal. And um, in fact, um, when—when we had luaus, Leslie, uh, everybody had their jobs, you know. Um, uh, Solomon was to go and dig the hole, and Gerald was to go find the rocks, and Eddie was to go find the uh, you know, the leaves to put in there. And … and uh—

 

What did you do?

 

My job was to take our truck, go down to Waikiki, and go find all the girls, and come back up to the luau. So—

 

Which you were very good at, I heard.

 

That was—that was—that—that was my job. And um, you know, we—we—we— I—I used to … bring them up to the graveyard, you know, truckloads. And uh, so we—we—you know, we used to make ‘em comfortable, and give em our swipe have a nice night.

 

[chuckle] And I understand that if folks had to stay over because that swipe was—

 

Oh, boy.

 

–rough—

 

Well, you know, the stuff uh, when you drink it, it’s like um … it just feels like strawberry juice. You know. But after—after two cups, that’s it, you know.

 

[chuckle]

 

You know, it—it really hits you really hard. But yeah, yeah; we—we used to take all the keys away from everybody. Um, this was, you know, thirty, forty years ago. You know, ‘cause we didn’t want any—anybody to get hurt. But you know, uh, we used to do crazy things, where if you fall asleep early, you get drunk and you fall asleep early, we used to pick that person up and— we used to put him in the mausoleum …

 

[INDISTINCT]

 

—when he wakes up, we’d hear a big scream, you know. But it—it was all in fun, and he survived, and uh, you know, it—it was just fun.

 

So everybody was comfortable with a lot of other people around did that mean you grew up very social, and didn’t maybe like to be alone that much

 

Well, actually, for me personally, um, I was uh, I was a very shy guy, uh, growing up. Because uh, growing up, I had a s—stuttering problem, which I do sometimes. And uh, I used to be real inhibited. You know, I used to just kinda hide, you know, because I—I—I … I just had a real difficulty talking. You know.

 

How did you overcome the stutter?

 

I guess just try to relax more, I guess.. but then I realized that even the President of the United States stutters too sometimes. I mean, may—maybe not this one, but others have. And I kinda realized that, you know … very important people in—in—in higher places also stutter. So then I kinda think it’s not all that bad, you know, and just got better. So throughout the whole high school, um, I was a real shy guy. My brother Solomon was like the clown of Roosevelt High School, … the whole school laughing continuously. My brother Gerald was —like the handsome one, and the—and the singer. And I was kinda like the real shy guy. But in high school, um, I was into my surfing with Eddie, and that was all, you know.

 

So … your whole life was dominated by water, surf.

 

Yes.

 

And music, and family.

 

Yes.

 

And you went onto higher education, as well.

 

Yes. I uh, g—graduated in 1973 uh, with a bachelor of arts soc—in sociology, psychology, went to uh, a couple years of law school.

 

Where’d you go to law school?

 

Uh, right here; UH. And even my grades there was pretty darn good too.

 

What made you decide you wouldn’t finish?

 

… I had an opportunity to go into business, and uh … you know, I—I took off for a while and just went to go make money. You know. ‘Cause you know, we— we … I come from a real poor family, and you know, it was difficult to find money for my family. So I just felt that, you know, I had an opportunity in business to go ba—make money, so I did that for the last twenty-five years or so

 

AND CLYDE AIKAU DID VERY WELL FOR THOSE 25 YEARS, OPERATING A WAIKIKI BEACH RENT A SURFBOARD, UMBRELLA, SAILBOAT CONCESSION. NOW HIS PASSION FOR THE OCEAN CONTINUES WITH HIS CURRENT BUSINESS.

 

[chuckle] Yeah. Yeah; I have a surf school at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Uh, you want to learn how to ride waves, come down with Uncle Clyde. And we also have a s—s—standup paddling lessons. Uh, we do it in the um, pond at the Hilton, the newly uh, refurbished lagoon, uh, which is real safe to learn. Come down, learn that from Uncle Clyde too.

 

You personally, do the teaching?

 

Um, I—uh, uh, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. But I train all of my guys personally. You know, the first thing to do is to, you know, just be nice to people, you know, give them the aloha, you know, the true aloha. Um … and I just uh, recently got a—got a part-time job with the Department of Education, where I will be a uh, a person in the middle of uh, making sure that the homeless child um, gets to go into the classroom, uh, and I’m in the middle that brings the uh, homeless child and the State together, uh, making sure that he has the transportation and the—and the lunch uh, that—that he needs. And uh …

 

That sounds rewarding.

 

Yeah. Uh, it’s—it’s—you know, it’s real funny, because in ’73, when I graduated, that’s exactly what I wanted to do. You know, I—

 

Sociology.

 

I wanted to do social work, and you know, help the kids out. And you know, forty years later, uh, I’m doing that. So I’m—I’m very humbled to have the opportunity to work uh, with the homeless, um, especially at this time, where you know, people are losing jobs and everything. So I’m very humbled, and uh, I’m—I’m set to go.

 

You were uh, Eddie’s best friend; n—not just his brother.

 

Yeah; me and Eddie, we did everything together. Uh, like you know, Eddie was the first lifeguard on the North Shore in 1967. We—we were the first in the water at Sunset Beach for twenty years. And we were the last to leave. And then we’d work at the lifeguarding at the bay. And um … we used to ride the bay on gigantic days where it was overcast, no cameras on the beach, and he— me and Eddie used to ride uh, you know, the big waves. Uh, he rode the biggest waves uh, in the world in 1967, November 19th, Wednesday. That’s what I like to say it. Other people say it was a Tuesday, I say it’s November 19th, a Wednesday, 1967. Because there’s certain days in your life that you just don’t forget, ‘cause it’s just so monumental. You know, things that probably won’t happen again. And in 1967, I was in high school; Eddie uh … rode the bay for the first time. And uh, it was massive, his wave is forty feet. His surfboard is twelve feet; it goes four times up the face of the wave. It’s a paddle-in wave, it’s not a tow-in wave. Uh, that wave was forty feet. And I’ve ridden … um, almost every big wave that pulled into the North Shore since 1967, and um … that day is still the biggest day ever ridden at Waimea Bay.

 

M-hm. How do you do that? —do you just get more and more comfortable with bigger, bigger, bigger waves, and at some point you’re taking off on a thirty-footer?

 

Um … well, you know … a wave of that magnitude and that size only comes in maybe once in, like, five years. Like we haven’t had the Eddie Aikau Quicksilver big event since 2004. And 2004, it got up to about thirty feet. And um, I want to let you know that after the first round … I was in second place. And these guys who were surfing are really the best in the world.

 

Absolutely.

 

You know, Kelly Slater, Bruce Irons, Andy Irons, uh—

 

But you’re—you’re the—you’re the oldest in the field, aren’t you?

 

I am the absolute oldest in the field. Um, next uh, I will be riding again, and I’ll be sixty years old.

 

And you can still handle those big waves?

 

Um, I caught every giant swell that pulled in um, on the North Shore this year, and felt very comfortable. Uh, but I think it’s because of my son; he’s fifteen years old, and he’s given me um … new excitement, new enthusiasm about riding waves. Um, I had a conversation with my son about surfing big waves. And he—he—he goes, oh, yeah, I want to surf a big wave so I can get on the front—uh, front cover of the Surfer Magazine. And I—and I kinda scolded him, because you know, riding uh, these big waves, you know, if you’re—if you’re gonna do that for that reason, I feel that’s—that’s a really wrong reason to put your life on the—on the line. You know. Um … putting your life on the line, um… at that extreme level should be one that you have a personal uh, personal spirit, uh, a personal thing that you want to do for yourself. And uh, trying to do it to be famous, I think, is gonna get you in trouble. Because when you get into trouble … and it’s all said and done, and you’re under there, twenty, thirty feet, and there’s no way to come up, no way to come up, the only way that you’re going to make it through is to—is to dig deep inside, you know … where your spirit is, and that’s what is gonna pull you through. You know. When you—when you think about, oh, man, I guess I’m—I am gonna make the front cover, but I won’t be around; you know, that’s uh … not a good thing, I—I feel.

 

Does he have a style like yours on the waves?

 

—I don’t think he has my style. Uh, uh … I think when you see him surf, uh, you will see a surfer th—that is all power. Uh, he’s a hundred sixty-five pounds, and fifteen years old. Uh, he’s bigger than most of his buddies, and uh, he has a lot of power in his surfing. He’s real fun to watch.

 

You’re probably more fluid.

 

Oh, ye—yeah; I would say that. I would say that. I am a lot more fluid than he is.

 

M-hm.

 

Because uh, in their kind of surfing, uh, quickness and uh, straight-ups, and just demolishing the lip, and flying in the sky is what surfing is for them.

 

But you became part of the wave, I think. It was—that was—

 

Yeah.

 

—a different—

 

Exactly.

 

—way of doing it.

 

Exactly; exactly. Eddie and I was more part of the wave, and more flowing with the wave. Because um, you know, taking off at the bay on a big wave, uh, you need to kinda find your way down, ‘cause there’s a lot of chops in the face of the wave. And um … I would like to—uh, you know, even at sixty years old, I—I still have goals that I—that I want to do. And—and you know, uh, one of my goals uh, at sixty years old, is to go over to Maui and uh, master uh, this place called … called Peahi, or Jaws.

 

Right. Wow; that’s—

 

I know; crazy, but—

 

It is monster.

 

Yeah.

 

And that’s all tow-in.

 

Yeah.

 

Uh, can you even paddle into that wave? It—it breaks too big and too fast, doesn’t it?

 

Uh, when the waves are fifteen to twenty feet at uh, Jaws, you ca—you—you can probably paddle in. When it hits the twenty-five to thirty feet, to forty feet, uh, I don’t think you can—you can paddle in.

 

How do you train for these big just um, to be su—super shape, and just to waves at age sixty?

 

Um, I used to run in the back roads a lot. And—but my knees and my ankles really take a beating on the hard pavement. So now, I have a jogging machine, a running machine that elevates and everything. So I—I wo—work out on—work out on that about a hour a day. But I do a lot of stretches too; lot of stretches. Um … I do a lot of biking; lot of biking. You know, I do things that aren’t so hard on my body—

I notice there was a time on the North Shore, looking back decades, where surfers used to be just partiers and drinkers, and tokers. And then there came at time when people said, whoa, these waves are serious, they can really kill you; and they started getting to be—getting to be on organic diets, and really taking care of themselves. Did you go through—

 

Well—

 

—something like that?

 

Well, you know … you know … back in the 60s and the 70s, you know, um…riding big waves, lifeguarding, saving lives, and uh … chasing the Haole girls was in order. And um … but then, you’re—you’re nineteen years old, eighteen years old, twenty years old. I mean, everybody on the North Shore used to party hard and surf hard in—in the—in the—in the daytime. But you know, now I’m sixty, and you’re trying to look back on how it was then. Uh, it’s incredible on how we actually pulled it off. You know. I mean, I wouldn’t recommend it today. But you know, we actually pulled it off. I mean, did some crazy things at night, and rode the biggest waves in the world during the daytime. So—and looking back now, you know, I’d—uh, I don’t see how we did it, but you know, it—we did it. But um, you know, as you get older, you—you—you realize uh, that you know, you need to take care of your body a lot—a lot more, if you want to continue to ride. I mean, I’m sixty years old almost, and um … um …

 

When you look around—

 

—I’m still riding.

 

—on the big waves, how many sixty-year-olds do you see? Or even fifty-year- olds.

 

Well, you know, for me, ‘cause I’m the old dog out there, um … you know, it’s kinda sad, ‘cause there’s only one or two guys from the—from the old school. You know. Um … but then, it’s fun to surf with the young guys. You know, they’re all gung-ho and you know, very excited about surfing. And—and uh … you know, uh, and it’s—and it’s always nice that, you know, the—the young guys can come up to you and recognize who you are, and you know, Howzit, Clyde, you know, Uncle Clyde, you know. And uh, you know, it makes you feel—feel good to—to be recognized.

 

Clyde Aikau won the Makaha International Surfing Championship in the 60s and the Duke Surfing Championship in 1973, won the first Quicksilver Eddie Aikau Big Wave Contest in 1986 and has been named a “Waikiki surfing legend” by the Duke Kahanamoku foundation. Clyde Aikau, waterman and gentleman…still riding the big ones. On our next “Long Story Short.” Clyde returns to talk about the Hokulea, spiritual experiences and the legacy of his brother Eddie Aikau. Please join us then. For PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Ahui hou ka kou.

 

So do you believe in old school childrearing?

 

Ooh, boy. I uh, I tell you. You know, like I just told you, um, my son uh, fifteen years old, and um, you know, I’m not gonna uh, lie to anyone. I mean, um, it’s tough. And I’m talking to a lot of the other parents—‘cause he had a whole bunch of kids that they all ride Velzy Land, Rocky Point, Ehukai, Pipeline, Velzy Land, Rock—you know.

 

M-hm.

 

Every single day. And all of the other parents o—on the North Shore are having the same problems, you know. Um, you know, they—they don’t listen, and you know, you gotta do your schoolwork, and you know, they get lazy, you know. And um, and um, you know, sometimes it’s tough, you know. I mean, it’s tough, you know. But you—not matter, you—you love ‘em larger than life, you know.

 

GUEST: CLYDE AIKAU 2

 

LSS 222 (LENGTH: 26:16) FIRST AIR DATE: 5/19/09

 

… I’ll just kinda cruise, you know. I’ll—I’ll go out and probably still surf, but not catch the biggest wave that pulls through. Uh, no matter what happens, I’ll—I’ll be surfing all the way ‘til I’m a hundred years old.

 

I’m Leslie Wilcox and tonight the conclusion of a special two part “Long Story Short”. Our conversation with Clyde Aikau is about saving lives, sailing on the Hokulea, and the legacy of Eddie Aikau.

 

Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. On this edition of “Long Story Short”, we continue our conversation with waterman Clyde Aikau, brother of Eddie Aikau. Clyde sends a personal message to the family of the late David Lyman, captain of the 1978 Hokulea voyage at the time Eddie was lost at sea. We’ll learn more about the challenges, heartbreak and regrets of the ill-fated voyage. Clyde also talks about saving lives at Waimea bay and shares a very personal life lesson with us. We start with this thought:

 

Look at what you’ve accomplished in your life. You—you—you went on to win pretty much the same surf classics that your brother won, and here you’ve—then you got your degree, and you’ve continued to surf big waves, and operate a business. Sometimes I wonder if—if you’ve gotten your due.

 

Well, you know, I’ve always looked up to Eddie as um, larger than life. You know. Um, because as we were growing up, Eddie was always in the forefront.

 

And your older brother, right?

 

Yeah.

 

The leader.

 

He was—he was always the fast runner as kids, he was always fast to pick up music. Uh, he was the hardest kid to catch. Uh, in sports, he—he always had the knack to—to take it forward really quick. You know, so Eddie was the first lifeguard on the North Shore, um … I mean, to go out to the bay, Waimea Bay, and master Waimea Bay on the first time ever; I mean, thirty, forty feet is—is—is not a easy thing to do. So I’ve—I looked up to Eddie. And then—and then of course, the Hokulea, you know, his um, bravery and everything. Yeah; I—you know, I have—I have no … problem taking … number two slot to Eddie, you know, ‘cause to me … he’s just um … you know, a hero, Hawaiian hero. You know, and I’m just fine to be … right behind him.

 

One of the things that he set out to do, that you then went and did, was um, voyage on the Hokulea. Wasn’t that hard for your family to let you go on, after Eddie had disappeared when he set out on the Hokulea?

 

Well, the 1995 voyage coming back up from Nukuhiwa uh … for the family, it was more like a trying to close the circle kinda thing. Eddie left in um … ’78, uh, did not make it. Um, I was supposed to uh, join the Hokulea. Uh, it’s not like my family uh, forced me to do it or anything; I just want make that straight. You know, I personally wanted to do it myself, because I—I believed in closing the circle, um, of a—a voyage.

 

And this was almost twenty years later, ’95.

 

’95; Eddie got lost at sea in ’78. So you know, um … going down to Nukuhiwa and um … um, sailing back up was uh, was—was okay for me. I felt very comfortable uh, being on the voyage, and training. Now, you have to train to be i—invited on this voyage, because you know, you—you need to uh, be able to um, handle the rigorous uh, um, sailing voyage, and you gotta know what to do on the Hokulea and so forth. But I felt comfortable, because I windsurf, I sail, I drive boats, I surf, you know, dive, everything, so I felt real comfortable. Uh, we were at sea for twenty-nine days, uh, coming back up from Nukuhiwa to Hawaii. It was exciting for me when it got … heavy storms. You know, heavy storms, take the sail down, Hokulea is going up and down.

 

You didn’t have disturbing thoughts about Eddie on that voyage?

 

Oh, uh … um, no. I had—everything was great. But um, a real quick … uh, this island that we were on was called Nukihiwa. And it’s like a—uh, it’s about the size of Waikiki Beach from the Natatorium to the Hilton Hawaiian Village. And this was a place where there’s only about a hundred people there. And uh, when it comes about five o’clock, it’s lights out. Well, on the last night that we were there, uh, we had to go to bed and sleep, uh, uh, because we had a long voyage to go the next day. So anyway, I was sleeping, in this ten-by-ten room. I was on one side—uh, I was one side of the room, and my partner was on the— on the other side of the room. She woke up three times that night; three times that night, and she looked over to where I was sleeping. And she saw someone sitting down in a chair, leaning over me with a headband on.

 

Was that Eddie, looking out for you?

 

No doubt; no doubt.

 

Have you felt that before?

 

Um … yes, in 1986, when I won the Eddie Aikau first Quiksilver surfing event. Waves were twenty to twenty-five feet, thirty feet, and it was breaking on a—on a—on a wind day where we had a west wind. And a west wind would—would give you kinda like a onshore uh, break of the wave. It would break here, it would break here. And it’s a real scary wave to ride the bay. But I—I feel comfortable in riding on days like that. Anyway, I was paddling out for my—for my heat, and as I was paddling out, there were two turtles there. And as I was coming closer and closer, these turtles popped up and looked at me, and they—it was like … Bradda Clyde, follow me. So I looked at these two turtles, and I followed them. And this is where everybody sits down, all five guys, and I would follow the turtles past them, and go deeper than all of them, about a hundred feet out. And as soon as I got to that point, the biggest wave of the day would just pull right in, and I’d jump right on it. And just rip it up, come all the way in, and I’d paddle out, and the turtles would be there again. And I’d follow these turtles, uh, again.

 

Who were the two turtles?

 

Um, I’m looking at it as Eddie was one of ‘em, and Jose Angel, one of—one of the other big wave pioneer surfers—

 

Who also died—too young.

 

Yeah. So … you know, like I said, our family is very spiritual, and uh, you know, it’s things that you can’t um, explain. But I really believe that my wind that day was um … with the help of uh, the turtles.

 

Have you ever wanted to explain something about your family or your life, or the publicity about Eddie that um, you haven’t had a chance to explain before?

 

Eddie was a very shy guy. You know. And he was mostly a guy where he would mind his own business. But um … if it got to a point where somebody needed help for anything, he would um, always be—be the first guy there. And I just wanted to make mention that there was a—there was a lot of—a lot of blame that went around when uh, Eddie got lost at sea in ’78. And a lot of the blame went onto, you—you know, the captain of the Hokulea, uh, Lyman, David Lyman. You know, David Lyman had passed away, and I went to his funeral. You know, the whole family was there, the entire Honolulu was there, and … and uh … and I wanted to go up and … and express to the family that … it wasn’t David Lyman’s fault that Eddie got lost at sea, and that … because I never had a chance to sit down with David L—Lyman, and just talk story, you know, and let him know how I felt and how the family felt. And that uh … that at his funeral, I wanted to get up there …and tell his family, especially, um … and … the whole Honolulu, that it wasn’t David Lyman’s fault, and that I personally and—an—and the family feels the same way. And that um … no matter what David Lyman did to Eddie, even if he tied Eddie down, uh, that wouldn’t have prevented him from grabbing the surfboard and go and get help. And uh … anyway, um, I just wanted to … let the—uh, you know, the family know that.

 

Because I’m sure Captain Lyman carried that with him, even if it wasn’t … I mean, no captain wants to lose anybody on his watch.

 

I know; I know. And I feel bad that I didn’t have a chance to express that to him when he was living. But anyway, I just wanted to let the family know that.

 

That’s wonderful. You know, um …it’s just so hard to believe that um, a waterman with those wonderful skills can die in the water. But what could ha ve happened to Eddie, do you think?

 

People forget that … in the Molokai Channel that night, the waves were twenty to thirty feet. And you’re talking twenty to thirty feet, Hawaiian, coming every direction … every five seconds. I mean, Eddie was one of the greatest guys in the water and stuff, saved thousands of guys; but you know, um … putting yourself in a situation like that is, I think, pretty difficult.

 

Do you think he knew he was going into that?

 

Well, you know, some people say that Eddie knew that it was gonna happen, and this and that. But … you know, who knows? You know, I just think—you know, because Eddie was the kinda guy where he was always prepared for the worst. You know, he would take—he would go to the country, and he’d take three different sets of clothes, all the time, on a Friday night. ‘Cause he never knew where he was gonna go, but wherever he was gonna go, he wanted to be prepared. And prior to him going on the voyage, he did the same thing. He did—you know, he had a letter for the family that said, Clyde gets all the boards, and this and that. You know. An—an—and a lot of people look at that as, you know, him—him knowing that he wasn’t gonna come back. But it was just his nature. I like to say, Eddie’s lost at sea, and he’s off on some island, and got hooked up with some Polynesian girl, and has twenty kids and can’t remember where he’s from. That’s what I like to do.

 

Yeah. I wonder if he might have thought, even if the odds were against him, that somebody had to try.

 

Well, you know, uh, it was very uh, extreme that night. I mean, they were floating in the water o—over twenty hours, there was no food, there was no communication. Um, people were going into a frozen state, ‘cause it was so cold. There was women onboard—I think two ladies were onboard; uh, I’m not sure, but at least one. Uh, everybody was scared, because they were drifting outside of the airplane route or something, where uh, the planes won’t be able to see ‘em anymore. So everybody was frightened, and Eddie could see that. And uh … just being the guy uh, who he was, um, went to go get help, you know. But I—I go around to different schools, and I make presentations on the Hokulea, and Eddie, and what he was all about, and I always like to say that um, you know, no matter um … what you do, you know, uh, you might not have to give your life to save someone, but to help someone uh, in any way you can is what his life was all about, and what his spirit is all about. And also, um, no matter what you do in the ocean, let it be riding a boogie board in Waikiki, or riding the biggest wave on the North Shore, orriding Jaws, or just swimming, just—just making sure that you’re comfortable in where you are, and you’re enjoying the water at that moment is what is important.

 

The Aikau brothers certainly cut loose in the ocean but only after their lifeguarding duties were done. And what terrific lifeguards they were. During the time they worked together at Waimea bay, they had a most remarkable record.

 

We never lost one person in ten years, almost ten years. And in those years, we had no jet skis; we had no helicopters; we had no boats. All we had was a twelve-foot surfboard, big fins, and a—and a lifebuoy. I mean, we saved … obviously, hundreds of people, but—but on a regular day, uh, we’d save three people that are not breathing at the same time. One day, we were in the tower, and three people—one on the right, one in the middle, and one at the rocks were all face-down.

 

How did you do that? How did you drag people out and do—

 

We—I—

 

You were only two of you.

 

I know. I—we—we—we ran, and got the first one in. I revived him. Eddie went to go for the middle one, got that one back. He pulled the other one back, I got that one back, giving him the CPR. And then we—we both went for the— for the third person. But uh, you know, the facts are that in ten years, we never lost one person. And you know, um, that’s uh … that’s—that’s it.

 

And um, there were people who went in repeatedly, after you told them not to go, right?

 

Well … in 1967, 69, 70, it was the height of the war in Vietnam; Vietnam War. And Schofield was the rest and recuperation site for the Vietnam soldiers. You know. They would—they would go in Vietnam, fight, and come and have a break in Schofield. And they’d have a break for maybe a month; but guess what? They’d have to go back to Vietnam. So all of the GIs from Schofield would come to, guess where? Waimea Bay. And they’d come down like there was no tomorrow. They’d come down with five, six coolers and—and food, and all of their buddies. And—and they just wouldn’t listen to us. You know, we’d tell ‘em, Stay out of the water, it’s dangerous; and they wouldn’t listen to us. So the—so the same person, we’d actually save about three or four times.

 

And did you almost lose your life in the process of saving another?

 

As long as we had our fins, I felt like we could—we could—we could go through almost anything.

 

M-m.

 

You know, and that was our attitude. You know, as long as we had our fins. Because no matter how big the wave is, and the impact, it’s only for maybe fifteen seconds or twenty seconds. And I know, and Eddie knew that he can— he can hold on for that long. And then it subsides. And by that time, you’re al—already pulled in closer to the shoreline, uh, where it’s not so, you know, turbulent. Uh, so basically for he and I, we—we knew the currents, we knew where to go, we knew where not to go. Uh, and as long as we had our fins, we felt very comfortable.

 

You know, um, when—when Eddie vanished, it—it seems to me—I mean, he was your best friend and your brother, and you had so much time together; uh, real quality time together in the water, at home, uh, you know. How—it must have been really hard for you not to have that person—

 

You know—

 

–who knew you so well.

 

In ’78, when we lost Eddie … no doubt, I was all bust up. I mean, totally bust up. I mean … I mean, I couldn’t go the North Shore for a couple years. I didn’t ride any big waves for a couple years. You know, it was just—uh, everybody moved back to the graveyard. My brother Solomon was in Haleiwa, I was um … on the outside of Haleiwa when I met your husband Jeff many years ago. We—we all left our houses on the North Shore, and moved back to the graveyard to try to stay close to the family, and try to recoup. You know, try to—try to … try to get through it. Um … for me, personally, what saved me … was this sport called windsurfing. In ’79, I got captivated by windsurfing. And … at that time, windsurfing was the sport of the—of the—of the world. Uh, and I got captivated, and I totally threw my whole body, soul, spirit into windsurfing, into learning the sport, into mastering the sport, and uh, I—I literally sailed every day, for one year, and I used to follow the world’s best windsurfer, Mr. Naish. Robby Naish; uh, I would chase him every day. ‘Cause he was the best in the world, and—an— and I wanted to—to learn the sport. So for one whole year, I just uh, threw my whole self into windsurfing. I actually … um … forgot my wife, and … you know, forgot almost everything, and just threw myself into that. And—and as I mastered the—the sport … and then I got back into the big wave riding again, and then I went back to the North Shore. And then everything slowly was okay. But very difficult, yeah? Very difficult.

 

And—and you’ve lost other family members too, so it’s—it’s—you have—

 

Yeah.

 

–all these joys, and—and these losses too.

 

Well, you know, our family, as a lot of people know, has been through a lot of tragedies. My brother, in 1973, Gerald, uh, went to my—went to my graduation… party, um, University of Hawaii graduate. On the way home, he got into a car crash, and um, he died. You know, obviously, I felt really terrible about that. But you know, every family goes through a lot of tragedies, and you know, you just gotta look around you at—at you know, the loved ones who are here today, especially the young ones, and just put your head down, and just forge—forge forward. You know. You just gotta shake it off some—somehow. But very difficult.

 

For the men in your family, there’s a danger gene; and I think your son has it too. The—the thrill of big waves.

 

Well, you know, he keeps telling me, Ho, Dad, I like ride big waves. But you know, the fact of the matter is … the real money in surfing is surfing small waves. You know, small—doing all the fancy moves and the aerial um, flying in the sky trip. You know, that’s the—that’s where the big money is. And you know, surfing big waves, yeah, there’s some money, but when you go big wave versus small waves, you know, the guys who ride the small waves um, make a lot more money. And it’s—uh, you know, the risk is not as uh, high as surfing big waves. So you know, I keep telling him, Son … y—you don’t need to ride big waves, it’s okay; you know, just keep on doing what you’re doing. But yes, he’s—he’s got that urge to—to ride some big waves. But I don’t force him to go out; I just let him go at his own pace. You know, just go easy, easy.

 

How do you think your life’s gonna play out? How long will you continue big wave—wave surfing?

 

I think serious big wave riding …uh, serious big wave riding, I think another year or two. I think another year or two, and then uh … I’ll just kinda cruise, you know. I’ll—I’ll go out and probably still surf, but not catch the biggest wave that pulls through. Uh, no matter what happens, I’ll—I’ll be surfing all the way ‘til I’m a hundred years old. You know, ‘cause there’s always Waikiki to go cruise with, and it’s always fun to ride Waikiki, you know, even on a one-feet wave. You know, it’s always fun just to get in the water.

 

Now that you have almost six decades of life behind you, any life lessons to share with people?

 

I think life lessons is um … I think life lessons is … just try to be nice to people, the best you can. You know. Uh, traffic, people screaming at you all the time; it’s tough, you know. Every street you turn, there’s a … there’s a road being breaked up, and people yelling at you. You know, you just need to try and take a couple deep breaths, and … just try to keep as calm as you can. Because you know, life is so short. That’s … the life lesson right there. Um … you know, a lot of guys have a lot of macho, you know, uh, character and so forth. You know, and it’s—and it’s hard for a lot of people. I mean, it was hard for me. I mean, it wasn’t until thirty years, that—that I reached thirty years old, that I could say to my dad, look him in the eye, Pops, I really love you. And uh, I think—I think the lesson that I want to um … say to everybody is that … you know, you never know when it’s going to be … your time to check out. Nobody knows that. You know. And it’s really, really, really important to express the love that you have for your family, especially, and for anyone, you know, at that moment. You know. Um, because you never know what’s gonna—gonna happen. I love you, Pops.

 

What did he say?

 

Uh … what did he say. Um … I love you too, Clyde. You know.

 

We had this one fella…big big Samoan guy or Hawaiian guy or Polynesian guy came down. He was about six feet five and he comes walking down and the waves are huge. And we tell him it it will bust you up bra. It will bust you up. He jus came out of prison, you know, been in prison for twenty years, just got out. And there’s nobody gonna tell this guy what to do. So he goes to the shore break. Sure enough in about two minuets, he gets nailed. He gets nailed. I mean just totally nailed. So we dove in there, brought him back up, dragged him up up the beach, and he was ok so we left him. He sat there for about two, three hours and just looked down on the sand and when he finished, he walked up, got up, walked up to the tower and um came up and thanked us and said he was sorry.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
John Clark

 

Original air date: Tues., Aug. 31, 2010

 

Keeping Hawaiian Stories Alive

 

In this edition of Long Story Short, Leslie Wilcox talks story with a true Renaissance man. John Clark relates how learning to surf at a young age led him to become a waterman, lifeguard, fire fighter, historian, and writer. The author of a series of books on Hawaii’s beaches, John Clark took the innate curiosity that we all have and hunted down the source and mo’olelo, or stories, behind the names of Hawaii’s surf spots and shoreline landmarks. Find out how this descendent of a sea captain is doing his part to keep Hawaiian stories and characters alive.

 

John Clark Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

One of the guys that I interviewed was a man named Kerr. He was born back in the 1890s, so he was a surfer as a young child. By the time he was already ten years old, he was already surfing in Waikiki. And Queen was still alive at that time, and she had a home called Hamohamo, which is right where the Pacific Beach Hotel is. And she had a pier that ran out from her home, that went out into the water. And she would sit out on her pier, and she would watch the surfers, which were right out in front of her. Anyway, this guy and another friend of his, she would ask for them; she would ask them to go out and surf, just so she could watch surfers while she was sitting on her pier. He and his friend named the spot Queen’s. And that’s Queen’s—

 

That’s Queen’s Beach?

 

That’s Queen’s Surf.

 

Oh, Queen’s Surf.

 

[CHUCKLE] Queen’s Beach is a little further down the road. So anyway, that’s Queen’s Surf that’s almost now—it’s almost straight out from the Duke’s statue.

 

We’re surrounded by water, so it’s only natural that many of us play and work in the ocean. But as we’re enjoying our beaches and reefs, how many of us are curious enough, and persistent enough, to learn the background of our favorite fishing or surfing spot, what its name means, who’s responsible for naming it, and what role does it play in Hawaii’s history? Next, on Long Story Short, we’ll meet a man who’s combined a love of the ocean with an insatiable curiosity.

 

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. Welcome to Long Story Short. When you think of a name, do you ever wonder what’s behind that name? For instance, why is a place called Toes, or Snipes, or Gums? How about the name John Clark; a relatively simple name, only two syllables, but the simplicity of the name hides the complexity of the man. He served in the Army. He was a lifeguard at Sandy Beach, waterman, and firefighter who worked his way up to Deputy Chief of the Honolulu Fire Department, author of a series of nonfiction book about Hawaiian waters. Somehow, it seems only natural that this complex man, with a simple name, is a descendant of a sea captain.

 

His name was William Carey Lane, and he came here in the 1850s. And in 1853, there was a smallpox epidemic that was going on in Honolulu. So he was here. He had decided to make his home in the islands. And he was asked to take some medicine to a Hawaiian couple down where the Royal Hawaiian Hotel is. So he did; he met their daughter, he married her, and ended up making Hawaii his home.

 

But he planned to do so, even before he met—

 

Met her

 

—and fell in love.

 

Yes.

 

Was he at the end of his career, or did he just decide, Heck with my career, I’m staying?

 

He—exactly that. He decided that he didn’t want to go to sea anymore. And he really loved Hawaii, he decided to make it his home. So he married her, they ended up having twelve children, six boys and six girls. And the first Clark that came to Hawaii married one of the six girls. So anyway, going back to that marriage between the sea captain and Kahooilimoku—that was her name, I’m fifth generation from that marriage.

 

You seem to concentrate your fascination and your—

 

[CLEARS THROAT]

 

—passion where the sea intersects with the shoreline.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

The coastal areas, not the deep sea that your—

 

Yes.

 

—your ancestor loved, or once loved. You love that, where water and land connect.

 

Yes; exactly right. My mother likes to say that she and my dad had me swimming even before I walked. They took me and put me in the ocean before I was even a year old. So that connection for me and the ocean and the beach has always been there from the very beginning. And that was really reinforced when I learned how to surf. I started surfing when I was eight years old. And—

 

Who taught you? Or did you learn yourself?

 

Oh, no, not at all. My dad was in construction here in Hawaii, and one of the guys he worked with was a man named Clarence Maki. And Clarence was an avid surfer—actually, an avid surf photographer as well. So anyway, he and my dad were talking one day, and Clarence just told my dad that he’d be willing to teach me how to surf. He did, and I’ve been a lifelong surfer since.

 

What was your upbringing like? Where’d you grow up, and what was it like?

 

I grew up at a place called Kaalawai, which is over between Black Point and Diamond Head. It’s a little community there.

 

Were you right on the water?

 

Oh, no, no. We were back up towards Diamond Head Road. But anyway, that’s where, really, that I learned to surf in Waikiki, but that whole Diamond Head-Kaalawai area was my backyard.

 

What was it like? I don’t know that area, except to walk along it. What—

 

Oh.

 

—was it known for?

 

Actually, Kaalawai was known for several things. As far as traditional Hawaiian resources go, it was an area known for limu, for seaweed. There’s a lot of limu there—or there used to be. There used to be wawaeiole, which is a thick, green limu, and then a finer one that

everybody calls ogo now. But we used to call it manawea, limu manawea.

 

Did you gather that for salads?

 

Yes, we did. So those two, I find them every once in a while when I go back there to surf. But not too much. But there were also octopus there. People would come spearing for octopus. And there’s a seasonal fish that used to run through there, the mullet. And they would start off in Pearl Harbor in schools of thousands, and they would just start flowing around the island, and they’d run all the way down the coast, all the way around Makapuu Point, and then head up towards the windward side.

 

Does that still happen?

 

No, not like before. We don’t see those mullet runs before. But the throw net fishermen, when they would run, and it would be in the fall, when the anae, the mullet used to run through there, the throw new fishermen would come from all over the island to throw net on the schools.

 

Did you go down to the beach every day?

 

Almost. [CHUCKLE]

 

What was your routine? Before school and after school, or after school?

 

No, only after school. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] ‘Cause lot of folks came to school with their hair dripping wet.

 

Yes; no, that wasn’t me. [CHUCKLE] But I did surf a lot after school. And like I said, that was my backyard, all those spots. I surfed a lot.

 

What kind of boards did you surf on, as you went along?

 

I started off on balsa. So I started surfing in 1954, and that’s just when the foam boards are starting to make their appearance, mostly in California, and they’re just starting to make their way to Hawaii. We don’t actually get a foam surfboard factory here, which was the Velzy Factory, until 1960. So those first six years of my life, or my surfing life, anyway, from ’54 to ’60, I was riding a balsa board. So it was what we used to called a Malibu. It had a kick in the front, and it was just a single fin. And of course, no leashes.

 

And there are two of your surfboards behind you. Tell—

 

Yes.

 

—me about those boards. They look like they’ve seen a lot of action, and—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—and they’ve been cared for.

 

Yes, they are. Those are called alaia’s, and the alaia’s are traditional Hawaiian surfboards. Anyway, one of them, the one with the round nose, is made out of redwood and pine. And the other one is made out of all traditional Hawaiian wood; it’s wiliwili with koa strips, stringers. So anyway, the alaia’s are boards that I still ride ‘til this day, as opposed to a regular surfboard. And—

 

No fins?

 

No fins at all. So they like to side slip; they don’t a line quite like a regular surfboard does.

 

And they’re not that long.

 

No; they’re only five-feet-two, both of them. And they’re very thin too; they’re only three-eighths of an inch.

 

What size waves are they best on?

 

They’ll ride anything up to like double overhead waves. Just gotta get out there and fly. [CHUCKLE]

 

And what’s the story of how the boards were made?

 

Besides board surfing, besides learning how to surf on a surfboard, I’ve also been a paipo rider all my life. And one of the guys that I ride paipo with builds paipo boards. So when I started researching my book on traditional Hawaiian surfing, I wanted to know what it was like to ride a traditional board. So I just asked my friend—his name’s Bud Shelsa; I asked Bud if he would build me an alaia board, and he did. So we started off with the one with the round nose, and then I got to know that board. And then I decided to try something a little different, shape wise, and we went with the second one, the one with the wiliwili and koa.

 

 

In the Hawaiian culture, moolelo, storytelling was crucial in passing down the history of the Hawaiian Islands from generation to generation. In today’s world, the moolelo behind many of Hawaii’s beaches and landmarks would be forgotten and lost without people like John Clark.

 

So you were an early swimmer, an early surfer?

 

Yes.

 

But those skills are different from collecting and writing about swimming and surfing, and coastlines. How did that all come together?

 

It actually started with surfing. When I got into my teens and I started surfing around the island, when I got a driver’s license and my friends did too, we started surfing all the different spots around the Island of Oahu. And I actually got interested in the names of all these different spots; where the names came from, what the story was, the moolelo behind the names. And I just started just collecting these as I went along over the years. So anyway, in 1970, when I got out of the Army, I became a lifeguard at Sandy Beach. And as I sat there on my tower, I decided that I was gonna do something proactive to try and reach people and before they got in the water, and got in trouble. So I started writing about Sandy Beach, I started writing about water safety. But when I read this material over, I thought it was really boring. I thought no one would be interested in it. So all this stuff that I’d gathered about surf spots and names, and where the names came from, I decided to combine that information with the water safety stuff. So I just rolled it all into one, and I ended up with a book.

 

Speaking of names, Sandy Beach—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

How more basic can that be?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Does that have a Hawaiian name, or a history that’s more interesting than the words, Sandy Beach?

 

So the area where Sandy Beach is, is called Wawamalu. And if you go out and look at the old highway bridge out near the entrance to the Hawaii Kai Golf Course, you can see the name Wawamalu; it’s still on the bridge out there. But anyway, the name Sandy Beach actually came from the ulua fishermen that fished at Bamboo Ridge, which is over by the Blow Hole. And they would fish at Bamboo Ridge, and they would just call the beach next door … the sand beach. They’d call it Blow Hole Sand Beach; that was one of their names. Anyway, Blow Hole Sand Beach got edited down to “sand be”—Sandy Beach, and nowadays, the kids just call it Sandy’s. Simple.

 

There are so names that make you wonder. And there are also more than one name for a place.

 

Yes.

 

So you had to figure out which is the more appropriate. And then, there are probably different versions of how things came to be named the way they are.

 

Yes, there are. So that’s something that I’ve done all my life, just collect all of these stories, and then just kind of balance the stories one against the other, and try to come up with what I think is the original version, the original moolelo for that place name.

 

How do you go about finding the moolelo? I mean, how do you do it? You show up at a beach, you’re curious about it, and then what?

 

Well, because I’m a water person, I guess I can talk surf speak, or I can speak the language. And I just talk to guys or girls in the water, and I say, What do you call this spot? And, I mean, where did the name come from? So I just pick up stories as I go. And I also go through literature. People besides me have written about surf spots and about beaches, and just different places. So I gather all this material, and I just kinda sift through it, and come up with what I think is the legitimate story behind the name.

 

Do you try to find people who are living there, or associated with the beach a long time ago?

 

Oh, yes.

 

You go away from the beach to find the story?

 

Yes, I do. In fact, that’s one of the things that I’ve done religiously over the years, is going to the communities and talk to the kupuna; the people that were born and raised there, that know the area, that know the names. And the Fire Department was wonderful for that. Because everybody has a fireman in their family, or everybody knows a fireman. So I would ask the guys at work. I’d say, Oh, you’re from Kaaawa. Do you still have family out there? Can I go talk to your grandma or your auntie, or whatever? And then you get the ripple effect. So I talk to the grandma in Kaaawa, and she says, Oh, now,you gotta go talk to my sister in Punaluu. Or, You need to go talk to my dad, who’s out in Laie.

And did you know you were gonna put the information into books? Did you have that idea to begin with?

No; I never did, you know. Just going back to Sandy Beach in 1972; I never thought that I would ever put all of this information into books, into what turned out to be an entire series of books. They were just things that I was interested in, you know, I gathered the information.

 

And you were methodical about it. You thought, back in 1972, to take down names, and commit—

 

Yes.

 

—it to paper.

 

Yes. I really valued the information that people gave me, and I thought it was important to recognize them, to honor them for, confiding in me and helping me with what I was after. So I did. That’s something that I’ve done all these years, is acknowledge everyone who’s contributed to my work.

 

Can we take some surfing sites that lots of people know—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—but they may not know the origin of the name.

 

Sure.

 

For example, along Ala Moana and Waikiki, there are all kinds of surf breaks.

 

Yeah.

 

And people know the names, but they might have forgotten the reason. Some—

 

Sure.

 

Some, you can tell, some not.

 

Sure. Well, if you want to start at Ala Moana, first of all, you have Magic Island. And there’s a spot out there that’s called Bombora’s. And Bombora is actually an aboriginal word; it came from the Australian surfers who came here to Hawaii. And somebody just tagged that name for the surf spot out there. You move—the next spot down, going west now, is Baby Haleiwa’s. That’s named, because that spot breaks just like the surf spot Haleiwa on the North Shore. It’s got the same right with a pocket on a shallow reef on the inside. So that’s for a geographical comparison. And then you hit Courts, which is named for the tennis courts—

 

Which are right across.

 

Exactly right. Straight in; that’s your landmark. You go a little further down, you hit Concessions, right out in front of the food concession. So anyway, all of the spots, they all have a story, they all have some reason that they were named. A lot of the names come from just geographical location.

 

There was one near where I grew up, Niu Valley, called Snipes. Do you know the origin of that?

 

Yeah; Jerry Lopez told me that story. Snipes are birds.

 

Mm.

 

And the snipes were the little seabirds that were running back and forth on the beach at low tide, just foraging for food.

 

There’s another surf spot called Gums. What’s the story there?

 

[CHUCKLE] Okay; Gums is out on the North Shore, and Gums is at Ehukai Beach Park, right next to the Pipeline. Anyway, Randy Rarick told me this story.

 

Who grew up in Niu Valley, by the way.

 

Who grew up in Niu Valley, and who surfed at Snipes, and he named Toes too, by the way. Randy is the one that came up with that name. But anyway, getting back to Gums. Randy said that there was a surfer out there who had false teeth. And one day, he got hit in the mouth by his board, and he lost his false teeth.

 

M-hm.

 

So everyone was teasing him about coming in toothless. So the spot just got tagged Gums.

 

Gums.

 

Which it’s been ever since.

 

There’s also Yokohama Bay, which folks on the Waianae Coast have now taken to calling by its original Hawaiian name.

 

Yes.

 

Keawaula.

 

Keawaula; exactly right. So anyway, back when it was called Yokohama, the train, the OR&L train used to run from Honolulu around Kaena Point to Haleiwa, and actually beyond. The train actually ran up ‘til 1947. But anyway, there was a camp out there, um, of repairmen who were mostly Japanese workers. And their job was to repair the tracks. So Yokohama was one of the ports where a lot of the Japanese came from, when they came to Hawaii. So that name just kinda got tagged with them, to that particular bay, Keawaula Bay.

 

And why was it called Keawaula? There must be a reason for that.

 

There is.

 

That Hawaiian name.

 

[CHUCKLE] Well, the name Keawaula is actually three words in Hawaiian. It’s ke, which is, the; awa is harbor; and then ula is red. So it means, the red harbor. And there are squid in the Hawaiian Islands, besides octopus, now—these are the true squid, and they school. And when they come into a harbor and they’re schooling, and they’re mating, they turn red. And so it looks like the water turns red, because the schools are so massive. So anyway, that’s the moolelo behind Keawaula, is because of the squid schools that used to come in there seasonally.

 

You know, we were talking a lot about …

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—things you can see, you know, surf sites.

 

Yes.

 

But … I live on the North Shore, and—

 

Oh.

 

—I’ve always lived around or among surfers.

 

Okay.

 

And … it appears to me that there’s a whole world out there that a lot of us don’t see, but it’s as real as anything to those who are in the waters a lot. So many people know the underwater landscapes just as well as they do the streets of—

 

Yes.

 

—the town.

 

Yes. Well, you’re actually making a very good point. Surf spots are ocean parks. And that’s how surfers see them. So if you think of your favorite park, or your favorite golf course, or the tennis courts where you play tennis; to a surfer, a surf spot’s the same thing. That’s his park, that’s his area where he does his recreation, his activities. So you’re right. The surfers know the ocean bottom, they know all the quirks, and the currents, and what happens if it’s high tide and low tide, whether it’s summer or winter. All of that stuff plays in, and they know their spots just as well as golfers know their golf courses.

 

No matter how random life is, sometimes people become who they were destined to be. In the case of John Clark, he channeled his love of surfing, his career as a firefighter, and his passion for historical research into leadership of the Hawaiian Historical Society.

 

I’ve always liked English. I’ve always been a very good reader. A voracious reader, actually. So I thought I would be an English major, and that’s what I started off doing up at UH Manoa. But as I got into it, I realized that I really didn’t want to be a teacher, which is pretty much where you have to go if you’re an English major. So I switched; I switched my major to Hawaiian Studies, which was what I was personally interested in. And at that time, I was already in the Fire Department, so I didn’t have to worry about my degree being my profession.

 

I see.

 

I already had my profession. So I got a degree in Hawaiian Studies.

 

How did you go, all of a sudden, from water to fire?

 

[CHUCKLE] I was a lifeguard for two years; that was from 1970 to 1972. And my roommate at that time was a guy named Aaron Young, and Aaron was working for Hawaiian Tel. So anyway, Aaron decided that he wanted to be a fireman, and after he got in, he said it was a really good job, it was a good lifestyle, and he encouraged me to take the test, which I did. And one of the reasons I did is because at that time, there wasn’t any upward mobility in the lifeguard service. If you were a lifeguard, you were a lifeguard pretty much for life. So there wasn’t too much chance of me moving up in the ranks, getting higher pay; you know, that kinda thing.

 

M-hm.

 

And in the Fire Department, it’s just the opposite. They’re a big organization, lots of mobility, lots of room to get promoted.

 

And lots of different aspects of the work.

 

Yes; including ocean rescues. The Fire Department here does ocean rescues. So that’s something that I did as the years went along, too.

 

And when you ended your career after thirty-three years—

 

Oh, yes.

 

—Deputy Fire—

 

Fire chief.

 

—Chief.

 

Yes.

 

Far away from the water.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And even fires, right? You were in an—

 

Yes.

 

—executive role.

 

Yes. So the last seven and a half years of my career were as the Deputy Fire Chief of HFD. But even that was good, too. During that time, I went and got a master’s in public administration. And I really took that job seriously, of being a public administrator of a first responder agency.

 

You’ve spent a lot of time gathering information, writing, and taking—

 

Yes.

 

—care of the publication of books. Why do you do it? Do you make a lot of money from it?

 

Oh, no. It’s all for love. [CHUCKLE] Just real quick; the royalties are very minimal from the sales of all of my books. And the royalties that I do get, I just channel them back into the research, and all of the field trips that I do for the current projects that I’m working on. So there’s no money in it. But I really enjoy doing it. I think that I’m capturing pieces of Hawaiian history that other people haven’t. And the feedback that I get from people that read my stuff tells me that I think I’m touching some bases out there. Maybe not making a homerun with everybody, but I’m touching some bases, and people seem to appreciate what I do.

 

Sometimes on a mainland trip, I go to one of these, say, LA subdivisions, you know, malls. And you don’t—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You don’t see any distinguishing characteristics, or landmarks.

 

Yes.

 

It’s just paved.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I think it would be really hard to live in a place like that.

 

That you can’t relate to somehow; yes.

 

What’s the history? I don’t know. [CHUCKLE]

 

Right. So that’s something that I’ve tried to do for Hawaii. So if you live in Lanikai, you know where the name came from, what it means, you know the history of the area. If you live on the North Shore, why Sunset Point is Sunset Point, and you know why Rock Piles is Rock Piles, and all the rest of it.

 

I notice that you’ve been the president of the Hawaiian Historical Society—

 

Yes.

 

—for years.

 

Yes; for six years. [CHUCKLE]

 

Why? What do you enjoy about that?

 

The Hawaiian Historical Society … does what I do. They preserve Hawaiian history. And that’s something that I’ve been doing all of these years, is telling history, telling Hawaiian history through the beaches. So to me, it’s a perfect fit. The Hawaiian Historical Society has a library, they have an archive. They’re one of the key resource research centers here in the Hawaiian Islands. And I’m a part of that. I’m a part of the journal that we’ve put out. In fact, I’m one of the editors of the Journal of Hawaiian History. So it all plays in, it all ties in, and it all works out really well for me.

 

Even if it’s land history?

 

Yes; even if it’s land history. [CHUCKLE]

 

So the next time someone asks you where the name Snipes came from, or why Queen’s Surf is called Queen’s Surf, pass on the moolelo. Then, tell them that you heard if from the guy slipping down the face of a double overhead on the alaia surfboard. 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 pbshawaii.org.

 

Is there a favorite surf site name that you’ve come across? I know they’re probably all like your children, but is there a favorite one?

 

Actually, I enjoy all of them. I like all of the names and all of the stories. But I’ll tell you this real quick. The spot that I get asked the most often about, over any spot in the Hawaiian Islands, is a spot out in Makua that’s called Pray For Sex. And Pray For Sex actually comes from another surf slogan from the 60s, which was Pray For Surf. Somebody just change one word in the slogan there, and they actually wrote it on a rock out there. So you can go out there right now, and see Pray For Sex; it’s still written on that rock.

 

And what is another name for that surf spot? Is there—

 

Oh.

 

Is there another name for it?

 

It’s actually more of a little bodysurfing spot out there. The rock that it’s written on has a Hawaiian name; it’s called Pohaku Kulalai. And there’s actually a little marker out there that explains that. But people still know that ‘til this day. And every time I talk to people about surf spots, they always ask me about that one.