by Robbie Wilson
OUTRIGGER CANOE CLUB STATS:
Founded in 1908 as a surf club by Alexander Ford the O.C.C.
moved from Waikiki Beach to its present location close to Diamond Head in 1964.
In November 1967, I was hired as a beach boy as a result of
a chance encounter with the OCC Beach captain in the emergency room following a
Peter van Doren was general manager and Howdy Goss was in
the running for club president. My first week of work I had met half my surfing
idols; by months end I think I had covered the rest: Duke and Sargent Kahanamoku, George Downing, Joe Quigg, Joey
Cabell, Ricky Grigg, Paul Strauch Jr., World Champions Fred Hemmings and Felipe
Sergeant Kahanamoku (Duke's brother), 1967
Beginning in Venice, California, 1958. At the age of 10, I had
a 6 x 8 foot sanctuary called the surf room. A little space my dad built in the
corner of our garage just down the street from Dewey Weber’s original shop on
Dewey Weber’s original business card
The surf room was entirely walled in with it’s own door, bed
and desk. I spent many hours lying there reading anything surf related (pre
SURFER magazine) which consisted of books about Hawaiian history. On the wall, at
the foot of the bed I tacked up a Hawaiian travel poster, a painting of George
Downing, Buzzy Trent and Ricky Gregg coming down a mammoth Makaha point wave.
These guys instantly transformed into my heroes and I vowed that someday I
would follow in their footsteps eventually riding a wave like that. At the time
… never did I think I would not only live in Hawaii but also ride a wave with
George Downing coming down the face in front of me on a big day at Castles in
May 1968. (see photo) By that time I had elevated to Beach Captain.
This is the story: The O.C.C. an outsider’s perspective
My heroes all seemed down to earth, polite, compassionate
and deadly serious about caring for, paddling over, and… riding inside huge
cavernous waves. Thus my introduction to the definition of ALOHA which in my
opinion was and is the foundation of the O.C.C. although with it, I was witness
to political juggling, family feuds etc. I was the fly on the wall.
I spent the first landing on the moon sitting at the bar watching
it unfold. I witnessed the first flight of a 747 from my beach captain’s perch
from the Outrigger beach. Retrieved the bodies of two free divers, trapped under
the reef for two days, from Old Man’s and consoling the relatives waiting on
the beach. After that, Peter van Doren allowed me to go to the club’s bar for two
straight shots of Johnny Walker Black. Thank you Peter I needed that.
My employment at the OCC didn’t come without its perks. We
had free lunch everyday. The menu never varied. EVER. It was Tripe stew but … I
was tight with the beach snack bar crew and that’s all I gotta say about that
(except the burgers and fries never tasted so good).
Eventually, I moved on but still lived a five-minute walk down
the beach at Dad and Lily Center’s apartments and witnessed two generations
come of age within the confines of the club. Although I could not enter the dining
area being a non member I was always welcome to hang at the beach, talk story,
paddle canoes, secure my Hobie Cat to a club mooring ball (photo: Dick Metz, me
and Dana Moss) and surf with club members. The babies I met when only a few weeks
old were fast becoming boys and girls, they were the sons and daughters of club
members who had befriended me. If you see someone on a daily basis for several
years you become friends, …pranksters with the younger crowd, dinner guest with
the parents and surf buddies with both and eventually dated some. Krissy Muller
and I had a good friendship for many years.
Castles surf, Oahu, May 1968
The core of my experience, aside from obvious admiration for
the famous was the unknown watermen, pioneers in and out of the water. Dick
Metz, George’s son Keone Downing, Tommy Holmes, Mike Holmes, Henry Ahu, Joe
Quigg (a major influence as a kid), Aka Hemmings to name a few. Dick was and is
to this day, one of two men whom I chose to emulate. The other is Bud Hedrick.
Dick was the one who plucked me off the beach captain’s chair and tapped me for
manager of Hobie Hawaii.
Hobie Ad - Robbie Wilson, Sunset Beach,1969
Downing surfboard, May 2015
Keone and I rekindled a lost relationship about a year ago
after 45 years and just sent me a new board a couple days ago. Hey… the guy not
only is the son of my first surf hero but also won the EDDIE in 1996. Now it’s
two heroes in one family.
Tommy Holmes tagged me to paddle a 2-man canoe with him
surfing huge Castle Surf. I was always the guinea pig to test something that
had never been attempted. Looking back on it, I guess it was a big ATTA BOY in
my quiver. Mickey Munoz picked me for something similar only it was Sunset
Beach and a 14-foot Hobie Cat.
Keep in mind all this was a result of being the fly on the wall
working for the OCC.
Left to right: Aka Hemmings, Tommy Holmes, Mike Holmes
Joe Quigg: Surfboards by Joe Quigg, one of the original surfboard
shops in Southern California in the late 1950’s. Joe was a master of outrigger
canoe design and construction passing his know how on to my best friend and
successor as beach captain, Wayne Faulkner.
Aka Hemmings: brother of Fred who I watched grow into manhood
becoming an outstanding waterman in his own right. Aka went thru heavy drug
addiction coming out the other side clean and sober to become an example of a
true Hawaiian living on a remote out island.
Howdy Goss: club president 1968. Like Paul Strauch Jr.,
Howdy was such a gem. Easygoing, successful businessman, generous with never a
negative thing to say. After Dick Metz hired me to manage Hobie Hawaii he sold
the business to Howdy and became my new boss. Lucky me.
I'm trying to follow Howdy’s lead as I write this but for the
sake of adding a little humor to my story I’m compelled to mention Howdy’s
successor as OCC president, Tommy Thomas. The opposite of Howdy, Tommy was
insincere as a person becoming bullish after being elected club president. He
lived next door to the club at the Colony Surf on or about the 9th floor overlooking
the club beach. He had his binoculars fixed on the club most mornings. At my
disposal and thus my responsibility was the club’s Boston Whaler. A powerful expensive
rescue tool that had a top speed of maybe 40 knots on a flat day with glassy
conditions. She was my baby and I maintained her as though she were mine.
During a busy, hot holiday weekend Old Man’s, the surf spot
directly in front of the club was raging at double overhead. A couple of Hobie
Cats were out with inexperienced crew and were about to get slammed broadside
as the cat was in irons, dead in the water. Tommy comes running to the beach
captain station huffing and puffing. Yelling at me to rescue them. It was obvious
that would be futile and most likely put the whaler, the beach boy working
under me and myself in harms way. Personally I loved that kind of challenge, that
kind of situation was fun, something to get the adrenaline pumping but to
attempt something doomed to fail in front of a packed beach of club members, members
whose club dues paid my salary and the $40,000 for the whaler was something I
was not going to risk. I flat out refused. Tommy was beside himself sweating
with rage. He got in my face, pointed out to sea and screamed “get out there or
don’t bother showing up for work tomorrow”. I believe I smiled and said simply “O.K.”
I’ll skip the rescue attempt and describe the results as follows:
Realizing there was no way I would make it over the crests
of a clean up set I turned the boat around, put the pedal to the metal in the
attempt to surf us back to safety. Next thing I remembered I was swimming to
the surface. On my ascent I heard a loud whining. When I hit the surface I saw
the poor whaler sitting upside down atop a reef with the outboard screaming at
full RPM. I remember chuckling and shaking my head. Thankfully half the beach
heard the verbal exchange between Tommy and I putting me in the clear.
Dick Metz, Robbie Wilson, and Dana Moss 1968
Kimo McVay: what a personality. He would give you the shirt
off his back if he liked you. One time he loaned me his Rolls Royce to pick up
a rock star on the north shore and drive him to the H.I.C. (now named the
Blaisdell arena) for a performance. Kimo owned DUKES located in the
International Market Place in Waikiki. He owned the brand name DUKE KAHANAMOKU
and managed the most popular Hawaiian entertainer at the time, Don Ho, who
played in Dukes most nights during the summer months. One evening Kimo put my
dad, Hobie Alter and me together for an unforgettable evening at the his club for
a wild night with Don Ho and Nancy Sinatra. As the transition from long boards
to shorter quivers was in full bloom worldwide, Hobie was at a crossroads. Now considered
old school, his boards were losing respect resulting in a significant down turn
in sales. Kimo struck a deal with Hobie Hawaii. Put north shore shapers Ryan Dotson,
Don Copland and I think Barry Kanaiaupuni (before going with Lightning Bolt if
memory serves correct), together making short boards under the Duke’s name and
I sold them in the Hobie shop. Kimo was always advising me in a fatherly way
and I will always have a soft spot in his memory.
Duke’s: Don Ho and Nancy Sinatra, 1967
Sure the O.C.C had a bad apple or two and carried a daily
load of drama but so what. It’s human nature.
All the wonderful folks I met, Bob and Sue Moore come to
mind, I was surrounded with outstanding watermen and women daily, learning from
them the meaning of ALOHA. My mantra was to always surround myself with people
who know more, do better than and see more clearly than I did and The Outrigger
Canoe Club provided me that in spades.
—by Robbie Wilson, May 2015