Patrick 'Pat' Sylva, pioneering local musician, dies at 69
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
Patrick "Pat" Kalani Sylva, a member of the pioneering Hawaiian music-comedy group known as The Surfers, died Nov. 29 at The Queen's Medical Center. He was 69.
As recently as June of this year, Sylva was performing as a keyboard soloist in Waikiki at the Royal Hawaiian Center.
But it was with The Surfers that he and musical buddies gained international fame, singing Hawaiian and hapa-haole tunes in clubs and showrooms across the country.
"Only people who knew him well knew he was very witty," said Clayton Naluai, leader of the disbanded group, which last performed in the Islands in 1980 aboard the Oceania Floating Restaurant. "He would come up with funny things you'd never expect. To fans, he was very serious, but he was very talented; he could play everything, from 'ukulele to piano to drums."
Bernie Ching, an original member of the musical foursome, said he visited Sylva on Thanksgiving at the hospital. "He asked me to massage his feet, which I thought was unusual, but I did," said Ching. "Then he fell asleep. It was nice to talk to him, because he passed that Saturday."
Ching and Sylva were both members of the choir at Kamehameha Schools, where both belonged to the class of 1957. "That's how the music started," Ching said. "He was more into music, I was athletic, but from the choir classes, we branched out."
The two choir members met Clayton Naluai and his brother Alan (now deceased), when the Naluais were students at Hawaiian Mission Academy. "We eventually formed The Surfers," said Ching, who performed with The Surfers until 1965.
The group rose to prominence in the wake of the exotica championed by Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman.
"It was all about being in the right place at the right time," said Ching. "We signed on to HiFi Records, which was Arthur's label."
The group recorded several albums, including a Christmas project.
Naluai said Sylva was probably the one who steered the group into performing Hawaiian-lyric tunes.
"He had this songbook with all these Hawaiian lyrics," said Naluai. "We learned a lot of music from his collection."
In the Islands, The Surfers were staples at Duke Kahanamoku's and Canton Puka at the International Market Place, as well as the Imperial Hawai'i Showroom on Lewers Street and the floating Oceania in Honolulu Harbor.
Sylva met his wife, Roti Sylva, when she was dancing in Tavana's Polynesian show at Duke's, where The Surfers performed on the main stage. They were later divorced.
"We closed at the Oceania when a big storm wrecked the boat," recalled Naluai. The Surfers also had a seasick-inducing gig at Cleopatra's Barge at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, singing on a "boat" lounge that rocked like a cork in water.
One of the little-known facts about The Surfers was that they provided background vocals, along with The Jordanaires, for Elvis Presley's "Blue Hawaii" film and soundtrack. They can be heard on the rockabilly hit, "Rock-a-Hula Baby."
One of the last albums by The Surfers, "Shells," remains one of the group's classics.
Sylva was born Oct. 9, 1939, in Honolulu.
Survivors include two entertainer daughters — Moeata M. Tehani of Florida, who does Polynesian shows in Dayton Beach, and Moea K. DeFries, who performs hula with The Brothers Cazimero, Hapa and Amy Hanaiali'i. Sylva also had a son, Dustin M. Sylva.
Other survivors are a brother, James K. Sylva; a sister, Lanikapu Lambert; eight grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and nephews and nieces.
Visitation is 8 to 9 a.m. Thursday at Kawaiaha'o Church, with services from 9 to 10 a.m.; followed by the scattering of ashes at 1 p.m. fronting the Elks Lodge 616, where Sylva was a lifetime member and a frequent performer. Lei are welcome for the ash-scattering.
Reach Wayne Harada at email@example.com.