Outrigger Canoe Club hits 100 years
By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Suzanne Roig
WAIKIKI — Paddling and the love of the ocean have bound members of the Outrigger Canoe Club together for 100 years on Waikiki Beach.
The list of members includes many of Hawai'i's elite watermen of the 20th century. Duke Kahanamoku joined in 1917 and remained a member until his death in 1968. Other members include state Sen. Fred Hemmings, 1968 world surf champ; big-wave pioneer and oceanographer Rick Grigg; paddling guru Walter Guild; and Olympic swimmers Bill Smith and Richard Cleveland.
On Thursday, the club celebrated its 100 anniversary with cake, hula and the blessing of three new outrigger canoes.
"We're all about tradition," said club president Tom McTigue. "I see the club as being here 50 years from now. The membership won't let the club go away."
However, when rising land rent in 1963 forced the club to leave its original location next to the Moana Surfrider Hotel, some members quit in protest. They argued that no one would go to the club's present location on what is called the Gold Coast, across from Kapi'olani Park. Of course, the club survived and flourished.
Unlike other paddling clubs formed about the same time, the Outrigger Canoe Club included a strong social component.
Mark Sandvold started as a member when he was 12. He joined without his parents because he wanted to paddle for Outrigger. Thirty years later, Sandvold is still a member and so are his three daughters.
He's one of an estimated 4,300 members in the club founded by Alexander Hume Ford to ensure that surfers, swimmers and canoe paddlers always had access to the ocean.
"The club is about old Hawai'i and its sports," Sandvold said. "There are not too many private clubs here that embrace the ocean sports. That's its main focus and it's hard to beat."
At first it was exclusively for men and boys. It didn't take long before those boys were joined by girls who rode those waves just as well.
Hemmings pointed to the club's many world-class swimmers over the years and said he would classify it as one of the "greatest clubs in the world."
"The Outrigger Canoe Club contributed significantly to me personally, sponsoring me at surf meets as an amateur surfer," he said. "It's where I learned to surf and it's been home to many great Hawaiian watermen."
There are some aspects of the club's history that make members cringe today. The Outrigger Canoe Club was at one time considered a haole club, McTigue said. While it never went out of its way to actively exclude others, membership policies reflected pre- and post-World War II mentalities, he said.
"We never intended to become an exclusive club," he said. "The club was not any more prejudiced than other organizations at that time. It wasn't right, but it was the times."
The club features a restaurant, storage for kayaks and canoes, locker rooms and a sand volleyball court — the club claims it invented beach volleyball.
It was once a powerhouse in the annual Molokai Hoe, a 41-mile open-ocean outrigger race from Moloka'i to the Duke Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki. The club has won a record 16 times, but not since 1999.
Paddling drew Paula Crabb to the club.
She joined 24 years ago when she came to Hawai'i and has since crossed the Kaiwi channel 26 times. Her children joined when they were 10.
"There is a big social component to the club," said Crabb whose husband has been a member for 43 years. "They really try to promote the family; it's a very family-oriented club."
Reach Suzanne Roig at email@example.com.