HANALEI — “May I bring some champagne to share when we rest in the shade?” George Brat asked Toni Martin Friday.
“It’s my birthday, and I want to be in The Garden Island,” Brat said. “You know, the second page where they send in the pictures. This would be something different.”
Who could deny this kind of birthday request? Martin agreed, sending Brat scurrying back to his car to fetch the cooler containing two bottles of bubbly to share, one for members of crews of each canoe who were preparing for a morning paddle up the Hanalei River.
“He’s quite a paddler, and really fun,” Martin said while awaiting the arrival of the rest of the ‘Akahi ‘Akahi team members of the Hanalei Canoe Club at the clubhouse.
“I had no idea he was 90 years old,” Martin explained. “Last summer, he went with us paddling out in the bay. When we tied off the canoe to go swimming, he joined us, getting in and out of the canoe and keeping up with everyone else.
“When I found out, I said I wouldn’t mind living to 90 if I can do what he does,” Martin laughed.
Martin, the leader of the ‘Akahi ‘Akahi group, said Brat was one of six elders who decided they wanted to paddle for fun, and that desire gave birth to the 360 Club.
She said that name was derived because the total of the ages of those six paddlers was 360.
But, as paddlers come and paddlers go, the name was later changed to ‘Akahi ‘Akahi, with Brat being one of the original elder paddlers. Today, the group numbers about 20 paddlers, with Martin noting that a lot of the members still come and go.
Brat admitted that he was born on Dec. 9, 1915 in New York, adding, “I don’t believe it. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. It makes me old.”
On his 90th birthday, Brat was surrounded by about a dozen members of the ‘Akahi ‘Akahi team that he paddles with regularly. Those members had planned a paddle up Hanalei River before having lunch and fellowship.
“My daughter couldn’t make it because she said she was busy, so we got an early start, and I’ve been celebrating (my birthday) since Guy Hawkes Day (Nov. 5),” Brat said as he settled his cooler beside his seat at the rear of the canoe, where he serves as the steersperson.
Brat said he first came to Kaua’i in 1969, but had no idea of ever living here. He was here for a convention and, following that trip, returned with his wife for a tour of Hawai’i, eventually buying a condo here.
“It was at the Hanalei Bay Villas,” he recollected. During that time, the Brat couple became acquainted with people who were doing tours at the Waioli Mission Houses. “We had art classes together,” Brat remembers.
“But, when they were ready to retire, they recommended us as their replacements,” he continued.
“My wife was a history teacher. Barnes Riznik (who conducted the interview) was a history professor, so they hit it off real good,” Brat said. “I hated history, but I would do anything to be able to live here.”
That gave birth to his “job” on Kaua’i, where the couple served as caretaker and guide for the Waioli Mission Houses.
“After over 14 years of living at the Hanalei Bay Villas, the roof leaked, the deck was rotting, and one day, I fell through it, thinking, ‘They want us out of here,” Brat mused.
But, that was not the intent at all, as the project managers did all the repairs, and added some renovations as well.
But Brat said they had already bought another place, and moved on, despite the fact that living at the Villas “was a great life. They paid for everything, except they made us buy toothpaste and toilet paper.
“I joined the canoe club, even if I never paddled before in my life,” Brat said. “I played baseball with the seniors. I never played before in my life, and they made me the pitcher.”
Brat said his active lifestyle of leading hikes, and his enjoyment of vegetables and fruits, has probably helped him attain his longevity.
“My mother was Danish, and a good cook. She cooked a lot of vegetables,” he said. “Nowadays, everyone, the doctors, and all the other people, say to eat lots of vegetables and fruits.”
In addition to his healthy diet, Brat said he loves to hike, and practices tai chi, and qi gong “at least once a month. I used to do yoga, but I gave that up,” he said. “You just gotta keep doing things.
“If I had to do it all over, again, I’d do it,” Brat laughed. “But, with a lot more!”
- Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or email@example.com