Kaua‘i Remembered: Surfing at Kalapaki Bay 1932 to 1945

Before my grandfather brought three boards to Kaua‘i, the only kind of surfing we kids did was body surfing. Some kids started using the ends of apple boxes for body boards. We did not have flippers in those days and who could afford them if they were available. We would surf the shore break in front of the house and when it was low tide sometimes we could surf the waves off the sand bar that appeared every so often.

When the three real surf boards came we didn’t know how to use them. We would use them like the old box ends and it’s a wonder we didn’t get killed. Then Sam Kahanamoku came and saw we kids making fools of ourselves and came out in the water and showed us how to do it right. At first it was only the shore break then we would venture out to the break in front of the house and then sometimes when the waves were pretty big over along the cliffs where the Cliff Cottages are today. I can’t remember when we got up enough nerve to go out the break everybody uses today.

I think it was when Bill Paia came to Kaua‘i and brought his own board. When we first  surfed that break, there were a lot of pearl dives because we hadn’t learned to cut left and not straight down the wave. We also learned that the first wave in the set didn’t have much power but it was the second wave that was the surfable one.

I used a big heavy board and had to drag it up the beach until I was about 12 years old. The paddle from Kalapaki to the break was a little daunting at first but soon nothing could stop us. There were times when the waves were really big and breaking across the bay a few of us would go all the way to the first lighthouse on the point at Kalapaki and surf all the way to shore by catching different breaks.

There were times when I would get up at dawn and surf until my grandmother would come out to the lanai and wave a white towel which meant that breakfast was being served. In those days everybody thought that you had to wait one hour before going back into the water. When we were able to go back into the water we would stay out there until the white towel for lunch and the same for dinner.  By then we were pretty tired kids. My two brothers never took to surfing with the boards, but my brother Charles was a very good body surfer. He used to surf the waves at Brennecke’s beach whenever he could.

If you lost your board in those days, we had no leash and if you were surfing the Nawiliwili break you could swim over toward the cliffs at Kalapaki and your board would come right to you. The current was in your favor. And there were many times we had to swim.

I had a couple of scary times out in the surf. Once in very small waves I was standing up on my board and I ran right over a five foot long barracuda. He must have been dreaming because when I went over him he woke up and I have never seen a fish move that fast. He shot out from under me and into deeper water. Another time three of us were sitting on our boards waiting for a set when we saw the fin of a shark about six or seven feet long swim between the boys and me. The other two boys were Hawaiian and they paddled right in but I stayed until I caught a wave and then paddled in. They told their mother about it and she told them never try to get rough with me in the ocean because the shark must be my Aumakua.

That was the last time I surfed at Kalapaki because I was drafted and went into the Army. While in the Army I lost my board and the others also when the tsunami of April 1, 1946 hit Kaua‘i. My grandfather’s home was completely demolished and all my personal belongings were gone forever.

These were the depression and war time years so we only surfed Nawiliwili and never went any place else as the surfers do today. During the War there was gasoline rationing. A normal person without some sort of official job could get only three gallons of gas a week.

In 1935 my grandfather had a surfboard made for me in Honolulu and Duke Kahanamoku wrote me this letter, I have attached to this short tales of long ago.

Surfing on that big heavy board from the time I was nine to when I was twenty-one developed a pair of pretty nice shoulders. This came to my attention in 1947 when I went to get a tuxedo. I was engaged to Nancy Sloggett and she was going to school in the East and I was going to Menlo in the West. Nancy and I were going to meet for Christmas in Flint, Michigan so that her grandfather could look me over. There would be several parties where a tux would be the required dress. I went to the Roos Brothers store in Palo Alto to buy the tuxedo. The fitter asked me what my size was and I said I think it is a 39 regular. He didn’t think that this was right so he measured me and said you are a 41.5 then they got the right sized coat and the tailor started doing his fitting procedure. When he was through with the fitting he asked what my waist was. I said thirty and he had to measure me because he could not believe my waist was so small for the size shoulders I had. I had to go into San Francisco to get a pair of pants that small. Well, the upshot of all this was that I wore a tuxedo every other night for the two weeks I was in Flint.


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