Talk Story with Coach ‘O’

  • Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

    Mokihana Aquatics coach Orlando “O” Anaya works with keiki Learn to Swim students at the Kauai High School pool.

Mokihana Aquatics’ coach Orlando “O” Anaya said “the gig is up” after being announced as an inductee to the Class of 2018 Hawaii Swimming Hall of Fame.

“It’s a secret no longer,” Anaya said. “I had wanted to wait until the actual induction on Sept. 8 on Oahu to make this public, but the HSHOF broke the news in an advertisement in the June 11 edition of the Star-Advertiser.”

Anaya shares the Hawaii Swimming Hall of Fame coach honor with Willem Sakovich. Also being named to the Class of 2018 Hall of Fame are wwimmers Charles Oda, Ken Walsh, Bill Nuenzig and Catherine Kleindscmidt; master swimmer Karlyn Pipes; ocean swimmers Shigeru Pabila and Ulrich Klinke; water safety, Robert Via; divers Anita Rossing and Dr. Dennis Rowe; and contributors K. Mark Takai, Sui Lan Ellsworth and Alton Motobu.

“What an amazing honor this is for me, and for all Kauai,” Anaya said. “Being honored alongside swimming greats like Duke Kahanamoku, Bill Smith, Ford Konno, and legendary coaches like Soichi Sakamoto, Harry Mamizuka and Spencer Shiraishi is very humbling.”

Swimming is what Hawaii is all about, Anaya said.

How and when did you learn how to swim?

My mom was a widow. My dad died one day before I was born so my mom raised us by herself in Kalakaua housing on Oahu. When I was 11 years old my mom remarried.

Our stepdad took us to Maui for a vacation after he and my mom married. He took us to the Maui War Memorial pool. Since then, it has been renamed the Soichi Sakamoto Memorial pool.

It was then that my stepdad was told that I could not swim. Unbeknownst to me, he went over to talk to the lifeguard on duty and asked and got permission to grab me and take me to the end of the diving board and throw me in the water in the deep end of the pool to teach me how to swim.

It was 1972 in Maui that I first swam.

Did your learning how to swim have any influence in starting Mokihana Aquatics? When and where did the program start?

My learning how to swim influenced me to become a swim instructor.

In fact, just four years after my horrible experience, I became the youngest certified Water Safety Instructor (WSI) in 1976. I went on to become the youngest Water Safety and Lifeguard Instructor Trainer and eventually became the Cadre Instructor Trainer Educator (ITE) for Hawaii and the Pacific.

I was actually anti competitive swimming because back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s just about all swim teams broke all safety rules. It was so scary to watch a meet or practice back then as it was seemingly an accident waiting to happen.

Then along comes this family, the Kitamuras, and I teach the three girls how to swim.

I find out that the dad, James Kitamura, was one of Kauai’s best swimmers and a Division 1 college coach who had experience with Olympic caliber swimmers. James approached me because his middle daughter, Kara, wanted to swim competitively and James had said he was retired from swimming.

At first, I said no, but after several lunches and more meetings, he convinced me to start an age group program in Kapaa in 1981.

We did not even have a name. I still refer to that group of swimmers as the “Hanabatas.” We then formed an island-wide organization called Kauai Swim Club with divisions in Hanalei, Kapaa, Lihue and the Westside that included Waimea and Kekaha. That dissolved after just a year and we became Mokihana Aquatics Swim Club.

Several years later, we became what we are today, Mokihana Aquatics.

One of the signature events for Mokihana Aquatics is the annual Fun Meet. How did that get started?

I was at my first American Swimming Coaches Association convention in September 1982 when a man from Hilo on the Big Island introduced himself to me. It was Hall of Fame swimmer and coach Ed Kawachika.

He said that it had been a while since Kauai had an age group program. He told me some great stories about great coaches and swimmers from the Westside of Kauai.

I introduced myself to him as Orlando and he said “Nah, I going just call you Kauai.”

Ed became one of my mentors and called me “Kauai” until the day he died. Ed disliked how meets were being run by classifications.

He said, “Let the whole team come, and run multiple classifications, otherwise you’re just splitting your team up into the good swimmers and the not-so-good swimmers. Why do that?”

Remember, I was a brand-new coach and was easily influenced by this man so I told him I would run a meet like that on Kauai. When I got back home I approached our Mokihana Aquatics board and asked them to run a meet where every swimmer on every team could swim. Ed had given me a template that he had wanted to do, but was turned downed by the Hawaii LSC (Local Swim Committee). They run swimming in Hawaii and must approve each and every meet.

When we submitted our request, like Ed’s it was turned down. I asked the LSC why and was told that it would not be fair to the rest of the state because meets are used as fundraisers and approving a meet where everyone can swim would give us an unfair fundraising opportunity.

We petitioned the LSC saying that there were no sanctioned meets on Kauai and we should be granted a waiver. A waiver was granted and has since been grandfathered so our Fun Meet is the only meet in the state where all can swim, from a 4-year-old who can barely doggy paddle to Olympians, which we have had from Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia.

This year will be our 30th year and our Master of Ceremonies is Lloyd “Da Molokai Flash” Yonemura. Lloyd has been at our meet for 25 years, and the Lions Club has been with us all the 30 Fun Meets.

Our Fun Meet is an economic development bringing in upwards of 300 swimmers, parents, coaches and supporters to Kauai.

Mokihana Aquatics also offers Learn to Swim classes. What are some of the events that set Mokihana Aquatics’ LTS classes apart from other programs?

It is no secret that we provide the best LTS program — not just on Kauai, but throughout the state of Hawaii, and one of the best anywhere. Parents and grandparents have been scheduling vacations around our summer classes for decades.

Our LTS program, like our Fun Meet, is an economic development.

Swimmers have come from every island and the West Coast. This year, we had a grandfather from Seattle schedule a vacation around our classes so he could take his granddaughter and grandson to our baby class.

On Kauai, they come from as far away as the North Shore and the Westside. Why? Because we use kids to teach kids.

Our Junior Leadership/Lifeguard program is second to none. We have volunteers as young as 11 years old and up to 16 years old taking literally upwards of 100 hours of training. We run a complete Lifeguard and Water Safety Instructor course. They take it and pass, but cannot be certified because of age.

Then, we do in-house training on top of that to become actual working lifeguards and instructors. During our first session that we just concluded, our youngest instructor to date, Leigh Idica, who was teaching her own class at 11 years young, asked her class to have Coach O teach one day.

Her class gave her a resounding “No. You’re our instructor,” they told her. All but one passed Leigh’s course.

I still run all beginners and oversee all other classes and write all lesson plans but it is our junior leaders and lifeguards that make our program so successful.

Also, because of the suggestion of my neighbor, our LTS program has an ocean safety component. Go to our website at to see a great story on how it started. We take the kids on an exploration reef walk. We teach them how to prepare for beach outings and teach them how to duck dive (having the wave roll over you) in the ocean.

We literally roll and tumble them around the waves because like my neighbor said, “You teach everybody on Kauai how for swim, keiki to kupuna, and everybody know you, but I no can take my grandkids on my boat because they no know nothing about the ocean. You wen teach them. How come? Us live on one island.”

Now, you’ve got to go to our website and read the story on how ocean safety program got started. Mahalo Mr. Yuichi Shimabukuro for that gift to Kauai.

How does swimming influence life?

Swimming is a repetitive skill. You stroke hundreds of times, actually thousands, and kick even more. In reality, tens of thousands of times and staring at the same black line.

Just like life, we do things over and over again. And like life, we need to make changes to improve and better ourselves.

Yet there is the daily grind. Just like swimming. When something goes wrong there is no one there but you to fix it. Just like life.

Swimming is in so many ways a metaphor for life. I would one day love to coach an Olympian coming from Kauai. While Mokihana Aquatics has produced Kauai’s only Top 10 nationally ranked age group swimmers, as a program we want more. Yet, I am a realist.

The chances of an Olympic caliber swimmer coming from Kauai is remote because of our small population base, so we may never see it happen. We got close with the late great Corey Carroll, but that may never happen again on Kauai.

Again, that is not going to stop Mokihana Aquatics or myself personally from trying, but given the facts, we try to promote the whole individual. Most of our swimmers are honor students or on the Principal’s List. We have graduated numerous valedictorians. I recently had a swimmer who is an engineer now with the missile defense system. One of the only women. She said that she accomplished her goals because of what she learned with Mokihana Aquatics.

So we will continue to make outstanding citizens who just so happen to also swim really fast. A few years back a swimmer left our program saying, “Coach O is a great swim coach, but he should stick to that and not try to teach us about morals and values. That’s not his job.” I think that was the best compliment I have ever had.


Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or


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