LIHU‘E — “He used to live here,” said Dr. John Black, dentist. “He now carves the awards for the prestigious Pipeline Masters surf tournament. He made this for me when he was a patient. The background is Na Pali, and there is this nice barrel in front. I’m taking this sign with me.”
The treasured keepsake will leave with Black when he leaves the second-story office on Rice Street for the final time after introducing his dental family that was grown over 46 years to Dr. Chris Godla who took over the practice on Oct. 1.
“Much of my peace in this decision to retire comes because I will be passing the dental practice on to a terrific young man, Dr. Godla,” Black said in a letter to his patients. “I am confident that those of you who have yet to meet him will enjoy doing so, and will be well-cared for, for years to come.”
The office staff will remain the same, and the introduction of Godla was an opportunity for Black to pay tribute to the staff who allowed him to create the experience he wanted for his patients.
“I just had a birthday in December,” Black said. “I told myself I could go on for another five years, at least. But then, I lost one of my longtime dental people in January, and then, the COVID pandemic arrived. We could only stay open for emergency work which meant working a day here, a couple of hours there. We were finally able to reopen in June, and I heard about this young dentist looking for opportunity.”
The timing was right, and Black decided it was time to spend more time with the grandchildren.
“When I got here, this was a two-bedroom apartment owned by the building’s owner, Jack Wada,” Black said. “This was where his sales people visiting from off-island could stay without having to pay for a hotel room. A carpenter friend and I built this out to what it is.”
Black said he was right out of dental school at UCLA, after graduating from the UC Santa Barbara, when he first came to Kaua‘i. A collegiate swimmer, the surf captured his heart, and further cemented his love after meeting the people.
“I was here for just three days,” Black said. “This friend in Oma‘o was working on a place so I had a place to stay. We would surf, pound nails, and surf, again. The three days turned to nine weeks and I met a lot of people. While I was in dental school, I always dreamed of doing my practice in Santa Barbara, but the water appeared to be warmer, here.”
“I had to come back to take the dental exam,” he said. “Only then, I could set up, and I worked with Bob Long, one of my professors in dental school.”
Godla’s life parallels Black’s adventure, the surf on Kaua‘i capturing his heart.
“I like to surf,” the young dentist said. “I was in Hilo, Hawai‘i — studying a year-long Advanced Education in General Dentistry at the Lutheran Medical Center — for a year. I surfed there, but there is something about the waves, here.”
Godla moved to Kaua‘i and took up practice with the Kaua‘i Family Dental group for seven years before finding Black.
He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh Dental School and moved to Hilo for his year-long course at the Lutheran Medical Center.
“Dr. Black has such a wide circle of people who surf,” Godla said. “I’m amazed at how many people, some of them big-names in the surfing world, know him when I’m on the water. I like to surf, and I always wanted to surf. The year in Hilo was okay, but the surf was not great.”
Godla is married to Emilia who is a physician’s assistant at Urgent Care, and has a young son, Jackson who was born seven months ago.
“With all this COVID-19 going on, his grandfather in Pennsylvania hasn’t seen him (in person), yet,” Godla said. “They’ve only met through Zoom meetings and social media.”
Successful at the Kaua‘i Family Dental, Godla said it was time to move on because he appreciates the personal connection with his patients, some of whom have followed him to Rice Street.
“It was getting too corporate,” Godla said. “I like the personal connection like how Dr. Black is known to his patients, and just how many people out surfing know Dr. Black. I want to do good for the person, not a corporation.”
Currently, Dr. Godla, with help from Dr. Black, is available Mondays through Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The office phone number is 245-3582.