Waikiki Beachboys, Remembered
They were warm and charming, full of life and personality. Each had their own story but all shared a common bond.
“Hawaii was authentic,” says Rae Kamaka, the widow of Waikiki Beachboy William “Moku” Kamaka. “It wasn’t crowded or commercialized. People talked and enjoyed each other. Life was spontaneous, parties could be held on beaches or parks on the spur of the moment. No permits or permission required.”
It was a carefree time. There were little rules but plenty of aloha. The beachboys preached it and lived it.
“Waikiki has nostalgia like no other,” says John Makua, the son of Waikiki Beachboy Kimo Makua. “The Waikiki Beachboys were a big part of that. They helped capture moments for visitors and slowed down their lives just for a second to understand the true meaning of aloha.”
Long before the modern-day Live Aloha campaign existed, this group of easygoing and highly skilled watermen was on the front line of Hawaii’s visitor industry.
They weren’t only surf instructors and canoe captains, they were guardians and chaperones to visitors.
“They welcomed people and made them feel good to be here,” says Kamaka.
“Parents trusted the guys to watch after their kids. I don’t
believe they knew the impact they had. They just loved being on the beach and sharing what they loved.”
“They were doing what they loved, and if they made money to feed themselves, their family and friends,even better,” says Makua.
“They lived day to day. No worries about tomorrow until it came. They’d get a few hours of sleep and then wake up the next morning and do it again!”
The late William “Moku” Kamaka had a deep understanding for his ocean playground. He was an excellent waterman, and superior steersman and coach. He also was also one of the few people on this planet who beat the legendary Duke Kahanamoku in a swim race.
The late John “Boss” Makua worked at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in the 1930s with other beachboys like Chick Daniels, Blue Makua Sr., Harry Robello and Duke Kahanamoku. He truly was the boss on the beach.
Blue Makua Sr.
The late Baldwin Kaleipokii “Blue” Makua Sr. started surfing at age 6 on his mother’s wooden ironing board. He was a great surfer and steersmen. Between 1958 and 1963, Blue steered the Waikiki Surf Club to six consecutive victories across the Molokai Channel.
Blue Makua Jr.
“Blue” Makua Jr. would learn the ropes from his father and uncles, and eventually became a canoe-racing legend himself. He continues to race competitively today.
The late Kimo Makua grew up in Waikiki with his brothers Ruben, Ronald and Daniel. Every morning before school, they’d help Uncle John set up the beach chairs and umbrellas for the day. Kimo eventually became one of Hawaii’s best steersmen as well.
All the Makuas were first captains, the highest level one can achieve, including John and Blue’s youngest sister, the late Violet Makua. She was a fierce competitor in paddling and surfing but understood the value of sharing her island lifestyle.
May Day Waikiki
On May 1, Kamaka and the Makuas will be honored in the fourth annual May Day Waikiki. The event is presented by Hawaii Tourism Authority and will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. on the beach fronting The Royal Hawaiian and Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort.
It will feature a helicopter flower drop, and exciting entertainment by Henry Kapono & Friends, plus hula dancers and more.
“We’re very excited to present this free May Day event for both locals and visitors on world-famous Waikiki Beach, where tourism in Hawaii started and continues to thrive,” says George Szigeti,HTA president and chief executive officer. “May Day Waikiki is part of HTA’s initiative to highlight our host culture in a meaningful way and share it with visitors from around the world.”
Just like the beachboys did, back in the day.
“When they weren’t working, you’d find them singing and playing the ukulele or making coconut hats with tourists,” says Makua. “They had a way of opening their hearts and sharing their culture and knowledge about our beautiful islands.”
Their tradition lives on.
Story adapted from Waikiki Beach Heroes by Ron Mizutani, originally published in MidWeek.
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