In exactly the way I would have imagined, when I entered the Outrigger Canoe Club, my breakfast date casually looked up from perusing a mainland business journal and greeted me with a welcoming “Aloha”, and asked “How about a drink”?…at 10am. Toned and tanned and obviously enjoying a very good version of island life, the 70+ year old man wore a vivid Hawaiian shirt, white linen slacks, and white docksiders. Think Thunderball meets Fantasy Island and Sean Connery has secretly never left.
Only a short walk, but a world away from the busy tourist hub of Waikiki, the members-only club has certainly seen its fair share of celebrities. From Olympic swimming champion and world-renowned surfer Duke Kahanamoku to Tom Selleck (you might recognize the club as Magnum’s favorite hangout, the King Kamehameha Club), the OCC has maintained its elite status with a waiting list years’-long. My host has been a member since 1968. He came to Honolulu to serve at Hickam Air Force Base to work in the photo lab and never left.
Founded in 1908 by New York newspaper magnate Alexander Hume Ford, the club served primarily as a place for mainlanders (haoles) to socialize, buy boards, and stash their things while they were out surfing. It was a basic set-up then; a few grass huts and place to park. By 1910 there were enough members and enough funds to build a clubhouse with a bar, proper board storage and a deck for parties.
The current club hasn’t strayed much from the original version, although it has moved from its first home next to the Moana Surfrider Hotel to the suburb of Diamond Head. It’s still a well-heeled (of fancy flip flopped, in the case) social club with a focus on ocean sports. A large dining area opens onto a covered lanai and out into a sandy area with a volleyball court, beach chairs and umbrellas. There’s a lounge, snack bar, private dining room, and an area for dancing. The locker rooms have certainly improved. They have spa-like décor and appointments; a far cry from those grass huts of the 60’s.
All in all, it was a lovely morning. As we enjoyed local fruit and haupia (a coconut flan), we basked in 70-degree ocean breezes and fluttering sunshine. Not bad for the middle of December. I was entertained by decades of surfing stories and got a glimpse into what 50 years of island life can do to a person. It’s good; I can see why he never left.