Freestyle: Celebrating the beach boys

May. 2, 2014 | 1 Comment

Na Leo Pilimehana performed in front of the Royal Hawaiian Resort on May 1 as part of a first-ever Lei Day event on Waikiki Beach, in tribute to Waikiki's beach boys.  (Honolulu Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.)

Na Leo Pilimehana performed in front of the Royal Hawaiian Resort on Thursday as part of a first-ever Lei Day event on Waikiki Beach, in tribute to Waikiki’s beach boys. (Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell)

BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com

Lei Day, May 1 in Hawaii, arrives right along with the annual change of seasons, according to traditional Hawaiian observation. Each year, we circle back to this tradition, reminding us to admire the islands’ beauty.

It’s a wake up call for me — a reminder that time continuously cycles.

That was especially true this year, at the first-ever May Day in Waikiki celebration. The musical event was put on as a tribute to our surfing sportsmen, the beach boys, many of whom have passed away or passed the torch to younger generations.

Ka Hale Io Kahala danced hula as Na Leo Pilimehana held a concert on Waikiki Beach on Thursday, Lei Day. The gathering was part of the Hawaii Tourism Authority's inaugural May Day Waikiki celebration. (Honolulu Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.)

Ka Hale Io Kahala danced hula as Na Leo Pilimehana held a concert on Waikiki Beach on Thursday. The gathering was part of the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s inaugural May Day Waikiki celebration. (Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell)

THIS YEAR, the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Royal Hawaiian Hotel collaborated on the new event, with a stage on the beach in front of the hotel open to spectators in the sand or water.

The music was provided by Na Leo Pilimehana, Hawaiian music’s well-loved trio. Halau and solo dancers took turns performing hula as Na Leo turned out a soothing, nearly 90-minute-long set of music. Highlights included a lilting rendition of “Waikiki.”

As the performance drew to a close, beach boys in attendance were called to gather at the stage to join in as all sang “Hawaii Aloha.”

“We really do want the Hawaiian culture to thrive, not just survive,” a member of the trio told the audience.

Waikiki Beach Boy Blackout Whaley held an oar and raised his hand as family, friends and guests applauded after singing “Hawai’i Aloha” on Waikiki Beach. (Honolulu Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.)

Waikiki Beach Boy Blackout Whaley held an oar and raised his hand as family, friends and guests applauded after singing “Hawai’i Aloha” on Waikiki Beach. (Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell)

THE BEACH BOYS have come to be seen as an essential part of Waikiki history. Essentially, they shared the culture of surfing with the world, said beach boy Teddy Bush, who helped put together the honors.

Teddy Bush-Lei Day

Teddy Bush. (Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell)

“The basic thing we haven’t lost is that we love to share. I think that’s because our fathers started it,” Bush said. “We all want to go back to the sea. The only drawback is there is no monument, no headstone. But this is one genre I don’t want anyone to forget.

“We want to keep the memory alive.”

“It’s about time” that the beach boys should be recognized on Waikiki Beach, said emcee Kimo Kahoano, bringing applause from the surfers, surf instructors, family members, hotel guests and onlookers at the beach.

Kahoano said the ceremony and celebration was meant to honor “all the beach boys, named and unnamed,” and also gave credit to the wives and families of these teachers and ocean riders.

It was a beautiful, blue-sky day, with only a gentle breeze in Waikiki, a reminder of the genesis of Hawaiian music.

Kahu Manu Mook gave a blessing on Waikiki Beach as beach boys prepared to paddle out in honor of those who have gone before. (Honolulu Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.)

Kahu Manu Mook gave a blessing on Waikiki Beach as beach boys prepared to paddle out in honor of those who have gone before. (Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell)

BEFORE NA LEO sang, beach boys paddled out in a canoe to honor their predecessors. In many cases, these were also their fathers and uncles.

Among those who rest in the ocean: Duke Kahanamoku, Hawaiian surfer and an Olympian swimmer. Kahanamoku is largely responsible for bringing surfing to worldwide attention.

“My family (ohana) believes we came from the ocean. And that’s where we’re going back,” Kahanamoku said, in a quote provided by event organizers.

Just reading the names of beach boys who’ve had their ashes scattered in the waters off of Waikiki gives a flavor of their humor and personality, with nicknames like “Turkey” and “Jama,” “Lucky” and “Chief.”

James “Jama” Keanu’s widow was present at the event, sitting near beach boy and surfing hero Rabbit Kekai.

Waikiki beach boy and surfing legend Rabbit Kekai sat in the front row as his daughter Nani Kekai (left) and Josephine “Jojo” Keanu (widow of beach boy James "Jama" Keanu) sang "Waikiki." (Honolulu Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.)

Waikiki beach boy and surfing legend Rabbit Kekai sat in the front row as his daughter Nani Kekai (left) and Josephine “Jojo” Keanu (widow of beach boy James “Jama” Keanu) sang “Waikiki.” (Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell)

The list follows, and after that, a video of “Hawaii Aloha,” as performed by three of our finest Hawaiian musicians: Nathan Aweau, Ledward Kaapana and the wonderful Dennis Kamakahi, who passed on April 28. Na Leo Pilimehana performed the song as the closing of the May Day Waikiki event, as those in attendance joined hands and sang along.

I hope you’ll listen, and give a thought to the passing of time, Hawaii’s many gifts, and those who have gone before.

Waikiki Beach Boys, family, friends and guests held hands while singing “Hawai’i Aloha” on Waikiki Beach. (Honolulu Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.)

Waikiki Beach Boys, family, friends and guests held hands while singing “Hawai’i Aloha” on Waikiki Beach. (Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell)

» Abraham “Purple” Kahui
» Abraham Kala
» Alan “Turkey” Love
» Blue Makua Sr.
» Bobby Ah Choy
» Bobby Crewson
» Charles David Kanaina Lambert
» Don Lipton
» Duke Kahanamoku
» Dukie Kuahulu
» Freddie Merino
» Gilbert “Zulu” Kauhi
» Howie Makalena
» Jake Kaliikoa
» James “Jama” Keanu
» James Koko
» Jessie Crawford
» Jim Aukai
» John Kaimi
» John “Zap” Zapotocky
» Kimo Makua
» Fabian “Lucky” Piihana
» Moku Kamaka
» Mud Werner
» Phillip “Dingo” Kahue
» George “Pu” Kepo’o
» Richard “Chief” Kauo
» Samson Kealohaaina Kaninau
» Steamboat Mokuahi
» Tom-Tom Mathews
» Tony “Small Tony” Canoningo
» Vi Makua
» Wendell Aio
———
Elizabeth Kieszkowski is editor of TGIF, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly arts and entertainment section. Reach her via email at ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com or follow her on Twitter.

RELATED VIDEO:

  • ElizabethKieszkowski

    It was great to hang out with the beach boys at an event in their honor, and see them recognized. Remember these names!