Keeping Score

By Cindy Luis

Monday, January 17, 2000

LIVING in Hawaii is enough of a gift that one shouldn't ask or expect anything more. But sometimes you get lucky.

When I think of the best moments of my life, some of them have to include canoe surfing off Waikiki just after daybreak. The sun sneaking up over Diamond Head, the beaches of Waikiki empty and quiet, the air of a new day fresh and unused ... it's magical.

The real privilege, however, was being in the canoe with Nappy Napoleon. The legendary waterman would take a chop suey crew out at dawn from Magic Island to Waikiki just for the pure enjoyment of surfing canoes.

There were mornings when there would be seven of us and, rather than leaving someone on the beach, Napoleon would sit on the back manu and steer. As the most novice of the paddlers at the time, I would end up at No. 6, the last seat in the canoe.

But it was the best place to be because of being able to talk story with Nappy while waiting for a wave to come up.

THE man is amazing. The water would be flat, not a hint of a swell around us. We'd be chatting about where we'd go for breakfast later when he'd suddenly say, "OK, paddles up. Go!'' And, like the words that came out of nowhere, so too would there be a wave.

It's hard to describe the feeling. Paddlers understand. Surfers understand. There's a rush, an exhilaration that roller coasters have tried to match without success.

It's nature's perfect ride. And there is no comparison.

Just as no one compares to Napoleon, who competed in his first Molokai Hoe at age 16 and hasn't missed a channel crossing since that 1958 race.

This Sunday, Napoleon will be honored at the 15th Ala Wai Challenge. It's a benefit for the Waikiki Community Center as well as a statement of the importance of the canal as a recreational venue.

"I've admired Nappy for a long time and wanted to see that he got honored,'' said Jeff Apaka, the Director of Community Relations for the Waikiki Community Center and son of the late legendary singer Alfred Apaka. "He's one of those fabulous water people, men of the sea, like Kala Kukea and Nainoa Thompson.

"Through our event, we want to honor as many of our local legends as we can and say thank you while they're still around. And we believe in fighting to keep the canal for all the youth and canoe teams that use it for practice.''

NAPOLEAN grew up around the Ala Wai, first paddling for Kalia Canoe Club. He founded Anuenue Canoe Club in 1983, appropriately based at Duke Kahanamoku Beach.

Napoleon and Anona, his wife of 35 years and an outstanding waterwoman herself, recently returned from New Zealand where they put on sailing canoe clinics. They also sold copies of his new instructional paddling video, "One Paddle, Two Paddle.''

"I'm happy with it,'' Napoleon said. (It's available at Island Paddler on Kapahulu Avenue.) "It came out pretty good but, you know, you see it and think you could do it better.''

At age 58, Napoleon said he's still not bored with paddling. He took up the sport because it was something he was good at, even from the beginning.

"I'm still going, still not lazy yet,'' he said, which means he's not ready to retire from competitive paddling. "I like to paddle but I kind of would rather steer.''

From experience, there really is no one else you'd rather have steering. He and the water are longtime friends, which is probably the reason why waves would suddenly show up while we sat off Waikiki, just to say good morning.

Sometimes you get lucky. So to Nappy, t'anks, eh.

Cindy Luis is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter.

Her column appears weekly.

Paddling video wins Telly Award

"One Paddle, Two Paddle," an instructional video on Hawaiian outrigger canoe paddling, has received a Telly Award in the non-broadcast sports category.

The producer-director is Ann Marie Kirk of Honolulu. The video features Anuenue Canoe Club's founder Nappy Napoleon and a number of other island paddlers.

The Telly Awards began in 1980 to recognize outstanding non-network and cable TV commercials and videos.

Nappy's One of  Hawaii's Treasures