A Hawaii History Lesson In Waikiki

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - April 07, 2010
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A racing canoe in the ‘Canoe Hale’ at Outrigger Reef on the Beach

A taste of old Hawaii is on display in Waikiki, a combination of tradition and cultural pride in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Hawaii’s tourist Mecca.

“This exhibit is bringing attention to the history of canoe building and voyaging in Hawaii,” says Billy Richards, president of the Friends of Hokule’a and Hawai’iloa. “Local residents are also appreciating what they see, and hopefully it gives them a sense of pride for our heritage and culture.”

The new exhibit is literally the center of attention at the newly renovated Outrigger Reef on the Beach. The “Canoe Hale” is located in the hotel’s main lobby and is free and open to the public.

The display features many incredible pieces of history, including the actual steering blade from the voyaging canoe Hawai’iloa as well as a replica of the vessel made by the great woodworker Wright Bowman Sr.


“We’ve always had a longterm relationship with the Outrigger Reef Hotel and we’re excited the hotel decided to make this exhibit its centerpiece,” says Richards, a crew member on the original 1976 voyage of Hokule’a and several others. “We wanted to present something that was first class, and thanks to Bishop Museum and Mission Houses Museum we accomplished our goal.”

“People don’t come this distance just to stay in hotels,” adds Bill Comstock, the hotel’s general manager. “They want to experience Hawaii and the host culture, so it’s important that we provide our guests with opportunities to do just that. By partnering with organizations like the Friends of Hokule’a and Hawai’iloa, we are able to give visitors and local residents, too, a glimpse into what makes Hawaii so special.”

Richards says one of the many other prized pieces on display is the Kaiolahia, a traditional racing canoe made in 1915. It was showing its age before its arrival.

“Tay Perry (master canoe artisan) got it back into shape, and we are just so excited about the finished product,” says Richards. “During the hotel’s quarterly O Ke Kai series we even have charter schools coming down to learn about Polynesian navigators. When was the last time you heard of schools coming to Waikiki to learn about history?”

Richards says there also are fishing lures, a stone adz, a fresh piece of tapa from the original Hokule’a and feather lei found at the top of the canoe’s sail on display. He says they hope to add more items as the months go by to keep the exhibit fresh and moving forward. He adds the “open-ended” time table given by hotel officials for the exhibit shows the company’s commitment to educating everyone.

“Like most travelers, our visitors bring with them their own perceptions of Hawaii,” Richards says. “Most only know from travel books, or productions like LOST. It’s up to the visitor industry and those willing to share, that allow them opportunities to expand their awareness of the Islands - its history, its people and its culture.”

“We’re thrilled that so many of our guests are taking time to view the exhibit,” says Comstock. “It’s gratifying to a local company like Outrigger to have an opportunity to share such a unique aspect of the Hawaiian culture of canoe building and voyaging.”

It’s hard to believe a history lesson is being offered in the heart of Waikiki, but class is very much in session. The success of the exhibit proves visitors want more than just luaus and hula shows on their itineraries, they want to be educated about our home and what it has too offer.

It’s our job to provide that education. The Outrigger Reef on the Beach has provided the classroom.

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