Carrying On An Ocean Tradition

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - April 16, 2008
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Salvador Savella crafts a fishing net at Ala Moana Beach Park
Salvador Savella crafts a fishing net at Ala Moana Beach Park

Cast nets have been around for thousands of years, serving as fishing tools all across the globe. Finding one is no problem - finding someone who makes them is another story.

“We’re a dying breed,” says net maker Salvador Savella.

Savella is a mischievous old salt who has been making fishing nets for 64 years. His father gave him his first lesson on how to patch holes in nets when he was 7. Hilo was a sleepy town in the 1940s and fishing was one way to pass the time.

“After patching holes, I would make nets for our basketball hoops,” recalls 71-year-old Savella. “It wasn’t until I was in intermediate school, when I really learned about the art and realized I was pretty good at it.”

Savella credits his Japanese art teacher from Hilo Intermediate School as the man who blessed him with the gift of knowledge. “I’ll never forget Ryo Shinoda. He was the one who taught all of us in Hilo,” he says. “It was actually a class we all took - that was more than 50 years ago.”

These days, you can find Savella at Ala Moana Park nearly every day of the week, making cast nets as his fishing buddies watch. His dark, weathered hands gracefully maneuver the fragile nylon into place. It’s a time-consuming process, but he admits he often does more talking than working. Retirement will do that to you.

“That’s why I take three months to make one net,” he laughs. “It should only take me one month, but get too much eye candy jogging around Ala Moana - so many pretty wahine, hard for work!”

Savella’s outgoing personality may be the result of 32 years of customer service with Hawaiian Airlines. He says he still enjoys spreading aloha with visitors and locals who stop by to watch him spin his nylon.

“A lot of people are curious because there are so few of us who make nets by hand,” he says proudly. “I don’t make for sell, but if people ask, I tell them $300.”

Savella says on the average, he makes about four nets a year, but last year was an exceptionally productive one. Of course, there was a good reason.

“Last year I made 12, one every month while watching my Korean soap operas at home,” he chuckles. “The soaps are addicting, but it’s not distracting like it is down here.”

Savella jokes a lot, but there’s nothing silly about the quality of his nets. His detailed work is respected and appreciated by fisherman all across the Island. Friends say he gives unconditionally, teaching the art to anyone who is willing to learn. “It’s not hard, you’re only tying knots and making circles,” he says humbly.

In return, many friends give back. “I have to admit, I’m not a great fisherman,” he says with a smile “I’m what you would call a Ziploc fisherman. When the fishermen come by, I open my Ziploc bag! Last week, I caught two mullets and some papio without even getting wet!”

Besides making nets and making people laugh, Savella also carves opihi shells for necklaces. Visitors see them as great souvenirs to take home; Savella sees it as another opportunity to share another piece of the Islands.

“Being at the ocean is a great lifestyle that sometimes we don’t appreciate,” he says. “The tourists remind me all the time about how lucky we are to live here. I’ve been blessed with much, now it’s my turn to do the same.”

He is certainly part of a dying breed that we all need to cherish.


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