Living Up To Humble Napoleon Tradition

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - February 17, 2010
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There are many families in Hawaii blessed with generations of great watermen and women - names like Kahanamoku, Haine, Keaulana, McFarlane, Kalama, Aipa and Ho instantly come to mind.

But perhaps the most gifted and humble of them all may be the Napoleons.

Veteran canoe paddlers Joseph “Nappy” Napoleon and his wife Anona have produced several world-class athletes. Their five sons have won just about every event and race under the sun over the past 30 years, and several continue to compete at the highest level in canoe paddling and surfing.

Don’t look now, but the next generation of greatness is here.


Riggs Napoleon stands just a few inches over 5 feet, but make no mistake about it, this 12-year-old is a chip off the old paddle. The talented young Napoleon is the son of Aaron Napoleon, a phenomenal athlete in his own right. Riggs has a chance to be as great as his dad, and perhaps one day even as great as his grandpa, “Uncle Nappy.”

Riggs already competes in one-man canoe races across Oahu, often beating competitors three to four times his age. I should know: I’ve watched the little guy blow by me on several occasions.

But his latest feat sets him apart from the rest of the 12-year-olds on this planet. Riggs recently competed in the kickoff event of the Waterman League’s Stand Up Paddle World Tour. The Sunset Beach Pro got under way in perfect 8- to 10-foot surf with 32 of Hawaii’s most promising stars taking part in the Hulakai Trials. Competitors ranged in age from their early 50s to 12-year-old Riggs.

“Nothing short of spectacular,” says Tristan Boxford, CEO of Waterman League, when asked about Riggs. “Stand up paddlesurfing, up until this point, has been the domain of the experienced and more-mature waterman, guys who have honed their skills across the spectrum of ocean sports and have the control and ability to be able to ride these kind of boards in the sort of conditions that we witnessed during the Trials event. But what has been happening over the past few years is a wealth of young talent, particularly here in Hawaii.”

Napoleon shocked the crowd with his “no fear” attitude in the big surf - the same conditions his father Aaron competed in. Aaron is no stranger to success, having won the Ku Ikaika Big Wave Challenge in 2008.

“The Napoleon family is a family of true watermen, from paddling the Molokai Channel to pulling into huge barrels at Makaha, and now Riggs taking down some of Hawaii’s and the world’s best here at Sunset,” says an excited Boxford. “The Napoleon family is a legacy that just keeps on going and developing. It is wonderful thing to witness.”

Young Riggs also is proving that the coconut doesn’t fall very far from the tree when it comes to his cool, “no-nonsense” demeanor. Uncle Nappy instilled this in all of his sons, and it’s apparent Aaron has passed this admirable trait on to Riggs.

“Perhaps the most special attribute that this family possesses is how understated they are,” says a respectful Boxford. “There is no talk, no boasting and no claiming. Their approach is to go out there, do what they do and enjoy it - and that is the spirit of a true waterman and what we want to portray and live out through the Stand Up World Tour. We are honored to have them take part in our events.”

It’s as if young Riggs understands the enormous responsibility that comes with wearing the family’s name on his back.

Those in ocean sports already know the name, and soon the rest of the world will as well.

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