Honoring Legends Of The Sea And Pool
In an island state, we honor the skills and courage of watermen and water-women above all. Meet the latest inductees into their Hall of Fame
Each year, the Hawaii Watermen Hall of Fame honors water-men and women whose lifetime of contributions have inspired and perpetuated the unique connection and love between our kamaaina and the ocean.
The 2013 inductees include an Olympic gold medal swimmer and pioneer of water safety, a world-class long-distance open ocean swimmer, a champion swimmer and dedicated swimming coach, a world-renown canoe steersman and 11-time Molokai Hoe canoe champion, and a former longboard surfing champion and community leader.
Steve Borowski – Swimming
Steve Borowski of Kona is one of Hawaii’s most-decorated swimmers and successful swimming coaches. His passion for water sports started when he was only 4 and has continued for more than six decades.
After a phenomenal high school career in Illinois, Borowski was an All-American in swimming and water polo at Indiana University. Borowski continues to perform at a high level. At the age of 50, Borowski held the fastest time in the world in his age division in the 50-meter freestyle and 50-meter butterfly. He did it again at the age of 55, this time in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle and the 50- and 100-meter butterfly events. He has been inducted in the Hawaii Swimming Hall of Fame and the Illinois Water Polo and Chicago High School Sports hall of fames.
“My senior year our team won the NCAA championship and Mark Spitz was an incoming freshman,” he recalls. “At the last meet of the year, our coach put me in to anchor the medley race and not Mark, and I was humbled that he had the trust and confidence in me to get the job done. We broke the American record that day.”
Borowski’s coaching career started at Indiana University. Since then, he has coached Olympic world record holders, Waikiki Roughwater Swim winners, the U.S. National Team, University of Hawaii men’s team and more than 50 All-Americans at Punahou and Kealakehe schools. At Punahou, he led the boys and girls to 13 consecutive state titles, and at Kealakehe he led the swim team to the school’s only state championship.
“I think personalizing and individualizing as much as you can is the key to coaching, rather than trying to clone each swimmer, whether it’s a 7-year-old or a 70-year-old,” says Borowski, who has found a new passion in underwater photography. “It is a tremendous and humbling honor to have been nominated to the Hawaii Waterman Hall of Fame, unbelievable. It’s kind of neat because when I was 19 and swimming in college, I had a chance to meet Duke and I’ve been in Hawaii now for nearly 40 years.”
Tommy Conner – Canoe Paddling
Tommy Conner was a winner. Just ask anyone who lined up next to him on race morning. He was a man with tremendous knowledge and focus, who had a gift of reading the ocean.
Conner was born in Mountain View on the Island of Hawaii. He started his professional career as a police officer with the Honolulu Police Department and then moved to the Honolulu Fire Department, where he retired as captain.
When it came to steering a canoe, there were few as gifted as Conner. He was an 11-time winner of the Molokai Hoe, the prestigious world long-distance canoe racing championship from Molokai to Oahu. He was also a designer and builder of the oldest one-man outrigger canoe and was credited with bringing the surf ski to Hawaii.
But as stern and competitive as he was, Conner was a giving man who was willing to share his wisdom with those who wanted to learn. He was the head coach at Outrigger Canoe Club in the late 1970s and would later serve in the same capacity at Lanikai Canoe Club. He coached many crews to victory.
“I had the chance to paddle with Tommy at Kai Opua Canoe Club, and he was a competitor,” says Borowski. “To be in the same class with him is quite an honor.”
Conner was diagnosed with lung cancer and fought the disease head-on for months before losing the battle in March. He was only 68.
Linda Kaiser – Open Water Swimming
Linda Kaiser is literally in a class all by herself. Kaiser is the only woman on this planet, and one of only two people who have swum all nine major channels between the Hawaiian Islands. Nevermind an airplane, boat or even a canoe (by the way, she and her paddling partner were the first women to paddle a two-person outrigger from Molokai to Oahu), Kaiser would rather swim from island to island despite the constant threat of sharks, jellyfish and Portuguese man o’war.
Kaiser was born and raised in Hawaii. She crossed her first channel in 1988 and her last one in 2010. The distances ranged from 7 miles to 72 miles.
“Linda is among the top five women’s distance swimmers in the world,” says Tim Guard, president of the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation. “Long distance swimmers have an unimaginable amount of endurance and mental strength, and there are unspeakable dangers out in the ocean.”
In 2008, she was inducted into the Hawaii Swimming Hall of Fame. She is a triathlete and coaches swimming at various levels. She has served on the board of the Waikiki Roughwater Swim for more than 20 years, the board of the Duke Kahanamoku Foundation, and is the former president of the Hawaii Kai Funrunners Club.
“Linda has given back to her sport and her community in different ways,” says Guard. “She’s been generous with her time in terms of mentoring and coaching. She exemplifies all of the values that Duke would be proud of.”
“I am just humbled by even the thought of being inducted,” says Kaiser who just returned from a swim series in Samoa where competitors swim from island to island over a three-day period. “There have only been three women inducted, and I’m speechless. When I look at who is in there already and I see all the names, I say these guys are all legends!”
On mentoring and coaching, she says:
“You’ve got to give back to the community, otherwise there’s no perpetuation and it just dies. Channel swimmers rely on each other, swimmers who can share experiences. You have to give back, you can’t take it with you.”
Bill Smith – Swimming, Ocean Safety
Bill Smith is one of the greatest sports figures in Hawaii history. The two-time Olympic gold medal swimmer attended Saint Louis School on Oahu before moving to Maui, where he graduated from Baldwin High School.
Smith was an eight-time national champion at Ohio State. In 1948, he won gold medals at the London Olympics in the 400-meter freestyle and the 4×200-meter freestyle relay while captaining the U.S. men’s swimming team. He held the world record in four different freestyle events. Smith was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame, the Hawaii Swimming Hall of Fame and the Ohio State University Athletic Hall of Fame.
“He is an iconic sports figure in Hawaii and epitomizes Hawaii’s oceanman,” says Guard. “His contributions are so great, they’re difficult to measure.”
Smith served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and then was Water Safety Director for the City and County of Honolulu for more than 30 years.
“What he brought to ocean safety and Hawaii’s lifeguarding program, which is notable in the U.S., is immeasurable. Today, it is one of the most capable and heroic systems in America.”
Smith died last February at the age of 88.
China Uemura – Surfing
Longboard surfing legend China Uemura has achieved great success in the ocean, but it’s his work outside the water that is fulfilling his heart, a heart that was recently given a second chance at life.
Uemura underwent successful open-heart surgery last year after blacking out during one of his surf contests. Doctors believed he suffered a mild heart attack and told him his aorta was working overtime.
“I’m happy I’m still around for the kids,” says the 58-year-old Uemura. “At one time it was all about me. I was doing and dealing drugs and destroying lives.”
But Uemura turned his life around and started hosting surfing contests as a way to serve the community. His events have raised nearly $275,000 for local charities, including American Diabetes Association, Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Sex Abuse Treatment Center at Kapiolani Medical Center and the China Uemura Surfing Foundation.
“We’re making dreams come true for kids,” says Uemura. “I’m honored to be inducted into the Hall of Fame with great names like Duke Kahanamoku and Eddie Aikau. It’s like winning the Academy Awards for surfing.”
The Hawaii Watermen Hall of Fame Awards Dinner is Thursday, Aug. 22 at the Outrigger Canoe Club and is presented by the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation (ODKF) and Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Tickets and information are at DukeFoundation.org.