Standing With Duke
Hilton Hawaiian Village hosts the 31st annual Duke Kahanamoku Beach Challenge on the beach where Duke grew up surfing and paddling. It’s a benefit for Waikiki Community Center, which serves more than 1,000 people in need. With the aloha Duke had for everyone, organizers say the center is the kind of place he would have supported.
Nearly a dozen fiberglass canoes slowly make their way to their designated starting flags.
All eyes on the beach are focused on the starting line that stretches across world-famous Duke Kahanamoku Beach fronting Hilton Hawaiian Village. Playful glances at opposing crews are replaced by intense staring. The intensity is thicker than a blanket of vog on a Kona-wind day.
The canoes creep to the starting line, being very careful not to cross it and risk disqualification. The paddlers shift their focus to an escort boat idling ahead of them, where a race official is holding two flags.
“Get ready!” shouts a veteran steersman. “Paddles up!”
A red flag goes up, immediately followed by a green one.
“Go! Go! Go!” And they’re off!
On Sunday, April 24, the waters fronting Hilton Hawaiian Village once again will host the annual Duke Kahanamoku Beach Challenge.
The one-day event starts at 9 a.m. and brings traditional ancient Hawaiian makahiki games, outrigger canoe and stand-up paddleboard races, entertainment and a craft fair to Waikiki.
“We’re honored that Duke grew up and surfed right in front of Hilton Hawaiian Village,” says Jerry Gibson, area vice president of Hilton Hawaii. “It’s only fitting the Duke’s Challenge be in the same place where he enjoyed the beauty and the interaction with people from near and far on the beach named in his honor.”
Proceeds from the race benefit nonprofit Waikiki Community Center (WCC).
“We’re looking forward to another great turnout for the 31st annual Duke Challenge,” says Jeff Apaka, Waikiki Community Center’s director of community relations. “It’s an honor to have the opportunity to host this event to perpetuate Hawaiian culture and to support and be supported by the community.”
Waikiki Jaycees founded the sporting event in 1985 as a community service project. Since then, it has grown to be one of Hawaii’s most successful. All funds raised from this year’s race will allow WCC to continue to lend a helping hand to thousands of kupuna, keiki, visitors and people in need in Waikiki.
“It’s a great event for a meaningful cause,” says Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association. “The beach challenge helps Waikiki Community Center, which is an invaluable resource to both the residents and visitors in Waikiki and beyond.”
“The Duke Kahanamoku Beach Challenge is a uniquely Hawaiian way to pay tribute to this iconic figure, whose skill as a waterman and aloha spirit is the stuff of legend,” says Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “There’s no doubt Duke would be extremely proud of all the good work being done by Waikiki Community Center, which fosters a strong sense of community among our keiki and kupuna, and all of those in between.”
For more than 37 years, WCC has served as a resource for the community, providing multigenerational services and referrals for more than 20,000 people.
“Many people don’t know what we do,” says WCC president Caroline Hayashi. “We have a woman who is running away from an abusive relationship with her 8-year-old daughter, we have seniors who are being evicted from the apartment they’ve lived in for 20 years and we have the homeless.”
Hayashi adds, “Three years ago case coordinators handled 187 cases involving people who were in need of assistance that was critical to their ability to remain independent and for survival.”
In 2014 that number jumped to 526, and then last year there were more than 700 cases.
“This year we’re expecting that to grow, and we’re doing it on a skeleton budget and staff,” says Hayashi. “It’s very labor intensive. The 300 percent growth we’ve seen is by word of mouth — it’s not something we consciously set out to do, but we found there was a growing need. You have to have the right kind of person to do the job.”
Hayashi joined the center three-and-a-half years ago and oversees a modest $1.7 million budget.
“The center has a staff of 25 fulland part-time workers, and that includes our pre-school staff,” says Hayashi of her lean team. “We provide tuition assistance for pre-K-age children from low-income working families, food for more than 1,000 families in need, and activities that help more than 3,000 seniors maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.”
Recently, the center has seen an increase in the homeless knocking on its doors — and many are seniors with health issues.
“We know that homelessness is a big issue in Waikiki and is causing some of our visitors not to have a great experience,” says Hayashi. “Yes, many people are down, but they’re not out!”
Hayashi says “case coordinators” have been thrust into a role that didn’t exist a few years ago.
“Many people have financial limitations and sometimes it takes working with landlords,” explains Hayashi. “Is it possible to lower this person’s rent for a few months until this person can get back on their feet? We do whatever it takes to stabilize their situation. It takes more than just giving out a phone number.”
Those in the visitor industry recognize and appreciate the center’s good work.
“Every day, Waikiki Community Center brings joy to keiki and comfort to kupuna, and makes lives better for families in our communities,” says George Szigeti, president and CEO of Hawaii Tourism Authority. “The center is a trusted, treasured place for care, assistance and joy for those in need of support. Its importance to the way we live and how we show aloha to families and neighbors cannot be overstated.”
“WCC does a tremendous job in reaching everyone from keiki to kupuna,” says Hannemann. “Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association has supported the center for many years, and I expect our members will happily continue to do so for decades to come.”
“We’re humbled to partner with WCC,” says Gibson. “They continue to do so much for the wonderful people of this island, and work tirelessly to enrich the lives of both young and old.”
Each year, the beach challenge honors notable Hawaii men and women who have contributed to Hawaii’s water culture. This year’s honoree is Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association (OHCRA).
“We are very proud to be a part of the Duke Kahanamoku Beach Challenge,” says OHCRA president Luana Froiseth. “It’s an honor for an organization that’s been around for a long time.”
And like WCC, OHCRA aims to serve a wide audience.
“Our goal is to go into communities and serve people who want to paddle, it’s not only Oahu,” says Froiseth. “OHCRA strives to help everyone and perpetuate the sport any way we can, like Duke did!”
Duke would be proud of both organizations.
“Duke was renowned for his warmth and kindness, traits he imparted to people everywhere he went,” reflects Szigeti. “The spirit of his legacy as Hawaii’s Ambassador of Aloha is being carried forward not just with this annual ocean sports competition, but also daily in the services provided by Waikiki Community Center.”
“I believe Duke would think the center is a good representation of Hawaii’s aloha spirit,” says Hayashi. “We help everyone. We don’t turn anyone away. We welcome all, no matter how long you’ve been in Hawaii.”
For more information about WCC, call 923-1802 or visit waikikicommunitycenter.org.
In Hawaii, we greet friends, loved ones or strangers with Aloha, which means love.
Aloha is the key word to the universal spirit of real hospitality which makes Hawaii renowned as the world center of understanding and fellow ship. Try meeting or leaving people with Aloha. You’ll be surprised by their reaction.
I believe it, and it is my creed.
Aloha to you.
— Duke Paoa Kahanamoku