Ashes And Sand On Waikiki Beach?

Waikiki Beach needs sand, but there is controversy. Ron Mizutani phoo

A gentle tradewind breeze bounced off my shoulder as I picked up my pace to catch a rolling wave off Waikiki. It is a run I’ve done more than 100 times on my one-man canoe, but this training session was different.

My focus was locked in on reading the ocean swells when my concentration was suddenly interrupted by the sound of a powerful engine. I looked up and immediately stopped paddling. I stared at the source of the noise and instantly went back to May 5, 2007. It was a day I will never forget: The day we said aloha to Don Ho.

I have warm memories of sitting in a double-hulled canoe watching the most powerful memorial service I’ve ever seen. Our canoe club was asked to escort some of Uncle Don’s family members to his final resting place less than a mile offshore. The flotilla of canoes, surfboards, bodyboards and other vessels was an awesome sight. We shared hugs and tears as his ashes were scattered in the ocean. It was a day Hawaii said aloha to one of its finest sons in one of the largest memorial services the world has ever seen.

The sound of sand being pumped from the ocean’s floor jolted me out of my trance. I was watching the first stages of a sand replenishment project for Waikiki Beach.

There’s no question this project is much needed and long overdue. World-famous Waikiki Beach is literally disappearing; has been for years. But Waikiki beachboys are concerned that the area where sand is being removed from is the same area where ashes have been scattered for generations.

“If graveyards needed dirt because they were caving in, they would not fluff it up or dig it up from the same place,” says longtime beachboy Willie Grace. “The graveyard would get its dirt from some place else to fill it in.”

Grace says ashes of some of Hawaii’s biggest heroes have been scattered off Waikiki Beach along with people from around the world who simply loved the Islands.

“We are talking about Duke Kahanamoku, Don Ho, Bobby and Leroy AhChoy and a lot of the best beachboys,” says Grace. “They’re out here to rest in peace. I even took out the ashes of a little girl who was in Bali when a bomb went off. They found her by DNA and Queens (Surf) was her best place to be.”

Officials from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources assured those who have voiced their feelings that work crews are sensitive to their concerns.

“We have infinite respect for the culture and ancestral issues related to the people whose ashes have been placed in the waters off Waikiki,” says Sam Lemmo, administrator for the Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands, which is conducting the sand replenishment project.

“No respect to the words ‘Rest in Peace,'” says Grace. “We need to bring the sand in from Sand Island or someplace else. After the third time it’s only getting less and less.”

“We held a blessing ceremony on Monday (Jan. 29) at the offshore site with Kahu Cordell Kekoa, who did our earlier project on beach,” says Lemmo. “We invited the Waikiki beachboys to join us. We asked the contractor to make sure the kahu addresses the issue of ashes and the deceased and to pay respects to their memory.”

As I watched the contractor work I thought about the hundreds of services that were held in this same location over the years. My canoe was drifting closer to the big rig, and I wondered what Uncle Don would have said. What would Duke Kahanamoku have thought?

They were true ambassadors of aloha and knew how important Waikiki Beach was and is to Hawaii. But would they have thought this was pono (right), and perhaps more importantly, was this planned with enough aloha?