HOW sad. The organizers of the venerable Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last summer, announced this week that they have found it necessary to cancel this year's fishing classic.
Cancellation of HIBT
Tournament chairman Roy Morioka blamed unforeseen circumstances, conflicting events and a lack of volunteers as the prime reasons for the cancellation. But, he said, it will return to Kailua-Kona in the summer of 2000.
A follow-up question might be, but will the anglers from around the world, who have supported the HIBT for years, return?
I am sure no one in Hawaii is hoping that they will more than Peter Fithian, the founder of the HIBT and its parent organization, the Hawaiian International Billfish Association.
I had the honor of working for him for several years as the editor of the tournament program and as media coordinator in 1993.
It was Fithian, who in the late '50s as the manager of the Kona Inn, came up with the idea of establishing a world-class fishing tournament to showcase Kona as the "best fishing hole in the world."
He succeeded, perhaps beyond his wildest dreams, and remained the tournament's chairman for the following four decades until stepping down after last year's 61-team event.
After observing the HIBT for the past few years, I am somewhat surprised at Morioka placing even partial blame for the tournament's cancellation on the lack of volunteers. From my perspective, it was because of the quality and quantity of the Big Island's perennial volunteers that the HIBT remained successful up to now.
EVEN more puzzling is Morioka's inference that the volunteer shortage and slow entries had something to do with the International Game Fish Association's International Tournament of Champions, to be held in Kona in March of 2000. That tourney is held eight months after the HIBT's usual August time slot and is completely independent of the HIBA.
It may be possible that other fishing events in Kona this year may have had some effect on the HIBT's drop in entries, but the two major organizers think that's not necessarily the case.
"While we have teams registered for our July event from Mexico, Tahiti, Guam, Japan and the U.S. mainland," said World Billfish Challenge producer, Mike Nelson, "90 percent of those entries are the result of our affiliation with the World Billfish Series and International Big Game Fishing clubs around the world."
Another difference is that while the HIBT has remained essentially an amateur event - awarding trophies, but no money - its competitors offer huge cash prizes to the winning teams.
"In our recent Big Island Invitational Marlin Tournament, we had 33 entries from around the state," said Tropidilla Productions' Jody Bright.
"Of those, five boats shared in a total purse of $139,230. Last year, we paid out better than $340,000 in our summer-long series," he added, "and this year we feel it's safe to expect the total awards to be more than $400,000."
So there may be more to the cancellation of the HIBT than what has been announced so far. But the fact remains that its absence leaves a significant void in Kona's tournament fishing calendar this year.
Ray Pendleton is a free-lance writer based in Honolulu.
His column runs Saturdays in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.