TOM NEKOTA / 1927-2008
Surf teacher was legendary
Tom Nekota headed for the ocean nearly every morning since he retired as a teacher and swimming coach and turned the Waikiki shoreline into his classroom.
"He taught hundreds of people to surf," said his wife, Esther. Visitors sought out the wiry white-haired surfer with references from his "graduates" -- airline flight attendants, professional football players referred by Hawaii-born Norman Chow, former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, parents who joined their children seeking to master the ocean sport.
"The last thing he did was teach a little boy to surf," she said.
Nekota, 80, was found unconscious in the water off Kuhio Beach Friday and died Sunday in Straub Medical Center.
Nekota was a former City Council member, elected to one term that ended in 1982. He served as director the city Department of Parks and Recreation with former-Mayor Frank Fasi in 1985-86.
He retired as a physical education teacher and swimming coach at Farrington High School after teaching for 30 years. He swam and coached for the University of Oregon while a student there.
His wife said one of his proudest accomplishments during his short foray into government was development of the Kilauea gymnasium adjacent to Kaimuki Intermediate School, a recreation facility widely used for adult and youth activities.
"He was so different from a politician," she said. "He was not a camera-happy person."
Susan Fiala, a Delta Airlines flight attendant based in Salt Lake City, said Nekota "was just the essence of what the aloha spirit is. He wanted to take care of people. There was one gal who surfed and couldn't see very well and he'd always go in to help her get out.
"He taught me to surf," said Fiala. "He opened up a whole new world to me. Here I am at my age like a kid on the surfboard.
"He had so many stories to tell. He talked about being at the beach when Pearl Harbor was bombed," Fiala recalled. "He was a most beautiful person, with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face."
Nekota is survived by Esther, his wife of 55 years; son Keith; daughters Lissa Lau, Michele Nekota and Sheila Berbert; brothers Wallace and James Nekota; sisters Peggy Hiraki, Hazel Sakamoto, Helen Onoye and Elsie Kagihara; and five grandchildren.
Funeral services will be at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Kahala Ward, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4847 Kilauea Ave. Visitation begins at 3 p.m. The ashes will be scattered at sea off Kuhio Beach at 8 a.m. Friday.