Friday, June 19, 1998

By Alexis Higdon, Star-Bulletin
Sammy "Steamboat" Mokuahi in 1972.

Sam Mokuahi,
‘mayor of Waikiki,’
was a true legend

He created lifelong memories
of Waikiki Beach for countless
visitors and children

By Helen Altonn


Sam "Steamboat" Mokuahi Sr., 80, who created lifelong memories of Waikiki Beach for countless visitors and children, died Tuesday.

He was a legend -- one of the last great oldtime surfers, lifeguards and beachboys. His many years of service earned him the unofficial title, "Mayor of Waikiki."

Big, strong and bronzed from a life in the sun until well in his 70s, Mokuahi had a gentle heart and befriended people from all over the world, family and friends said today.

He had supporting roles in several films made in Hawaii, such as "The Old Man and the Sea," and took folks like actors David Niven and Alan Ladd canoe-riding.

"He was a perfect gentleman," Ken "Squirrel" Carvalho recalled today. "He called everybody 'laddy -- laddy boy.' He danced hula at my wedding."

Harry S. Robello said, "We were buddy-buddy when he first came on the beach, way back, right after the (Second World) War. He started as a lifeguard and ended up a beachboy. He did everything -- surfboard, steer canoe."

Mokuahi once explained that he got the name "Steamboat" because his great-great-great-grandfather was born on a steamship coming to Hawaii. "My grandmother translated the name into Hawaiian, which is Mokuahi," he said.

All those who carry the Mokuahi name are proud of it, whether they are hanai or blood-related, said Mokuahi's nephew, Kevin Mokuahi, Lokahi Canoe Club coach. He said his uncle "made everybody feel like family."

Mokuahi was born in Honolulu and taught himself to surf as a child at Kakaako when ironing boards were used as surfboards. He started surfing at Waikiki about 1932 or 1933.

He looked out for kids, standing on the reef and pushing them off on their surfboards, his nephew said. "He used to yell, 'Stand up! Stand up!'"

In those days, Kevin Mokuahi said, his uncle would cut a piece of plywood and tell kids, "Here, take this out and catch some waves." The "piper board," as kids called it then, was the forerunner of the boogie board and much more difficult to use, he said.

He said his uncle's Waikiki hangout was mostly in front of Duke Kahanamoku's in the Outrigger Canoe Club -- where canoes will gather at 8:30 a.m. June 27 to scatter his ashes.

"Most of the oldtimers came from Kuhio Beach," Carvalho said. "We used to go diving over there, catch fish, drink on the beach. Nobody bothered us. On Christmas Eve we had races (climbing coconut trees). We had so much fun. "

They also saved a lot of lives because they were in the water and could get to people fast, Carvalho said.

Although his uncle had a business, he was always giving people surfboards because he wanted them to enjoy the ocean, said his nephew, Kevin Mokuahi.

"If they had no money, he'd say, 'Take the board out and bring it back.' That's how nice a guy he was.' He was a man with a lot of aloha."

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1998 Honolulu Star-Bulletin