Lauded isle sportsman dies at 60

Henry Ayau / paddler


Star-Bulletin staff

Henry Ayau, a famed sportsman and businessman known for his excellence in water sports like canoe paddling and diving, died at the Straub Clinic and Hospital, this morning, a spokeswoman at the hospital and friends said. He was 60.

Ayau, who only learned to board surf after moving to Oahu, was actively involved in canoe paddling, diving, spearfishing and surfing. In 1983, he was awarded the Winged O by the Outrigger Canoe Club for service to the club's athletic program. The honor was first conferred upon Duke Kahanamoku in 1966.

Ayau and Kahanamoku became friends in the latter years of Kahanamoku's life. Ayau was general manager of Duke's night club in Waikiki and later an executive vice president for the legendary surfer's complex, which included Diamond Head Restaurant, Surf Development, Inc., and Duke Kahanamoku Corp.

In 1971, he was appointed executive vice president of the annual Duke Kahanamoku Hawaiian Surfing Classic.

Adam Suapaia, general manager of Don Ho's Island Grill at Aloha Tower, said he will always remember Ayau for his easygoing demeanor. Suapaia said Ayau hired him more than 36 years ago as a doorman at Duke's night club in Waikiki.

Most recently, Ayau was head of the host department at Don Ho's Island Grill, where he had previously been vice president and general manager.

"I guess that's what you call a full circle," Suapaia said. "It's a tremendous loss. There's nobody like him."

Added David Nagaishi, the former general manager at Don Ho's: "He was our ambassador of Aloha."

A past-president of the Molokai Chamber of Commerce, Ayau enjoyed success in business, real estate and the entertainment industry. He appeared in commercials and advertisements, including a national campaign for American Airlines.

Ayau was found Wednesday, floating lifeless in waters off the Elks Club on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki. A surfer discovered Ayau in the water wearing a snorkel and fin, said Dan De Fries, a firefighter at the Wailupe Fire Station.

Raised in Pukoo on Molokai, Ayau caught the attention of Punahou School after pitching a successful baseball game against an Oahu team.

The 1959 Punahou grad lettered in baseball, and was named No. 1 hitter. He also captained the basketball team during his senior year. He played football until he suffered a leg injury during his sophomore year. He was named Athlete of the Year in 1958-1959, as well as an outstanding scholar. Ayau attended Oregon State University and the University of Hawaii.

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