Old-time beach boy Richard "Chief" Kauo weaves coconut hats at the bar of Duke's Waikiki on Friday during the restaurant's 10th-anniversary party. Kauo says he tries to teach young beach boys the value of doing their jobs with aloha.

Waikiki’s beach boys
find home at Duke’s

The restaurant honors their legacy
of aloha with food and drinks

The art of the wave
Works memorialize surf communities

By Tim Ryan

Waikiki's unofficial royalty sat scattered throughout the beachfront restaurant that has become their palace, greeting guests, friends and strangers who simply wanted a brief audience.

"I heard about you from my father who you taught to surf 40 years ago," Sam Franklin, 36, said to beach boy "Gabby" Makalena, 70. "He said you were kind and patient, and that's the way he taught me to surf. Thank you."

It was the 10th anniversary of Duke's Waikiki on Friday, and a few hundred special guests had been invited but the attention focused on the original beach boys. Fixtures at the restaurant in the Outrigger Waikiki Hotel since 1992, they proved they may be as much responsible for the eatery's success as the fresh fish and huge salad bar. The atmosphere they help create simply by their presence is certainly a draw.

Owners of the restaurant, which honors Duke Kahanamoku in name and the memorabilia that makes up its decor, decided during a "board" meeting in the surf off Waikiki that the few remaining original beach boys would have a home here, including discounted drinks and free food.

The hotel and restaurant is on the site of the world's first chartered surfing organization, the Outrigger Canoe and Surfboard Club, which became the clubhouse and storage facility for the Waikiki beach boys and Kahanamoku.

Beach boys Harry Makalena, left, and "Gabby" Makalena enjoy the party at Duke's.

"The beach boys are the true ambassadors of aloha, and they didn't have a place to call home," says David Allaire, senior vice president and director of TS Restaurants, which owns Duke's. "These guys are a dying breed and have taken care of Waikiki Beach and its guests for a century. It's time they get paid back even in this small way."

The 100 percent Hawaiian Makalena is a proud man with a tender voice, and healthier-appearing than men a decade younger. "The magic waters of Waikiki keep us young," he said while eating chunks of prime rib. The Palolo resident has taught surfing and canoe lessons six days a week since 1954.

"Before Duke's we used to drink at other places along the beach, but the prices just kept getting so expensive that they out-priced us and we had to leave," he said. "Then Duke's opened. They brought us back to Waikiki."

The discounts are important to these men on fixed incomes, but more important, Makalena said, is that at Duke's they're treated with respect. "We have a home again."

Drinks cost them a dollar and breakfasts and coffee are free.

Depending on which beach boy you ask, there may be as many as seven of the originals still alive.

Turn-of-the-century beach boys such as George Freeth and Kahanamoku revitalized the ancient surfing culture that had languished under missionary constraints. Around 1901, when the first resorts opened in Waikiki, these men earned their livelihood teaching surfing and offering outrigger rides. As more resorts were completed and tourism boomed, surfing with the beach boys became a major attraction.

Richard Kapela Kauo, known as "Chief," sits at the Barefoot Bar next to a black-and-white photograph of himself as a muscular young beach boy with gleaming skin and shiny black hair.

Richard Kauo, left, is joined by Paul Merino, a lifeguard captain who works as a beach boy on his days off.

"I worked on the beach at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel with Duke, Chick Daniels, Turkey Love, Blue Makua and, of course, Rabbit Kekai, who's still around, in the '40s and '50s," he said. "After work we always came to the Outrigger Canoe Club to sit down at a big table, order a pitcher of beer and talk story. Life was a bit different then, slower, more gentle, you know."

Chief still walks the four blocks from his Waikiki apartment to the beach when the weather is good or to meet with friends at Duke's.

Chief and Makalena try to teach new beach boys the old ways.

"More aloha and less money-oriented," Chief says. "Some kids don't want to listen. They know about Duke's fame, but they don't know that Duke talked to us about life's lessons, and ... always spread aloha."

Paul Merino admits to being a wannabe beach boy. The 49-year-old captain of Honolulu lifeguards in Waikiki and Ala Moana spends his days off filling in for the beach boys.

"I just love the lifestyle," he says. "My respect for them and what they do is what originally brought me to the beach."

The original beach boys have a quality that can't be taught, he said. "You have to love and embrace people, no matter the color skin or shape of the eye. You're always there to help without asking for a reward."

Makalena said the restaurant probably does benefit from its association with the beach boys because they bring friends (who pay full price) and recommend Duke's to tourists.

"We're sort of reviving a part of our lifestyle here," he said. "And let me tell you, it's been a hell of a lifestyle."

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