Paddling Downhill At ‘Castles Cup’

(from top) Fred Hemmings, Kimo Austin and Billy Balding at Castles

Picture the grace of Duke Kahanamoku gliding across a wave at Waikiki with finesse and style. Now visualize the raw power of a wild ride on a 1,200-pound bull, a fierce and unpredictable adventure that can be over in seconds.

Combine the two and you get a sense of what it feels like to surf an 8-foot wave on a four-man outrigger canoe. It is a sport where Mother Nature provides the juice and wave riders supply the guts.

“It’s the grace of Duke mixed with the power of a bronking bull,” says veteran waterman and Honolulu firefighter Alika Winter with a laugh. “There’s nothing like screaming down a big wave not knowing how the ride will end.”

Four-man outrigger canoe surfing has long been a fan favorite at the annual Buffalo’s Big Board Surfing Classic at Makaha Beach. But something was always missing at Waikiki’s outer reefs – an event for old-timers and newcomers at a break made famous by Kahanamoku and other beach boys: Castles.

Winter remembers the day it hit him: “It was in March during a solid 8-foot swell. Sen. Fred Hemmings was out with a crew at Castles along with Jimmy Austin and his boys. Both canoes took off on a bomb and there was a collision, and Jimmy’s boat exploded into a ‘million’ pieces!”

Fortunately no one was injured and Austin was back in the lineup later in the day. Despite a horrible wipeout, Austin caught a wave that people are still talking about months later.

“Jimmy pulled his four-man canoe into a huge barrel,” says an excited Winter. “That’s when I said we need a four-man canoe surfing contest out here.”

The Castles Cup Canoe Surfing Event was born.

The rules are simple: Conditions must be menacing; wave heights must reach the 15-foot face mark before the green light to board the canoes can even be given.

“We wanted to model it after the Eddie,” says Winter, referring to the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau big-wave event at Waimea Bay. “If it doesn’t reach eight feet Hawaiian style, then Castles doesn’t break. And if it doesn’t get big enough during the waiting period, then the event doesn’t happen.”

Twenty-six four-man teams from all across Hawaii have been on standby since early summer. Unfortunately, the waiting period ended last week, and nothing large enough was heading our way in time. Winter hopes to extend the waiting period to a six-month window in 2011. He also expects the big names committed to the event this year will be back next year.

“Besides Sen. Hemmings, Mel Pu’u, Brian Keaulana, Bonga Perkins and the rest of the Westside crew, we had Archie Kalepa from Maui, Jimmy Austin from Outrigger and Jim Foti from Lanikai,” says Winter, the event’s organizer. “We even had a request from Zane Aikau, who wanted to enter a sixman canoe.”

The event was to be sponsored by and Primo Beer. Primo also donated a perpetual trophy. Each team committed to donating a $50 entrance fee with a winner-take-all format.

The $1,300 purse is certainly attractive, but it marks a chance for old Hawaii to play with the next generation at one of Waikiki’s oldest playgrounds.

Duke would go.

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