Douglas "Dukie" Kuahulu (1937-2007)

Dukie Kuahulu, just to the left of the pole, between 1976 crew members Buffalo Keaulana and Billy Richards. The 76 crew was honored at the eparture ceremony for the Ku Holo Mau Voyage, January 2007.

Hokule‘a crew member made crucial contribution

By Mary Adamsski, Star Bulletin. Posted: Saturday, August 18, 2007

Douglas "Dukie" Kuahulu taught three generations of visitors to swim, surf and paddle an outrigger canoe during more than 50 years as a Waikiki beachboy.

But the highlight of his career on the ocean came as a crew member on the first voyage of the Hokule'a. Ever after the Polynesian voyaging canoe's first trip to Tahiti and back, Kuahulu wove "Hokule'a '76" into his signature on letters or photographs/

Navigator Nainoa Thompson said Kuahulu helped design the steering mechanism of the huge voyaging canoe, "a crucial contribution that affected every voyage since.”

Kuahulu, 70, died last Saturday in Honolulu.

"Dukie's very special contribution came in solving the steering problem," said Thompson. The initial design used large steering paddles like those used on small outriggers. "It was very hard to control, and people were getting hurt. Kimo Hugo and Herb Kane (of the Polynesian Voyaging Society) went to the beachboys about how to solve the steering problem. They took Dukie out sailing, and he came up with the idea of the 20-foot steering sweeps that we used on the '76 voyage. I don't know if it would have succeeded if he hadn't worked it out," Thompson said.

"He was the most senior canoe captain on the beach," said Didi Robello, operator of the Aloha Beach Service outside the Outrigger Hotel where Kuahulu worked until his recent illness.

Carolyn Kuahulu said her husband was "a friend and uncle to countless children and adults."

She said, "He attended Farrington High School, and quit in senior year to go to the beach. He loved it. He never wanted to do anything else."

His ocean career took Kuahulu into the entertainment world. He worked at a Hawaii exhibit at the 1964 World's Fair in New York, paddling a canoe on a lake and teaching coconut frond weaving. He had bit parts as a canoe paddler in movies including "South Pacific" and "Hawaii" and in episodes of the television series "Hawaii 5-0."

For the past 15 years, the beachboy also took a job downtown, working at the state Legislature print shop during each session.

"He loved to tell stories," said Carolyn Kuahulu. "Some were real good and some were just real long." He was recently interviewed by television reporter Kathy Muneno for a future film on the Hokule'a. "It was going to be an hour interview but ended up being three hours," said his wife. "Afterwards, he said, 'I finally got to tell my story.'"

Kuahulu had a chance to hear his friends' stories about himself at his 70th-birthday party a week before he died. About 200 people gathered at Duke's restaurant, his favorite hangout, to remember good times with him.

Kuahulu is survived by wife Carolyn, sister Masae Konno and nephews, nieces and his beach family.

An aloha service will be held at 8 a.m. Friday at the Aloha Beach Services stand outside Duke's. His ashes will be scattered at sea. The family suggests that beach attire be worn.