Clement 'Tiger' Espere (1946-2005)

By Brian McInnis, Advertiser Staff Writer. Posted on: Friday, July 29, 2005

Clement "Tiger" Espere, who was instrumental in the maiden voyage of the Hokule'a in 1975 and who was one of the first lifeguards at Waimea Bay, died of cancer July 21 at The Queen's Medical Center. He was 58.

Clement "Tiger" Espere was a pioneer lifeguard at Waimea Bay. Advertiser library photo

Besides being at home in the ocean as a renowned surfer and fisherman, Espere was a skilled craftsman who was well-versed in Hawaiian culture. He helped build the Hokule'a before its 1975 launch, as well as the Makali'i in 1995.

"His contribution was a constant reminder of the relationship of voyaging canoes to the deeper, more spiritual level of Hawaiian culture," Hokule'a master navigator Nainoa Thompson said. "Tiger's presence gave purpose and clarity to why we sailed these canoes."

Thompson said Espere lent a skilled hand in working with fiberglass in the construction of Hokule'a's hull, and also made sure the voyaging canoe followed the design of traditional Hawaiian canoes.

Thompson said Espere sailed with Hokule'a in the mid-1990s.

Tiger Steering Hokule‘a

Raised by his angler grandfather on the North Shore, Espere learned to dive and fish at a very young age. By age 10, he was an accomplished surfer.

"He lived off the ocean, wherever he went," said his brother, Andrew Cabebe. "That was his lifestyle until the day he died."

Cabebe remembers that because of Espere's traditional upbringing, he was not exposed to any candy until he was 16.

Longtime friend Craig Inouye discovered firsthand Espere's proficiency as a lifeguard. Ino-uye was surfing one day at Sunset Beach as a teen when he wiped out and nearly drowned.

"Tiger grabbed me (out of the water) and said, 'Ho, brah, almost!' " Inouye said. "He looked at me and laughed. We became friends from that moment on."

Cabebe and Inouye estimate that Espere began his tenure as a lifeguard around 1970 and worked at Waimea Bay for about four years.

Because of his surfing skill — Cabebe said Espere was one of the first people in Hawai'i to ride shortboards successfully — he became well-known along the North Shore. Cabebe said people would say his brother bore a resemblance to Duke Kahanamoku, with whom Espere had surfed.

Thompson remembered looking up to Espere when he was a kid. "Tiger was a powerful ocean man ... legendary, as far I was concerned," Thompson said.

Espere spent much of his later years teaching Hawaiian culture in Kamakura, Japan.

He wrote editorial pieces for Japan's Hula Lea magazine, but his biggest project there was an attempt to build and launch a genuine voyaging canoe, Inouye said. Espere made two or three trips back to Japan in each of the last three years of his life to lay the groundwork for his project. But Espere was unable to secure funding before his passing, Inouye said.

"He was always constantly trying to make the connection between our culture and why it's important to be shared to other cultures," Thompson said.

Espere is survived by his wife, Karen; sons, Shon "Kala" Kekaohu and Elijah Young; daughters, Mahinanani Laughlin, Kaiolohia Tolentino, Tiana Tucker, Tetuara'a Espere and Lea Ulloa; brothers, Andrew, James "Kimo," Louie and Clayton; sisters, Shirley Diaz and Nina Kahanaoi; and seven grandchildren.

A sunrise memorial celebration will be held at 6 a.m. tomorrow, with lunch at noon at Kaiaka Beach Park. Espere's ashes will be scattered at Pu'ukohola-Kawaihae Thursday. Arrangements were made by Mililani Mortuary.