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Mike Spalding breaks for a smile midway across the channel between Moloka‘i and O‘ahu
Vol. 11, No. 2
April / May 2008

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The Life Aquatic 

story by Rufus Kimura
photos by Brad Goda


There were four of us, on an uninhabited island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. We were huddled in a makeshift shelter—a windbreak we’d fashioned by lashing an old sail to a breadfruit tree—and we were playing cards in the rain. The older two among us were winning, although it’s possible that they were cheating.

Perhaps as a diversion, one asked the other, a publisher by the name of Gaylord Wilcox, if he had any new books coming out.

“I’ve got this book called Spearfishing on the Island of Hawaii by Sonny Tanabe,” Wilcox replied. “He’s an amazing fellow. And he has all of these great stories.”

“Like what?”

“Well,” said Wilcox, “you’ve just got to read the book.”

But when I got back to Hawai‘i two weeks and one cyclone later, a trip to the bookstore was the last thing on my mind. Then my editor called. “We’d like you to do a piece on this amazing fellow, Sonny Tanabe,” she said. “He’s just written a book.”

So I went to the bookstore. I read the book. I met the amazing fellow. And I discovered that, as great as Spearfishing on the Island of Hawaii is, it is only one of Sonny Tanabe’s many accomplishments. The guy is truly a legend: Olympic swimmer, renowned spearfisherman and celebrated mentor to a whole generation of watermen.