As one of the original crew members of the double-hulled sailing canoe Hokule’a on its historic Hawaii-Tahiti voyage in 1976, George Kama’i "Boogie" Kalama knew how to lighten the mood by occasionally playing his guitar and singing.
"He was fun. … He was a breath of fresh air," recalled fellow crew member Billy Richards.
"When he boarded the canoe, along with his presence came his music. I love the guy. I miss him."
Kalama died of renal failure Jan. 19 at Hilo Medical Center. He was 66.
Kalama was born in Honolulu on June 7, 1944. He was a retired mason who lived in Hilo.
His musical talents were widely known, including his composition of the song "Hokule’a, Star of Gladness," which was recorded by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.
Richards recalled Kalama composing the song on the more than 2,200-mile voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti.
The Hokule’a voyage, the first of its type in centuries, proved that Polynesian sailors could make long-distance ocean voyages using Pacific native way-finding techniques.
Richards said Kalama was good at musical improvisation and wrote tunes such as "Doldrum Blues" — songs that did not make the top 10 on the Hawaiian radio music charts but made crew members laugh.
When the Coast Guard flew inoculations to the crew because of possible food contamination, Kalama composed a song called "Hepatitis Blues," Richards said.
Kalama, a contemporary of surfers Buffalo Keaulana and Donald Takayama, was an expert waterman who surfed and paddled.
People in his Big Island community remember Kalama for organizing an annual surfing contest at Pohoiki Beach Park that enabled young surfers to gain exposure from potential sponsors.
"He was known to his family and friends as a guy who loved, cared and gave to everyone in need," his sister Rose Lum said.
He is survived by sisters Leinaala Kalama Heine, Rose Lum and Doreen Kalama; children Puanani Paoa Kalama, George Kama’i Kalama III, Adrienne Kazarian and Nohea Ikaika Tamatoa Kama’i Kalama; and eight grandchildren.
A "celebration of life" for Kalama will be held March 12 at 10 a.m. at Makaha Beach.
Another observance of his life will be held at 10 a.m. March 19 at Pohoiki Beach.