Tennis teacher shows his students how to love the game
  • Saturday, February 16, 2019
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Hawaii News

Tennis teacher shows his students how to love the game

    At 77, Joe Ahue has made it his mission to help anyone improve his or her tennis game. He mostly volunteers at the Ala Moana courts, where he is pictured running drills.
    Joe Ahue holds up a photo of himself on a tennis court from when he was very young.

Tennis is not Joe Ahue’s only sport. He also golfs — he had a hole-in-one in 1983 — and surfs most days. He could have a few more sports going by the time he turns 77 in May.

But tennis is his passion, along with his 25 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. You can find him most weekday mornings on the makai side of the Ala Moana Beach Park courts, hitting tennis balls to anyone who asks and staring at the Pacific Ocean.

His proteges include players from all over the globe — Russia, Canada, Japan, China. Ahue went to more than 20 countries in a military career that spanned five wars.

He apparently wants to experience the rest of the world vicariously through its tennis nuts.

Rhonda Ching has been coming in from Las Vegas for the past 10 years.

"He’s a terrific teacher," Ching said. "He has great drills and never asks for anything, just welcomes anyone."

Mike Watson lives in Houston and flies for American Airlines out of Dallas. He takes Hawaii flights "just to see Joe."

"I was walking around Ala Moana about a year ago," Watson recalled. "I sat down to watch, and all these people were talking about Joe. I was like, ‘Who is Joe?’ He won’t let you come onto the court without hitting. I came out and hit with him, and I was hooked.

"He’s helped my game tremendously — not just strokes, but his way of playing, being relaxed. I come here for Joe."

Ahue sees the coaching as his calling — one of many.

He started with martial arts as a child and played a slew of sports at Kamehameha, including tennis.

After graduating in 1955, Ahue embarked on a military career that involved training snipers, top-secret negotiations and planning, and 3 a.m. missions.

He was never seriously injured in combat and says he has not seen a doctor since his military career ended in 1987.

But Ahue has witnessed more than his share of pain. He was in on the early wave of wheelchair basketball and tennis teachers after working with disabled veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.

Ahue lived off and on in Kona for several decades before moving to Oahu in 2001. While on the Big Island he started a wheelchair program at the old Kona Hilton and a junior program on the airport courts that grew from seven kids

to more than 200. He coached a United States Tennis Association league team that won a national championship.

Ahue also has game — he has won tennis championships in 10 states. He hit with Andy Roddick and James Blake when they played the Waikoloa Challenger and Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras when they were kids.

Ahue’s best win came against 2nd Lt. Arthur Ashe in a European exhibition in 1977. He also spent a day playing tennis with Japan’s Emperor Hirohito, in the tennis version of detente.

"We put a net up on his front lawn and made our own court," Ahue recalled. "It was just to be nice, make a connection and talk with him."

In some ways that is what his mornings at Ala Moana are about. Ahue brings tennis people together from all over the globe and offers them lessons at the reduced rate of a few bananas and oranges.

"Almost six years ago I came here and didn’t know anybody," Judy Li recalled. "I just wanted to practice on my own. I was scared to ask anyone, and he said come over, hit. From that time on I’ve been here. He never charges, just wants to share his expertise and have people enjoy being together."

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