comscore Arriving on the Matsonia, he began a new life in isles | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Business | Rearview Mirror

Arriving on the Matsonia, he began a new life in isles

Honolulu Star-Advertiser logo
Unlimited access to premium stories for as low as $12.95 /mo.
Get It Now
    Lex Brodie, left, with son Sandy Brodie, center, and grandson Alex Brodie, right, at Queen’s Surf, Waikiki, in 1983. The elder Brodie welcomed John Weiser and explained surfing etiquette to him on his first day in Hawaii.

A few months ago I wrote about John Weiser, founder of easy-listening radio station KUMU, who came to Hawaii in 1957 to swim with coach Soichi Sakamoto at the Natatorium. My article on Matson caused Weiser to tell me about his first day in Hawaii.

“I booked passage on the Matsonia in September 1957,” Weiser recalls. “I had a new Volkswagen Beetle with a sunroof, into which I placed a balsa surfboard which protruded through the roof.

“I was able to get a fantastic deal from Matson. For $160 (about $1,300 today) I got an inside cabin, run of the first-class ship including five days of gourmet dining, and they took my Volkswagen Beetle free of charge!

“Rounding Diamond Head at 7 one morning, the ship was greeted by Duke Kahanamoku sailing his Hawaiian catamaran, his shock of white hair blowing in the tradewinds, waving to the passengers lining the rails.

“Looking down from the rail at Duke blazing along in his catamaran with Diamond Head in the background, rays of rising sun, a swirling tropic bird … I know it sounds unreal and exaggerated, but I saw and experienced its true magic, like another world.

“Approaching Pier 2 in Honolulu Harbor, a skiff pulled alongside with more welcoming Hawaiian lads. One of them was Bill Smith, then captain of the lifeguards headquartered at the Natatorium and Olympic gold medalist in the 400-meter freestyle at the 1948 London Olympics.

“They all hooted encouragement to the onlooking passengers above as they dove for coins,” Weiser continues. “At that time there were still silver dollars and 50-cent pieces, and they loved getting those.

“The passengers all disembarked, and I was asked to stay on board until I saw my VW with the surfboard lifted out of the forward hold by the onboard crane. When it was set on the dock, I put my luggage in, jumped in and drove off down Ala Moana Boulevard. I was just one of a total visitor count that year of 100,000.

“Traffic was almost nonexistent. When I got to Kalakaua, it was two-way with electric buses operated by Harry Weinberg’s company. At the Moana hotel I made a left turn hoping to find an apartment.”

A block up Kaiulani Avenue was a three-story building, with an open carport and a for-rent sign. “The best apartment on the third floor was available, and it included the carport I had parked in. The price? … $85 a month.

“I quickly stored the luggage in my new home, donned a swimsuit and, totally barefooted, jogged down one block, crossed the sand and paddled out to the surf break.

“The highly developed surf industry as we know it today did not exist then. Only a few dedicated purists were regular surfers.

“In the small group waiting for a wave set, one older, very lean man paddled up to me.”

“‘Welcome,’ the man said, and then explained the surfing etiquette. ‘Just don’t drop in when we’re already on the wave before you are. My name is Lex, Lex Brodie. If your car ever needs anything, I’d be happy to help. Thank you, very much.’

“And with that,” Weiser, who now lives on Molokai, concludes, “he was off on a wave, and my life was never the same.”

Greeted by Duke. Surfed with Lex. … Nice first day in the islands.

Bob Sigall, author of the “Companies We Keep” books, looks through his collection of old photos to tell stories each Friday of Hawaii people, places and companies. Email him at

Comments have been disabled for this story...

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up