With the 26th annual Larry Libres Fishing and Diving Tournament set for today at Kanaha Beach Park, it is hard to remember that the event was born under ominous skies.
A windsurfing boom was hitting all of Maui's shores in the late 1980s, crowding the beach for onshore fishermen and tako divers - like Libres - in several local spots, including Kanaha.
"Someone would cut a fishing line with a fin or a windsurfer would turn around a Clorox bottle floater a little too close," Kim Ball, one of the event's organizers, said via email. "Once a three-prong spear ended up in a windsurf board at Kanaha. That's how bad things were getting."
Oama competitors line the Kahana Beach Park shore during the Larry Libres Fishing and Diving Tournament in 2011.
HARRY WIEWEL photo
Ball added, "Larry was always trying to mend the fences between the divers, fishermen and the windsurfers. Then he almost got hit while diving on a Saturday morning before a Maui Race Series (contest), an event I organize. Now even Larry was mad according to Lenny Cappe, the owner of Hawaiian Island Windsurfing. Lenny called me and said, 'Even Larry is mad now, you better talk to him.' "
Libres, who was the principal of Paia School, asked Ball to meet at Rose's, a restaurant Libres owned with his wife, Rose.
"I apologized and said, 'What can we do?' " Ball said. "He said, 'Let's have a contest, tako diving for the men, and oama fishing for the women and children.' "
The first event in 1988 was named the Naska Fishing and Diving Tournament and drew about 50 people, most of whom were Libres' friends, according to Ball.
"I said, 'You make up the rules and get the guys to enter and I'll get T-shirts and prizes,' " Ball said. "It was a huge success. Bill Platiro shot a big barracuda on the reef that first year and Larry told The Maui News reporter, 'Tell everyone we're having fresh mahi tomorrow at Rose's.' "
It was the start of something big.
"That fall, Larry and I decided to do another tournament," Ball said. "Unfortunately, later on that winter, Larry had a massive heart attack while diving Kanaha. Tom Stone, a windsurfing lifeguard from Oahu, gave him CPR on the beach, but he died on the beach. It was a natural transition to keep the tournament and change the name to the founder of the tournament. After a blessing from Rose, it's been the Larry Libres Fishing and Diving Tournament."
The format has not changed from Libres' original rules: oama fishing goes from 8 to 9:30 a.m.; tako diving from 8 to 10:30 a.m.
The Libres family has provided food for all the competitors since that first year. The Maui Boardsailing Association has always provided the prizes, T-shirts and insurance, and still organizes the event.
Last year, 359 tako divers and 334 oama entrants set the event record for participation.
Libres' daughter Roxanne died in July, and a memorial service will be held Sunday.
"We are able to hold the service the day after dad's tournament," said Debi Clapper, another daughter. "So it's been an emotional week. Dad's presence and what he has done still impacts the community today.
"I'm very thankful for the (Maui Boardsailing Association) because they just unselfishly do this every year. We buy pizza and chips and that sort of stuff, but it is just so gratifying to know that my dad and what he stood for still resonates in the community. He was always fulfilling peace and breaking down divisions."
Jules Ino, a longtime friend of Libres and former principal at Kula School, won the first diving event and is the only two-time winner in the tako division. Today, he will compete in diving while five of his six grandchildren will be along the shoreline fishing.
"He was a devoted husband and father," Ino said of Libres. "He loved diving for octopus or fish. When this tournament started there were no real set rules regarding windsurfers, divers, shoreline fishermen and the like. Initially there were some problems between the groups, maybe because of ignorance or lack of rules.
"Some suggestions were made to the Department of Land and Natural Resources that are still in existence today. It smoothed things over. (Libres) was one of the people who spearheaded this movement to get some rules developed and implemented so that we could all get along in harmony."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com