Palafox wins Larry Libres tako crown

John Palafox poked the biggest tako at the Larry Libres Fishing and Diving Tournament on Saturday at Kanaha Beach Park.

Palafox was one of 700 competitors – there were 337 tako divers and 363 oama fishing competitors.

He found his winning catch near the northern boundary of Kanaha.

“I was right at the bay, by the pine tree, 25 yards out.” Palafox said. “I saw the crater, a big blow out. I let it crawl out and I almost lost it. It crawled up my arm and shot me with ink. I had to move off to the side, and I just grabbed it.”

After weighing his 4-pound, 9-ounce octopus halfway into the 2 1/2-hour contest, Palafox stood near the scale and watched 52 other divers bring in their biggest catches.

“I wasn’t worried, I knew I was in the running,” Palafox said. “As long as I placed I didn’t care if I won or lost.”

Palafox had never placed before despite entering the event more than 20 times.

“I’ve been doing this from the day the tournament started, he said. “I’ve been nudged out of the top 10 many times.”

The win had special significance for the 57-year-old diesel mechanic from Kahului.

“Larry was my teacher at Pukalani,” he said. “I knew him since I was 14.”

Latisha Ortiz, a sophomore-to-be at Roosevelt High School in Honolulu, had the biggest tako caught by a female competitor, weighing 2 pounds, 12.5 ounces.

The Villaneuva family swept the oama divisions. Kendrick Villaneuva, age 5, had a 15.7-centimeter entry, 0.1 better than Dylan Gomes in the 12-and-under division. Briana Villaneuva, Kendrick’s sister, placed third, while their cousin Russell Villanueva was fourth.

Randy Villanueva squeaked past his brother Arlo Villanueva, 15.0-14.9, for the 13-and-over title. Randy Villanueva is Kendrick and Briana’s father while Arlo Villanueva is Russell’s father.

“In the beginning we went to the corner,” Randy Villanueva said. “We threw sand in the water, and they all came in.”

The Villanuevas switched their bait after a slow start.

“We used aku at first, but wasn’t biting them,” Randy Villanueva said. “We used shrimp after. It was aged shrimp, the smell comes out.”

The 38-year-old Old Lahaina Luau bartender usually dives in the tournament.

“This was my first time to fish. It’s more for the kids, it’s fun watching them,” he said.