I’d like to extend an apology to my neighbors on the fourth floor of Toler Hall. This past Saturday afternoon, I got a little … loud.
You see, it was the NCAA men’s volleyball national championship. Long Beach State, the No. 2 team in the country, was hosting the University of Hawai‘i, the No. 1 team in the country. I hope that, in these circumstances, you could understand my sonic onslaught of shouting, clapping and jumping.
When you are from Hawai‘i, everything is different. No matter where in the world you go, people recognize your home. They try to throw you a “shaka” and ask if you surf. It can get annoying, but nothing in the world could make you wish you grew up anywhere else. And then, there are the moments when you run into someone from Hawai‘i on the mainland or in another country.
There is a special bond among people from Hawai‘i. An ‘ohana, or family, if you can tolerate a cliché. No matter where you go, you always remember your roots in one of the most beautiful places in the world. That same connection goes for supporting public figures and athletes with Hawai‘i connections. Nānākuli–born Jason Momoa? An icon. Hawaiian–blooded Brendon Urie? A king. Barack Obama? We, the state of Hawai‘i, stan him to the tune of 71.85% in 2008 and 70.55% four years later.
That same attitude goes for UH athletics. No matter where they are, who they are playing, we are all Rainbow Warriors and Rainbow Wahine. But where does this devotion come from? You do not see students from the Pacific Northwest rooting for the University of Washington or Oregon with the same veracity as Hawai‘i expats.
The state of Hawai‘i is the most isolated inhabited place on the planet; the nearest landmass is over 2,000 miles away. We grow up with a mentality of “our eight islands against the world.” For the over 1 million residents of the island chain, the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa is the only Division I athletics program for literally thousands of miles.
Beyond geographic isolation, there is a cultural and socioeconomic isolation which drives this ‘ohana mentality. For centuries, Hawai‘i was seen as the crucial jewel in completing a global superpower’s crown. Hawai‘i has time and time again been acted upon by outside powers. On February 25, 1843, a rogue British naval officer attempted to overthrow the Kingdom. On January 17, 1893, the U.S. overthrew the Kingdom and subsequently banned the Hawaiian language and culture. The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, spurned the escalation of American involvement in World War II.
Hawai‘i’s checkered athletic history is often overlooked. In professional surfing, an Olympic sport added to the 2020 Tokyo games, Hawai‘i is its own country, competing under a separate flag from the American surfers. Hawai‘i used to be marquee destination for sports’ biggest names, but those days are gone.
The NCAA used to hold the Hula Bowl, a college football all-star game, on the islands for nearly 60 years before it was discontinued in 2008. There was the Hawai‘i Winter League, a seasonal minor league baseball league played on Oahu for 15 years. Notable alumni from the league include Ichiro Suzuki, Buster Posey, Aaron Boone and dozens more. In 2007 the UH men’s football team went undefeated, drawing sold-out crowds of over 50,000 to Aloha Stadium.
In many ways, the Great Recession of 2008 was the death knell for a bright era of sports in Hawai‘i. The price of jet fuel spiked, causing a carry-on effect raising the cost of living through the roof, as just about everything in the state has to be flown or shipped in. Gas surpassed $5 a gallon, and the major sports leagues soured on the economics of traveling to Hawai‘i. They would have to spend thousands, if not millions, to hold events in a location which most Americans could not afford to visit in the first place. At the end of the day, sports leagues sell entertainment, and they saw no point in opening up shop 2,300 miles away from their target demographic. To this day, air travel is one of the biggest expenditures in the UH athletics budget.
UH athletics have had their successes too, especially in volleyball, which regularly sells more tickets than basketball games at the Stan Sheriff Center. Dave Shoji, one of the greatest volleyball coaches of all time, led the Rainbow Wahine for 42 years, winning four national championships and breaking the record for most matches of any coach in NCAA volleyball history. Volleyball and surfing are Hawai‘i’s national games. Surfing is even a high school sport in Hawai‘i.
All these factors have isolated Hawai‘i, economically and athletically. All of a sudden, the only game in town is UH. While the Rainbow Warriors and Rainbow Wahine had already been the pride of the islands, this tribal mentality intensified exponentially when the rest of the sports world deemed us unworthy.
So as you can see, my volume this weekend was the culmination of a perfect storm of history, passion, and culture. When we support our ‘ohana, we do it with pride, and we do it loud.