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Expatriates From Hawaii Gather for Fun, Food and Bowling : It's Island Fever on Friday Nights

February 19, 1987|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

Sandy beaches, volcanoes and pineapple plants are scarce in Eagle Rock. But the Hawaii expatriates who gather Friday nights at the All-Star Bowling Lanes on Eagle Rock Boulevard don't seem to mind.

They come to dance the hula, socialize with friends, eat their favorite island food at the adjacent coffee shop and oh, yes, bowl a few games.

"All week long, we're at work. We come here and we let loose," said Linda Nugal, secretary of the Aikane Bowling Club, one of the oldest Hawaiian clubs in California.

Although a majority of the Aikane Club's 175 members live around Highland Park, Mt. Washington, Eagle Rock or the Silver Lake area, some come from as far away as Monterey Park and the San Fernando Valley.

Nugal said bowling provides a good excuse to throw a party. "This is a fun league. They don't care whether you bowl 26 or 226," she said.

A "Bowling-for-Dollars" crowd this is not. One recent Friday night, children playing tag dodged through players and onlookers. A well-mannered family ate an early dinner in the coffee shop. Groups of women clustered at tables above the bowling area, talking about their homeland.

One who came to watch, not bowl, was Bobby Chun of North Hollywood. Chun publishes Voice of Hawaii, a North Hollywood-based newspaper for expatriates that circulates among 7,200 subscribers in 30 states.

A boisterous man who favors sandals and island-print shirts, Chun said the Friday night ritual in Eagle Rock "is very important for us. We're very social and we like to get together and have a good time."

Aikane (pronounced "eye-con-eh") means "friend to all." The club was founded in 1961 when George Yamamura and 11 other former Hawaii residents began meeting Fridays at Rodeo Bowl in Los Angeles to drink, bowl a few games and catch up on each others' lives.

In the early 1960s, club members met at a now-closed bowling alley in Los Feliz managed by Fred Caluya, a slight man with a ready sense of humor and a raspy laugh. About 17 years ago, Caluya moved to All-Star Lanes and the Aikane Club migrated with him.

Bowling prowess comes second to camaraderie, but the club has rules and bylaws. Membership is restricted to those of native Hawaiian ancestry, former residents of Hawaii or people who are married to a Hawaiian or former resident of the islands.

In addition, "We're allowed one haole per team," joked Nugal, using a Hawaiian word that usually refers to Caucasians.

Mainland Is Home Now

Most members said they left Hawaii because job opportunities were better here. Many have raised families on the mainland.

"The last time I went home was 1979," said Nugal, who lives in Highland Park and has been an Aikane member since 1965. "My kids were born and raised here. This is now where I belong."

About 100,000 former Hawaii residents live in California, said Chun, the newspaper publisher. In Southern California, about 800 have joined one of four island bowling and social clubs scattered from Orange County to San Gabriel, he said.

Lani Ua, originally from Honolulu, drives to the Eagle Rock club each week from Arleta. A hula dancer, she often gives lessons in the bowling alley's lounge to classes of 20 or more children and teen-agers.

The club sponsors other events, such as an annual beauty contest to pick a "Miss Aikane," and raises funds for members in need.

Its most popular event, however, is an annual May luau. Last year, the club's 25th anniversary, the luau drew 1,300 people to the Glendale Civic Auditorium, Caluya said. This year, the luau is scheduled for May 9 at the Los Angeles Breakfast Club in Atwater.

Caluya said Fridays at All-Star Lanes are twice as busy as other nights, thanks to the Hawaii entourage and a band that plays Hawaiian and country-Western music in the lounge. By about 8:30 p.m., cars in the lot are double- and triple-parked.

Members wear bright-red shirts with the Aikane logo--a bowling ball adorned with a straw hat and lei.

Dave Viquelia of Highland Park, who moved from Kauai, bowls about 180 and wears a fedora along with his regulation shirt. He dropped out of another bowling league about five years ago to join Aikane.

'Happy-Go-Lucky Life Style'

"When I came here I thought, 'This is it.' People here, we all have the same happy-go-lucky life style," he said.

And then there is Richard Robles of Atwater, a bowler who is not either Hawaiian or a former Hawaii resident. His only link to the islands is a brother-in-law who is of native Hawaiian ancestry. But Robles said he loves fraternizing with his Aikane buddies.

"It's hugging and munching all night long . . . very contagious. It's very difficult for someone to walk in angry and walk out angry," he said.

Club members usually bowl from about 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., then gather in the lounge or the coffee shop. The socializing sometimes lasts until 4 or 5 in the morning.

At the coffee shop, which serves Hawaiian and Oriental food, Tula Ta'a and his wife, JoAnn, dish up island delicacies.

The food includes poi , a purple-gray paste made from the root of taro plants; lau lau , pork wrapped in steamed taro leaves and aku , a type of tuna served raw in a tangy sauce.

Ta'a said the taro root and leaves and the aku are flown in from Hawaii. The rest is purchased locally.

And for die-hards, the coffee shop provides scallions that islanders traditionally dip in rock salt and eat with their meal.

If patrons want to compliment the chef, they tell him that the food was so good it "broke da mouth."

Long after midnight on Fridays, when much of Eagle Rock is asleep, the former residents of Hawaii can be found at All-Star Lanes eating food that breaks the mouth and toasting each other with okole maluna , or "bottoms up."

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