KAILUA-KONA — Under clear blue skies, the morning opened with conch shell blows, a blessing and a familiar chant.
“K-A-I-O-P-U-A,” shouted the hundreds who had gathered near Kamakahonu Beach on Saturday to say their final farewells to Lawrence “Uncle Bo” Campos.
The chant echoed through Kailua Bay, just as it did when Campos would stand on the pier during regattas and cheer on his crews with his booming, distinct voice.
Campos, the long-time president of Kai Opua Canoe Club, race commissioner of the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association and the driving force behind the Queen Liliuokalani Long Distance Canoe Race, passed away in December. He was 71 years old.
After the opening sentiments, the celebration soon transitioned from land to sea, as dozens of canoes and boats took to the water — everything from large passenger boats to one-man canoes and stand-up paddleboarders. Campos’ ashes were spread in Kailua Bay, followed by those on the water circling the site. There was, of course, plenty of Kai Opua blue, but the colors of clubs far and wide spotted the celebration.
It was a sendoff fit for a man who helped power the sport of paddling to new heights while always stressing the importance of community.
“For him it was all about club, giving back and the keiki,”said Mike Nakachi, Campos’ nephew, during the eulogy. “He came from a place of don’t forget who we are, where we come from and where we are going.”
Mike Atwood, the athletic director for Kai Opua Canoe Club and long-time close friend of Campos, had more than a few funny stories about Uncle Bo. But what he continued to come back to was the sense of community Campos built through the sport of paddling, or “ohana va’a” as he called it.
“For me, the main thing I will miss about Bo is how he truly was a generous, giving person,” Atwood said. “He knew how to bring people together and had a way of giving you a little bit more of a push, and incentive to improve on yourself as part of a crew, club and community.
“And he recognized we are not alone here in the community. We share it … We are not bigger, larger or stronger than anyone else — we are a part of it.”
Paddling was Campos’ passion, working tirelessly to propel the sport to new heights. A clip from his tribute video might have said it best when Campos told the camera, “I’m not going to be here forever, but I want it to be here forever.”
Among his many contributions, Campos was instrumental in bringing the IVF World Sprint Championships to Hilo in 2020. It will be the first time since 2004 the Big Island has hosted the event and it will be inextricably linked to his legacy.
Kai Opua has also established a scholarship fund in Campos’ name.
“Whatever he left behind for us, we are going to do it,” Kimokeo Kapahulehua said. “That is Uncle Bo.”