KAILUA-KONA —The 60th annual Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament is taking place this week, and there is a new face to Miss Billfish for the historic anniversary. This time around, it is Michelle Izawa, a Kailua-Kona native who comes from a fishing family.
But being Miss Billfish isn’t the normal beauty queen routine. Izawa’s duties include posing with anglers and their catches on the pier following their day on the water. But for Izawa, it’s nothing new.
“I literally grew up around it,” she said. “Being Miss Billfish has been an amazing experience. Every morning I go out and wave the boats off and cheer the teams on to give them good luck before they go out onto the water. Every afternoon when they get back, I am there at the weigh-station and I get to see all the big fish that were caught that day.
“Everyone is amazing because they look forward to seeing me in the morning for good luck for when they go fishing. It is like being the good luck charm.”
Her family has a longstanding connection to tournament, with her father having competed in previous editions of the HIBT. When not competing, her parents have volunteered, which she says is practically every year.
“My father became a part of HIBT the year prior to me being born,” said Izawa. “My mom would work in the office making sure that every time a fish were reported on the radio. She would do things such as writing down the boat name, the team number, who is catching the fish and how many pounds the fish weighed. I would be cheering for my dad when he got a hook-up, seeing what kind of fish they caught and then watch them weigh it. I caught a marlin when I was younger, and just seeing the movement of the marlin and how much effort it takes to bring in the fishes is unbelievable.”
Despite her Kailua-Kona background, Izawa does not stay in one place very often. While she lives on Oahu, she is a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines. Her employment has led her to travel the world and experience many different cultures. However, she celebrates the fact that she can always come back to her hometown.
“Kona is home to me,” Izawa said. “It is wonderful to be back in my home town. There is nothing more special to me than being on the waters in Kona. The first day back, I was on the water on the press boat and the dolphins came in and I saw all the Kai Opua paddlers. I used to paddle for Kai Opua when I was in my teens, and seeing all of this brought back a lot of fond memories. Every morning has been gorgeous as well. You have the sun coming up over the Hualalai mountains and the water is glassy. It feels as if my soul is being healed.”
There are a total of 41 teams competing this year at the Kailua Pier. The five-day event finishes fishing today. The awards dinner is slated for Saturday.