Wayne Joseph’s Blog

Running with the Big Dog

Mo Mathews, 76 years of swimming and still going

Mathews to be inducted into the Big Island Sports Hall of Fame

For 76 years Morris “Mo” Mathews has been getting all wet.  The 83 year old, super senior, has spent nearly all of his life doing water sports.

Last year Mathews set a national age group record during the United States Masters Swim meet in the 6,000 yard event, breaking the previous record by nearly 15 minutes. 

An incredible individual with remarkable credentials in sports participation and community service Mathews started swimming at the age of seven and “never looked back except to see who he had left behind in his wake,” according to family members.

Born and raised in Hermosa Beach, California, Mathews swam competitively in high school and went on to swim with the University of California, Berkley team for four years where he also lettered in water polo and volleyball.

“Being raised right at the beach I always wanted to be in the water,” Mathews said.  “I learned to swim on my own, by just playing in the ocean, then later took lessons to learn technique.”

In high school (1941-45) Mathews started out doing the backstroke, but after finishing first in his inaugural race, finished last in all his other backstroke races.  “I later learned to do the breaststroke as I had a good kick and my coaches taught me the rest.”

Mathews high school years were during World War II so competition was limited to just three weeks, yet he managed to develop speed and technique that helped him through a stellar collegiate career.

During 10 summers in California he was a Los Angeles County lifeguard and is credited with making nearly 100 rescues.

“I can recall my very first rescue when I jumped into the water and started to swim, my trunks came down around my ankles,” Mathews said with a chuckle.  “That has never happened since as I’ve always remembered to tie my trunks.”

Mathews met his wife of 58 years, Barbara Gay of Kauai, while teaching swimming to physically and mentally challenged children for the LA County Crippled Children’s Society.

“Out of all the things I’ve done in my life being married and raising two daughters are my happiest and proudest moments in life,” he said. 

Mathews moved his family to Honokaa in 1957 and the Big Island swimming community has benefited from his presence for more than 50 years.

Mathews has contributed in multiple task and events as he served as the volunteer Swim Coordinator for the Ironman Triathlon from 1980 to 1988.  Mathews designed the swim course, the pier layout and the search and recovery programs.  He also established the age limit cut off times for the swim, bike and overall finish time.

“I am almost legally blind, since the seventh grade, and I have been wearing these wrap around prescription glasses for most of my life, including every time I get into the water,” Mathews said.

During the early days of swimming competition Mathews never bothered with glasses as all he had to do was swim straight and gauge the distance from the wall.  It wasn’t until Barracuda came out with prescription lens that had high enough strength to work for Mathews that he began wearing them for all water activities.

Mathews was also part of the original committee that helped design the Honokaa pool.  The pool, after completion, was turned over to the County but the adults that were so instrumental in designing it never had the opportunity to use it as it was closed when they got off work.

To solve the problem with the shortage of on duty lifeguards at the Honokaa pool Mathews asked to be put on the County payroll to serve as the afterhours lifeguard for $1 per year, but his gift was never accepted.

Hawaii Preparatory Academy had Mathews as an assistant swim coach for 15 years.  “Mo was such a big part of our swim program at HPA,” Ka Makani swim coach Mark Noetzel said.  “He provided the opportunity for some of our kids that lacked experience in the pool to learn and become part of our team.  Mo is what I would call our ground zero guy and he became a real part of our feeder program.” 

Over the years Mathews has also found the time to give free adult swim classes as well as individualized instruction to concerned Ironman participants while assisting in a variety of ocean swim events.

Little wonder that the Big Island Sports Hall of Fame had selected Mathews, along with Richard Nakano, Karate; Harold “Russian” Furtado, track & field;   Manny Veincent, outrigger canoe paddling;  Ruth E.K. Walker, Aikido; Hamilton Manley, basketball;  and Francis “Bo” Saiki, baseball/softball; to be inducted into the 12th Hall of Fame class on August 22.

For additional information on those being inducted or the induction ceremony itself go to:



August 9, 2010 Posted by | Profiles | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment