Ellsworth Fontes on Big Island Labor Day Motorcycles
“Without labor nothing prospers,” Sophocles said.
Each Labor Day for the past nine years this column has written about people and groups that have made contributions to the labor movement.
But this year the Big Dog decided to change things a bit and write about something that has been occurring each Labor Day on the Big Island for several years.
We’ve all seen it, heard it and have been impressed with its numbers and versatility.
I’m talking about the 700 to 800 motorcyclist that take to the streets to celebrate Labor Day with friendship and comradraire in their display of the many local and off island clubs.
To those that don’t know them they can be a scary bunch of people, but once you get to know these men and women you realize that they come from all walks of life and various professions and there only joy in riding is riding.
One such individual is Hilo’s Ellsworth Fontes who belongs to the Rock and Roll Motorcycle Club.
“We have 18 members on the Big Island and we have chapters on Maui and Oahu,” Fontes said.
Fontes got his motorcycle license when he was working at a gas station in Keaau at age 15.
“I never played any sports in high school at Hilo High,” Fontes said. “Motorcycles and race cars became my passion and that’s probably what led me into my profession.”
Fontes started his own business, called Ellsworth’s Custom Cycles, in 1990 which also coincided with his buying his first Harley Davidson.
“I think that a lot of the public’s perception of bikers comes from the movies and television shows which depict us as outlaws,” Fontes said. “They don’t realize that the biker riding next to them could be a business man, doctor, pastor and a whole mix of people.”
Prior to his motorcycle Fontes bought his first race car in 1973 while attending Hawaii Community College.
“I love drag racing which led me to opening my business,” Fontes said.
Fontes bought one of his current race cars in 2005 and bought a second car in ’06.
“I drive one of the cars and the other is driven by Charelle Luiz,” Fontes said. “In 2008 I got another driver, Kiah Taroma, and all I did was repair and fine tune the two cars while I had those two girls compete.”
Luiz has already distinguished herself on the drag strip being selected Driver of the Year for 2009, becoming the first woman to ever win the title at the Hilo Drag Strip.
Recently Fontes bought a third car, called a junior dragster, and he has Charelle’s younger sister, Sydney Koga drive.
“Sydney just made 13 years old and she is already a competitive driver,” Fontes said.
Fontes estimates that there are close to 30 motorcycle clubs on the Big Island and during the Labor Day weekend they will be joined by some 200 off island motorcycle enthusiast for a weekend of riding and other events.
“We have a Bikers Rodeo,” Fontes said. “The event has a variety of games, just like a horse rodeo, in which we compete to see who can handle their bike the best.”
For Fontes riding motorcycles and fast cars plays a role in stress relief.
“When I ride my Harley I have the freedom of riding, especially after a hard day’s work,” he said. “I also like the bond the bikers have with each other, but I do it for the thrill and excitement of the ride ahead and also as a good business thing to be out in the biker world.”
The adrenalin thrill that Fontes receives from his riding bikes comes with a cost. In 2010 the experienced rider was involved in what he calls ‘two freak accidents.’
“The first one happened when a car in front of us jammed on his brakes as he missed his turn,” Fontes explained. “I tried to stop in time, but the road was wet and the bike skidded down the road, crossed up a bit and as I released the brake the bike swung around and tossed me off.”
Fortunately for Fontes his injuries were limited to a few scraps, but as he was beginning to get up another biker coming from the back of the pack skidded all the way to the front and ran him over.
“I was unconscious and was taken to the hospital during the rescue,” Fontes said.
In his second accident Fontes doesn’t remember all the details as a piece of lumber fell off a car and was laying on the road.
“My second accident happened in November when a vehicle hauling trash to the dump dropped some of it on the road,” he said. “It all happened so fast that I’m not sure if I ran over it or the guy in front of me ran over it, but none the less it flew up into my foot and broke two bones on the arch of my foot.”
Fontes admits that although it was a freak accident that the public needs to be aware that debris dropped on the road way are major hazards, especially to the motorcyclist.
“I’ve also had an incident when a car on a double lane road didn’t realize that I was riding next to them and they just turned into the other lane running me off the road,” Fontes said.
So this Labor Day we should all be aware that there will be hundreds of bikers driving around our island and use extra special caution as we drive.
“I always tell everyone that when you ride a motorcycle that you need to be a very defensive driver as a lot of the cars aren’t looking your way,” Fontes said.
And someday should you happen to see an appreciate jogger on the side of the road, use caution, say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”
Email the Big Dog at firstname.lastname@example.org.