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Richard "Sonny" Tanabe: Outstanding Citizen, a career in Education, a life devoted to Aquatics.

Richard Tanabe

Richard "Sonny" Tanabe grew up in Hilo on the Island of Hawai'i and rose through the ranks of age group competition under Hawai'i's legendary coach Soichi Sakamoto and was a NISCA (National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Assn.) All-American at Hilo High School. He was an NCAA All-American at Indiana represented the USA at the 1956 Olympic Games in the 4 x 200 freestyle relay.

After the Olympics, Sonny enlisted in the U.S. Army (1958-60).  

While at Indiana University, his academics career earned him a Bachelor of Science, Health, Physical Education and Recreation. He later earned a Master of Science in Physical Education degree.

Swimming has given Sonny a chance to travel, make new friends and compete at the highest level. In return, he pursued an assistant Aquatic Director and Swim Coach position at Hindsdale Township High School, Hinsdale, Illinois, before returning to Hawai'i and a teaching and coaching career that extended over 33 great years, at Kamehameha Schools, in Honolulu. 

Sonny has given back to aquatics many times over! He was an American Red Cross Water Safety Instructor, NAUI Skin and SCUBA Diving Instructor and continues to be active in Free dive spearfishing, board surfing, body surfing, fin swimming, SCUBA diving, deep sea fishing and Karate! Active, only as Sonny can be!


Sonny is the founding president of the Hawai'i Swimming Legacy Project, an organization that has established the Hawai'i Swimming Hall of Fame and Museum, founded in February, 2002.  In addition, Sonny serves or has served on the Island of Hawaii YMCA Corporate Board as Chairman Emeritus; the Island of Hawaii YMCA Aquatic Leadership and Ocean Resource Committee; as Past Chairman of Island of Hawaii YMCA Freedive Club; on the Aquatic Life and Wildlife Advisory Committee, County of Hawaii, 1995-99; Hawaii Freedive Spearfishing Association; as Chairman of the 1998 Blue Water Spearfishing Symposium; as Co-chairman of Hawaii Freedive Spearfishing EXPO 2000; Indiana University Swimming, Hawaii Alumni and as Vice President of the U.S. Olympian Association, Hawaii Chapter.

In 2007 he published "Spearfising on the Island of Hawai'i: A Pictorial History by Sonny Tanabe, see www.hawaiipublisher.com

Read about the History of Goggles (pdf)

For information about the International Swimming Hall of Fame go to www.ishof.org or call 954-462-6536. 

Greg LouganisEraldo

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