There are many great features that have made the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament unique for so many years. The two most incredible facts: The event has been going strong for 60 years, and its original founder—Peter Fithian—remains at the helm. Here’s a look at the rich fabric of this popular international tournament.
In 1955, Fithian arrived in Kona, Hawaii, fresh from his previous job managing the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. He had applied for the position of manager at the famous, historic Kona Inn; with his experience in hotel management, he landed the job.
One of the first interesting sights Fithian noticed once he settled into the new job was that most afternoons out in front of the hotel, a group of men would drag a very large marlin across the lawn and weigh it from a coconut tree.
The other noticeable highlight of this idyllic seaside location was the flat-calm sea, always lapping peacefully on the nearby rocks.
Looking at the smooth sea conditions every day and talking to the local fishermen and boat owners weighing their marlin, the idea of staging a fishing tournament soon entered Fithian’s mind. He had experience with running golf tournaments, so he organized a group of fishermen to meet in his office one day to discuss launching such an event. One of those included in that meeting was the legendary Henry Chee, who was inducted into the International Game Fish Association’s Fishing Hall of Fame in 2008.
Fithian drew up some basic rules, and the IGFA regulations would serve as the tournament guidelines. To make the event an international affair, he sent invitations to fishing clubs in New Zealand and Australia; and in 1959, the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament was launched. The event started off nicely when local angler George Wooller captured an IGFA world-record Pacific blue marlin weighing 444 pounds on 80-pound-test line. A larger blue—caught on 130-pound-class tackle and weighing 611 pounds—won the tournament for the Ala Moana Fishing Club, based in Hawaii. Score one for the home team.
The following year, there was much more interest from local and international teams, and lady angler Pat Peacock broke the IGFA 130-pound-test world record with a 540-pound blue marlin. In 1962, she claimed another world record on 130-pound-test line with a 721-pound black marlin, which back then was called a silver marlin. In 1964, the Bay of Islands Swordfish Club from New Zealand became the first international team to win the HIBT.
By 1973, the tournament had grown immensely in popularity and participation, and three more IGFA world records were broken: Doris Jones toppled the women’s 130-pound-class record with a blue marlin weighing 669 pounds; Eric Tixier shattered the men’s 80-pound-test world record with a 916-pound blue; and Welby Taylor broke the 50-pound-class record with a 663-pound blue marlin.