Finding His Legacy

“I’m concerned about what we’re doing to our planet.”

Chuck Arthur, TNC Legacy Club Member

By Catherine Toth Fox

Chuck Arthur has supported The Nature Conservancy for more than two decades, starting when he moved to Denver as a chief pilot for United Airlines. He admired the nonprofit’s approach to conservation, particularly in the preservation of the state’s prairie grasslands. His commitment to TNC continued when he moved to O‘ahu in 1999.

But it was a freak surfing accident on the North Shore in February 2017 that changed his perspective on giving, prompting him to change his will and include TNC Hawai‘i as a beneficiary.

Arthur, an avid swimmer and paddler who’s completed the 41-mile Moloka‘i Hoe twice, decided to pick up surfing seven years ago, at age 65. He immediately took to it, enjoying the feeling of riding waves and being in the warm Pacific Ocean.

One morning last February, he paddled out with a friend to Silva’s Channel, a North Shore surf spot off Crozier Drive in Mokulēʻia. The tide was rising, with head-high waves rolling in.

He had a rule: Catch three good waves, then paddle in.

That morning he surfed the three best waves of his life. “I was grinning from ear to ear,” says Arthur, 72, smiling at the memory. “That’s when I thought, ʻOne more.’ I got greedy.”

A Near-Death Experience

He paddled back out and caught another wave, riding it too far in. His leash got snagged on some coral, pulling him underwater. The tide was rising quickly and, within minutes, he was no longer able to break the surface to breathe. His chest started cramping. He panicked.

Somehow he managed to get the leash off his ankle, only to find himself stuck in a rip tide that was pulling him farther and farther away from his board. He started to give up, letting himself sink underwater. He thought of his sister who had died six years ago and his 5-year-old dog Bailey, who was waiting for him at his condo in downtown Honolulu. He knew he needed to survive this.

His friend noticed Arthur’s abandoned board and paddled over to see what was going on. He found Arthur, out of breath, and helped him to shore. His 7-foot-6 surfboard—Arthur’s favorite—was never recovered.

That near-death experience inspired Arthur to update his will, which he hadn’t done in 30 years. That’s when he decided to include the Hawai‘i chapter of TNC, making him a member of the Legacy Club.

“I’m concerned about what we’re doing to this island and to our planet, to our home,” says Arthur, who, in his retirement, volunteers as a docent at the Waikīkī Aquarium and Foster Botanical Garden. “I wanted to make a difference.”

A Respect for Nature 

Arthur grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, joining the Air Force after graduating from North Carolina State. He served as a pilot for seven years, spending one of them assigned to a Green Beret unit in Vietnam during the war. When he left the Air Force, he worked as a commercial pilot, spending the bulk of his career—24 years—with United Airlines.

He’s always had a deep respect for the natural world, from majoring in biological sciences in college to spending much of his spare time in the ocean. A defining experience came in 2000, when he was kayaking near Mānana Island off Waimānalo.

A humpback whale breeched so close to him, its wake flipped over his boat. He was underwater, watching this majestic whale circle back toward him. He was in awe.

“Something inside me said I would never have this experience again,” Arthur says. “I loved the ocean before, but wow. That was a life-changing event.”

Every winter, he waits for the migration of humpback whales to the Islands. It reminds him to appreciate the world around him, to be humble and mindful, to give back.

“It’s important to me to do something,” he says. “It doesn’t do any good to keep your concerns to yourself.”


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