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Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

Sailing Through Time: An Investigation of “Boat” Culture Through History

Mia Nishina ’23

On the side of Mamiya facing Alexander Hall, nestled between two of the busiest walkways on campus, lies one of the most iconic yet mysterious features of the Academy grounds. Colloquially known as the “Boat,” the curved area consists of three stone steps which double as seats, a dark green turf, and picnic tables under an overhang of offices. Its purpose is nebulous – it is shaped like an amphitheater, yet it finds itself in Mamiya, a science building from its first conceptions. Regardless of intention, over the years, the Boat has cemented herself as the senior hangout and a hallmark of Punahou student microculture.

The Boat was built along with the adjacent Mamiya Science Center, which began construction in 1997 and opened to students in the January of 1999. It replaced MacNeil Hall, which was in need of all-around repairs. The new center is double the size of its predecessor. If you were here during the first years of the science center, you may recall that the building was simply referred to as “New Science Center” – an exception among others named after wealthy donors. The center was initially left nameless after the benefactor who had agreed to donate the necessary costs abandoned their promise after construction began. 

The Early Days

Many alumni from the first decade of the 21st Century describe territorial clique culture among students, who were often divided by interest, ethnicity, and grade level. 

“There was a clear delineation where the grades sat,” shared Kumu Kaniela ‘05. 

At one point, the Boat was popular among Asian students, accounting for the popular rumor about the origin of the name of the boat – that it is short for “Fresh off the Boat.” As Chris Chock ‘06 recounts, “There wasn’t a single white kid down there, ever.”

However, the Boat, at least for several years after its construction,  was not a popular student hangout.

“The Beach [located between Cooke Learning Commons and Waterhouse Pool] was the more popular senior hangout,” said Taylor Pang ‘05. 

The Boat only seemed to rise in popularity in the late 2000s. 

“Academy Student Hangout Spots,” a video produced by Punavision in 2008, credits the Boat’s popularity to its shelter from the rain and minimal disturbances to Punahou teachers. 

One student who used to hang out in the “Crack,” or the space between Pauhai and Bingham, explained his move to the Boat in the video: “When it rains, we had no cover, so we would often go inside. That didn’t really sit well with a whole bunch of the faculty.” 

English teacher Ed Moore states in the video that the students would make a lot of noise once inside Pauahi – an academic building which should be treated as such. 

“Personally, everyone I’ve talked to… we like the Boat better. It has cover, it has outlets, it’s secluded … So it was really just a win-win situation,” remarked the student.

The Turf

2010 marked a watershed moment in Boat history – the introduction of artificial turf. Before that year, the “deck” of the boat was floored with real grass and dirt. Rain often turned the ground muddy and wet, and by the end of a school year much of the grass was uprooted. The addition of turf prevented this, creating a more sanitary hang-out spot. 

“They put in the fake turf and it got a lot nicer, and I think that’s when people really started hanging out there,” said Andrew Ryan ‘03. 

This likely coincides with the development of Boatball, a throw-and-catch ball game now synonymous with the Boat. In a Punavision video from 2011 about Boatball, science teacher Darcy Iams, who had a Boat-facing office, states that “last year, students started to spontaneously play this game. I guess it’s because the AstroTurf went in.”

New Trends

Over the years, the “only seniors allowed” tradition solidified, and is now informally recognized by administration. The Boat has been decorated by the PFA for senior-related events, like with blue-and-yellow balloons and congratulatory banners for graduation. The deans have set loose rules on when the rising seniors can lay claim to the Boat – on Senior Skip day, seniors must clear out the area, and juniors may enter after 8 AM, when the seniors have left. 

This ordered takeover is in stark contrast with past classes. From the beginnings of the Boat up to 2013, Senior Skip Day would mean a mad dash for new hang-out spots among Juniors, Sophomores, and Freshmen. The clique that first claims an area would keep it for the rest of the year. 

Taylor Hamilton ‘09 remembers his junior year, when his friend group slept over the night before Senior Skip Day at the home of a friend who lived close to campus.  

“[There was a] rumor that [rising] juniors were gonna take the boat,” he explained.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Boat briefly served as a party venue. The class of 2020 organized a dance in the Boat, correctly predicting that prom would be cancelled. The event was spontaneous and planned overnight. On the day of the event, students could be seen in Prom-appropriate outfits under a hand-painted banner with the word “ImPROMtu.”

The famous – or infamous – hang-out spot is not without its controversies. Several rows of Mamiya lockers line the wall located in the inner areas of the boat, some of which are assigned to underclassmen. Dean Marguerite Ashford-Hirano reported that students have complained in the past about difficulty accessing their own lockers because of pressure to leave from seniors in the Boat. However, “seniors only” rule remains a popular and respected tradition among students. Underclassmen look forward to entering the boat freely when they become seniors. 

“I’m excited to experience a place with no other grade,” shared Julia Beavers ‘24.

The trend between rain and student-faculty conflicts continues, however. Recently, the Math and Science Resource Room in Mamiya, where many students head to hang out with friends, study, and eat during breaks, was suddenly made off-limits during lunch. Some have cited the ban to one particularly rainy lunch, when the MSRR was packed with more students than most days. A few of these students caused a lot of noise, and did not clean up the space after use, resulting in a ban decided by the faculty. Several students commented on the lack of appropriate indoor or covered hang-out spaces.

Why is it Called the Boat, Anyway?

Short answer: We don’t know. 

Long answer: Interestingly, no document in the Punahou Archives related to Mamiya mentions the boat. Although some maps dated to after construction include the boat, the area remains unmarked. 

Among the six alumni interviewed for this article, all but one stated that they did not call the area the Boat, or that they did not remember what it was called at all. 

There are many speculations to the origin of the Boat’s name, however. As mentioned before, one of the most popular is that the term is short for “Fresh off the Boat.” Many others believe the name is derived from the space’s boat-like shape, with an arched side and some elevation. Some have pointed to a theme shared by other colloquial hang-out spot names, such as the Islands (the meandering stone seats between Alexander and Mamiya) and the Beach (so named because it was previously filled with sand). Without definitive proof, though, the mystery of the Boat’s name may never be solved.

This story was originally published in Ka Punahou‘s 2023 print issue “Stone & Flow,” which you can view in its print form with additional photos and content by visiting

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