A 56-year-old Hilo man who disappeared into the ocean while fishing Friday night along the Puna coastline was described by golfers and coworkers as “a fixture” at Hilo Municipal Golf Course.
Arnold “Arnie” Asato was the course’s operations assistant and worked in the starter’s office for more than a quarter century.
“Everybody who played at the muni knew who he was,” said Lance Taketa, a teaching pro and classmate of Asato’s at Hilo High School. “It’s a tough time, I think, for family and friends. Everybody’s doing their part in searching and it’s hard for everybody.”
Asato slipped and fell or was washed from a 10-foot cliff by a rogue wave while fishing with friends near MacKenzie State Recreation Area. A search, which was called off Tuesday, failed to locate him.
“They liked to fish for the nighttime fish, menpachi,” Taketa said. “He liked to have fun. He worked hard, and after he was done working, he played hard, too. He liked to golf but his love was fishing.
“They always go fishing Friday night and have a good time. They’re very experienced fishermen. They’re not the kind of guys to take chances. They’re the kind to make sure everybody’s safe. But you never know. Anything could have happened. It’s just an unfortunate accident.”
Asato was described as a championship-flight golfer who enjoyed his work at the county-operated course.
“Arnie was very well loved by everybody who played,” said course manager Troy Tamiya. “He was super friendly, great personality. He basically lived here. He spent days off here helping out and he had a great rapport with all the clubs and all the juniors, seniors.”
Tamiya called Asato “basically my right hand here.”
“He took care of all the tee-time reservations, the club play, the tournaments, all the scheduling. So, it’s a big loss from the operational standpoint,” he said. “We have a great crew who’s working hard trying to fill in his absence. Arnie’s hard to replace. It’s a tremendous loss for us.”
Taketa called Asato’s disappearance “a shock” and said he was a major topic of conversation at the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship qualifier during the weekend.
“Everybody was asking me, ‘What’s the latest? What’s the latest? Did they find him?’” he said. “Everybody’s so concerned. As time goes on, when you have something like this, it doesn’t look so good, but you still have hope they’re gonna find him.”
Claire Furutani, whose son, Brett, qualified Monday for the Publinx, called his playoff victory against Chris Igawa “bittersweet” because of Asato’s absence from his familiar post at the muni.
“It’s really sad,” she said. “We’re gonna miss him because he just is a character and he made it fun to be here. He made it personal. He always cracked jokes and stuff like that. He’s just a special person.”
Ramon Goya, a retired University of Hawaii at Hilo physical education instructor and the school’s former athletic director, said he got to know Asato when the missing man was coaching Little League baseball.
“We’re all really saddened. He was just a real good guy,” Goya said. “He was nice and considerate and always helping everybody else out, always there for us. We’re gonna miss him.”
Taketa said Asato “really lived life to the fullest and he really enjoyed people.”
“He was out there doing what he wanted to do and when you look at it from that perspective it’s more comforting, I think,” he said.
“I haven’t gotten used to it yet,” Tamiya added. “We’re all here still waiting for him to walk through the door. It’s hard to believe.”
Asato is survived by his wife, Wendy, among others.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.