Friends remember beloved Kona paddler Steven Berengue as someone they could count on
June 10, 2023, 4:00 AM HST
Eddie Hayward was at home on Monday when he got the news that Steven Berengue, his friend of 25 years, had died following an incident at a Waikīkī hotel that Honolulu news media reported as a “mass overdose” involving fentanyl.
“I was shocked, surprised, mad,” Hayward said.
Such an incident seemed extremely out of character for Berengue. He was tanned, toned and passionate about paddling. He ran a flooring business, doing much of the physical work himself.
Hayward said his friend was happiest when he was helping others.
Berengue, 53 of Kailua-Kona, had traveled to Oʻahu to see a concert of the reggae rock band Pepper. He was found Sunday by emergency responders who were called to the Outrigger Reef Waikīkī Beach Resort at about midnight for a possible overdose with multiple victims.
Joseph Iseke, 44, of Kailua, Oʻahu, died at the scene. Berengue died at the hospital. Three others were hospitalized, including Berengue’s wife, Siulin, according to Hayward.
The official cause of death of the two men has not been released. But Gary Yabuta, Director for Hawai‘i’s High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Agency, said based on the information he received, the fentanyl in the hotel room was believed to be present in another drug.
Illicit fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin as an analgesic. Fentanyl-related deaths have become a national crisis.
While he may never know what really happened that night, Hayward and others remember Berengue as someone who loved all aspects of paddling and as a person everyone could count on.
Hayward and Berengue met in college, but their friendship didn’t begin until about 25 years ago. Hayward was paddling for the Kawaihae Canoe Club and Berengue was with Kai ‘Ōpua.
Hayward said his friend was always looking for ways to make the season more exciting.
He said Berengue was a genius when it came to rigging canoes — securing the iako (the two pieces of wood that extend from the hull) to the ama, the single piece of wood that connects the iako.
“He had an eye for tying the canoe to move in the most optimal way,” he said.
Mike Atwood, vice president of Kai ‘Ōpua Canoe Club, agreed. A cherished memory of Berengue was when he came to their canoe club and helped rig a canoe, despite paddling for a different club.
Depending on how a canoe is rigged (or tied), it can give the paddlers more speed or enable them to turn more quickly. Atwood felt the tips Berengue gave his club helped their canoe’s performance.
“Some people like to keep their secrets to themselves, but not Steve,” Atwood said.
If he wasn’t racing, Berengue was involved in the paddling community in other ways. Several years ago, he started hosting races, which included entertainment and raffle prize giveaways in honor of his father who had passed away. The last race he hosted was in March.
Atwood, who is also past president on the Hawaiʻi Canoe Racing Association, described Berengue as creative and always helping. The two worked together to get paddles certified with the association.
Berengue also started making paddles. Atwood said Berengue wanted to create a paddle that was not only beautiful but affordable.
Hayward has two paddles made by Berengue — one was a gift and the second he won at a raffle at a race in Kawaihae.
“His paddles are good and he kept thinking of ways to make them better,” Hayward said.
Bengue’s paddles are being used at youth and adult races throughout the state and possibly on the mainland.
When he wasn’t in the water, Berengue was running a flooring business that he took over when his father died. Within the tight-knit community of paddling, Hayward said it was well-known that if anyone needed help with anything, “Call Steve.”
Last year, that’s exactly what Hayward did. Hayward called Berengue to help him rip out the carpet at his house to install wood flooring.
Hayward had been living on O‘ahu for just under a year while his 27-year-old daughter recovered from a car accident that left her wheelchair-bound. Prior to returning to Kona, Hayward reached out to Berengue about installing flooring that would make it easier for his daughter to get around the house.
Berengue stopped all his other jobs to help Hayward.
“Steve helped to install within three days prior to our return,” Hayward said.
News of the “mass overdose” had already been circulating in the news before Hayward learned about Berengue’s death. It had never crossed his mind his friend would be among the victims of such an incident.
“It’s not my place to judge. It is what it is,” Hayward said. “The only thing I saw him take is a beer here and there. I never saw him get intoxicated. He’s not the guy trying to go to the club.”
Like Hayward, Atwood didn’t know Berengue to abuse substances. Paddling is a very social activity and Atwood said Berengue was always around.
Hayward said comments on social media have been wild.
“I trip out because they are just nasty,” he said. “Everyone wants to chime in.”
Berengue was not a person to engage in negative talk. Hayward hopes moving forward there is more compassion and aloha.