The Second Annual War Heroes on Water (WHOW) Sportfishing Tournament, held Aug. 15-18, off the waters of Santa Catalina Island, is one for the record books, with the Tournament generating an unprecedented amount of money raised, in addition to nearly doubling the number of veterans served by the Tournament.
“WHOW changes lives,” said loanDepot Founder and CEO Anthony Hsieh, who conceptualized the Tournament after taking a group of seven decorated military veterans on a sportfishing trip to Cabo San Lucas two years ago. “It certainly has changed mine. I thank our event supporters, our veterans, our partner, Freedom Alliance, and the yacht owners who graciously donated their sportfishing vessels, their crews and their time. This magnificent combination of patriots is what makes our WHOW event such an amazing success.”
This year’s event, originally created as a heartfelt thank you to veterans for the sacrifices they’ve made to protect our great nation, as well as a way to raise money for veterans’ support programs throughout the country, began on Thursday, Aug. 15 with a spectacular reception held at Hsieh’s Newport Beach bayfront home. More than 400 people mingled with this year’s participating veterans against the backdrop of Hsieh’s yacht, the Bad Company 144, the largest sportfisher in the world. Following a heartfelt rendition of the National Anthem, guests were invited to enjoy exquisite cuisine from local culinary experts and explore the many worldwide luxury vacation collections, custom artwork and angling and sports experiences offered through a silent auction benefitting Freedom Alliance and the WHOW veterans. Thanks to the generous onsite opening reception donations, the evening raised more than $75k, which brought total donations for the Tournament to over $500,000, more than double what was collected for the inaugural War Heroes on Water event held in 2018.
“The Southern California community, the nationwide loanDepot team and our loanDepot business partners are especially appreciative of the veterans and recognize the hardships that they endure following their tours of duty,” added Hsieh. “Our veteran heroes deserve to be celebrated and supported and I’m thrilled that my friends and associates share my enthusiasm. Supporting our veterans and helping to positively impact their lives is critically important. We all need to step up and do as much as we can.”
Early Friday morning, the veterans boarded their assigned yachts and began their epic adventure off the pristine waters of Santa Catalina Island, an area considered to be the birthplace of modern sportfishing. Despite the day being a pre-Tournament day of relaxation and bonding, some of the WHOW Tournament teams found themselves in the middle of some early action, notably Team Bull Pen, led by David DuBois, whose group caught a 136 pound striped marlin that afternoon.
Friday evening, the WHOW Tournament teams gathered at the prestigious Tuna Club of Avalon for a special pre-Tournament captain’s meeting. This meeting marked a rare time in the history of the storied member’s-only club that non-members were invited to gather inside. Later that evening, it was on the Club’s sweeping patio steps that Tuna Club President, Alan Baron, honored Anthony Hsieh with a commemorative silver coin gifted by the club’s past presidents.
On Saturday morning, the WHOW Tournament officially launched with a presentation of the American flag by the LAPD Color Guard, a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem by loanDepot’s own Chief Accounting Officer, Nicole Carrillo, and a yacht parade out of Avalon as the veterans and their teams began their WHOW Tournament experience in earnest.
Over the next 36 hours, the captains and crews shared their knowledge of the waters, native fish species and the techniques they use to angle with their Tournament team of veterans. Team Bull Pen continued to get large fish to bite, hauling three bluefin tuna, including one weighing over 296 pounds, on board. Team Fan Tail hooked a swordfish, which is extremely difficult to hook in these waters, but, after hours of fighting—and with the veterans on other boats anxiously listening over the radio, cheering them on—the team lost the fish. Other teams strategically maximized their WHOW Tournament points by catching calico bass, rockfish, yellowtail, yellowfin tuna and halibut throughout the weekend.
But the most memorable moments were yet to come as the veterans returned to the Tuna Club on Sunday night for the WHOW Tournament’s closing ceremony. One by one, each of the veterans surprised Hsieh by personally presenting him with a challenge coin. Each of the 50 coins were placed in a display specifically crafted in honor of the WHOW Tournament event. But the veterans weren’t finished sharing tokens of gratitude and appreciation.
Shortly after the coin ceremony, all of the Tournament participants and volunteers were asked to rise and stand in respect as Staff Sergeant Jose Cardona, USMC and Staff Sergeant Woody Dishman, USMC (Ret.) presented Hsieh with a United States flag that had been flown over the United States Marine Forces Special Operations Command Headquarters and signed by Major General Daniel D. Yoo, Commander of the United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command.
“You are hereby presented the military’s most honored and cherished possession, the United States National Ensign,” said Cardona. “The flag has been a source of pride and inspiration and is the symbol of liberty, strength and unity. We are thankful for the unfailing support you have given our members and our corps.”
Following these heartfelt presentations, the air quickly filled with fish stories and camaraderie. Lit up with excitement and delighted to share quality time with fellow veterans, the joy of the entire weekend was evident across everyone’s faces. In between award presentations, veterans shared stories, insights and hugs—building a strong web of solidarity and support that will carry forward for years to come.
Veterans who received awards included: Jose C. (Joint Venture) and Cory W. (Wild In Sac), first and second place, respectively, for Angler Qualifier Points. Kaleb W. (Bull Pen), Jose B. (Bull Pen) and Michale G. (Bull Pen) first, second and third place, respectively, for Angler Weight Points. Species Winners were: Enrique S. (Sea Horse), Rockfish; Carlos T. (Bad Company), Calico Bass; Kaleb W. (Bull Pen), Bluefin; Jose C. (Joint Venture), Yellowfin Tuna; Tyler J. (Incognito), Yellowtail; and Cory W. (Wild in Sac), Halibut. Boat Total Point winners were: Bull Pen, first place; Bad Company, second place; and Sea Horse, third place.
After the point-placing and species-winning anglers were announced, one final, very special award was bestowed. Created in memoriam for a beloved and well-known angler within the local SoCal sportfishing community, the Ron Ashimine Award was bestowed to the veteran angler who scored the most total points in the WHOW Tournament. A lifelong fisherman and founding member of War Heroes on Water, Ashimine was a Vietnam Veteran and close friend of Hsieh. Together Ashimine and Hsieh spent more than 800 days at sea fishing side by side together, creating lifelong memories and catching world-class billfish. This year’s recipient of the Ron Ashimine Award was Kaleb W from Team Bull Pen. This award is especially significant as Kaleb, a returning veteran, had the honor of fishing with Ashimine aboard Bad Company in last year’s Inaugural WHOW Tournament.
At the conclusion of the event, as the veterans returned to the west coast to depart to their homes, the veterans, captains and crews mused about the WHOW Tournament experience and envisioned what next year’s epic adventures may be.
“Being able to honor servicemen and women with an event like the WHOW Tournament is a privilege. It’s important that we show our Vets that we love and care for them and, as a nation, support them as they face the challenges that can arise as they return from their tours of duty,” said Joint Venture owner Colby Durnin. “I’m proud that our community has risen to the occasion and encourage everyone to do as much as they can, whether that be donating time or money, or simply by shaking a vet’s hand and telling them they are valued and appreciated as they return to the civilian world.”
Added Josh Miles, U.S. Marine Corps Retired Gunnery Sergeant and Director of Military Programs at Freedom Alliance, “The WHOW Tournament is an amazing experience and has quickly become our premier fishing event of the year. The outpouring of support and generosity from this community is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Thanks to what Anthony, and the community and sponsors have done, and continue to do, we’re going to be able to help more veterans, throughout the nation, and to Anthony’s point, change lives.”
The 2019 WHOW Tournament Fleet includes: Bad Company 144 (Anthony Hsieh), Bull Pen (Dave DuBois), Dialed Inn (Randy Pennington), Incognito (Kevin Reardon), Pacific Pioneer (Mike Blower), Reel Time (David King), Bad Company 75 (Anthony Hsieh), Chaser (Greg Chase), Fan Tail (Joseph Fan), Joint Venture (Colby Durnin), Play-N Hookey (Bill Larkin), Sea Horse (Bruce Ferguson), Bounder (Andy Crean), Determined (Dan Gorman, Zac Cullen), Gad Zukes (Greg Zucchero), Motivator (Mark Mitchell), Prime Time (Randy Davis) and Wild In Sac (Steve Morgan, Mark Heinz, Joe Leroy).
Corporate sponsors of the 2019 WHOW Tournament include: Docutech, ServiceLink, Corelead, Lendilio, Lending Tree, The Wisdom Companies, The Hanson Family Charitable Foundation, and Radian Guaranty Inc, Call & Jensen, Corelogic Solutions and Lower My Bills.