Hoofing It for Paddlers

Hanalei Canoe Club’s 35th annual Haena Run (or walk) happens Saturday, with proceeds benefitting the club’s youth programs. There are 8-mile and 3.1-mile races, as well as 1-mile keiki run.

Lace up your sneakers for a good cause Saturday (June 6) as Hanalei Canoe Club hosts its 35th annual Haena Run. The run (or walk, if you prefer) covers an 8-mile route from Ke‘e Beach to Hanalei Pier.

“It’s one of the most scenic courses,” says Nancy Williams of the Hanalei Canoe Club steering (so to speak) committee. “It’s tough but it’s beautiful.”

This is the only chance cross-country enthusiasts have to run or walk safely on this panoramic path each year.

“There aren’t many organized runs to participate in, so this is a great opportunity and the only one on the North Shore,” says Williams.

It’s also an opportunity to support a community organization, which is all the more reason to participate. Money collected through entry fees ($35 advance registration; $45 on race day) will allow the club to fund its various activities, including a keiki program. A program for youths is, in fact, the primary reason Hanalei Canoe Club was launched in 1973, when Hanalei Hawaiian Civic Club, which perpetuates native culture, wanted to provide an activity for keiki on the North Shore “so that they would have something positive to do,” explains Williams.

The club, which offers a positive, team-building atmosphere, has thrived ever since and has grown to encompass adults, as well.

“Over the years, it has become one of the strongest canoe clubs on the island, as well as the largest,” says Williams.

Hanalei Canoe Club boasts some 260 members ranging in age from 8 to 80, including about 100 keiki. Members encompass skill sets from beginner to expert, so anyone can join. In winter, the club paddles Hanalei River, and during the summer, they make their trek into the bay.

Julie Wallace, who claims jokingly that she is an “overly senior” paddler, has been with the group 12 years. Before joining, she remembers watching canoes moving swiftly across the ocean on the North Shore. “And I would say, ‘Oh my goodness, I would just love to try that some time,'” she says.

Eventually she did and the rest, as they say, is history.

Mary Mair, club secretary, also immediately was smitten with the native sport and has been a member since 1998.

“I absolutely love to paddle,” she says. “I’m addicted to that feeling of working together and moving the canoe. It’s one of the most amazing feelings when you have a canoe with six people and you lift up onto the water and you’re gliding across the water — it’s pure bliss.”

Williams couldn’t agree more about the cherished sport she discovered after moving here from California three years ago.

“I just fell in love with it,” she says. The Nebraska native didn’t even see the ocean until she was 16, but it wasn’t long before she was hooked. “I love all things ocean,” she says.

She especially enjoys paddling because of its cultural aspect.

“You can feel the centuries of this traditional Polynesian-Hawaiian sport,” she says.

Outrigger canoe paddling dates back to Polynesians’ arrival in the islands, when they used these vessels to travel, transport goods and fish. Paddling didn’t officially become competitive in Hawaii until centuries later and is currently the state’s official sport.

Hanalei Canoe Club members can participate casually or compete in races. Most who join, however, like Williams, inevitably end up competing. She recalls her first trip paddling on Hanalei River, and she hasn’t looked back — she describes how the buildings, roads and noise disappeared, and mountains with cascading waterfalls took their place.

“And the hau bush flowers are floating down the river like little Chinese lanterns, and I’m like, ‘This is exercise?’ I mean, I could be in a gym on the treadmill,” she says.

“It’s so awesome, it’s like winning the lotto. I can’t imagine life without it.”

She also enjoys the friendships she’s made over the years and the teamwork, particularly when everyone volunteers to participate in events such as the Haena Run that help ensure they will continue paddling together.

“It’s rewarding to be involved in something that is so much bigger than any of us individually,” says Mair.

The start time for walkers is 6 a.m., with runners following at 7. Free shuttle service from Hanalei Pier to Haena begins at 4:45 a.m. The last shuttle for walkers leaves at 5:15 a.m.; and 6:20 for runners. For those who want a bit less of a challenge, a 5K (3.1-miles.) run at 7 a.m. begins and ends at Hanalei Pier, as well as a 1-mile keiki run.

The races conclude with a $7 pancake breakfast at Hanalei Canoe Club. Visit hanaleicanoeclub.org for more information.