The Return Of Paddling Season

Outrigger canoe season is back, and local clubs are looking for new paddlers to join the fun and fitness. Christian Marston Jr. photo

It’s just about that time for the state’s official sport to push its wa’a back into open waters as the Kaua’i outrigger paddling season reopens in early February. With the first race hosted on the West side during the Waimea Town Celebration, most of the island’s canoe clubs will reunite in the next week or two.

“The six-man outrigger canoe racing season begins Feb. 18, with long-distance races sponsored by different Kaua’i clubs around the island on most Saturdays,” says Hanalei Canoe Club secretary Mary Mair. The distance season then gives way to the sprints in midMay, leading up to the Garden Island Canoe Racing Association championships July 21.

Hanalei was the most successful of Kauai’s clubs during last year’s 60th annual state championship sprint series at Maui’s Hanakaoo Beach Park, capturing a gold medal in the Girls 18 & Under division. Niumalu’s Girls 12 & Under crew netted bronze at the event.

“Some paddlers have continued to paddle in the off-season in both six-man and one-man canoes, and will be rejoined by returning paddlers, new paddlers and youths at our annual meeting at the Hanalei Canoe Club,” says Mair.

The meeting is Feb. 4 at 10:30 a.m.

The North Shore club stresses its far-reaching membership that consists of paddlers age 8 to 80, as well as its invitation to new paddlers of all skill levels to join for a variety of reasons.

“The club began (in 1973) with a youth program that provided kids on the North Shore with a chance to learn and participate in a traditional sport,” says assistant secretary Julie Wallace. “The club has grown to include paddlers of all ages. Now it’s great to see a tiny tyke with a short, stubby paddle paddling his or her little heart out. And just as wonderful are our canoes filled with gray-haired kupuna.”

“The benefits are numerous,” adds Mair, “including experiencing traditional Hawaiian practices, being part of a community and exercising while enjoying the company of fellow paddlers.”

That camaraderie was on display last June 14 at Hanalei Bay as roughly 150 club members made up one of the 12 clubs participating in the day’s regatta. Wallace’s recollection of that day contains an obvious fondness that exhibits her passion without subtlety.

“At 7:45 or so, coaches are gathering kids, parents and paddlers of all sizes and ages for the opening ceremonies, beginning with an opening pule (prayer), followed by club songs and chants. Visitors to the beach are awed by the display of Hawaiian culture and spirit. The energy, athleticism, team spirit and community atmosphere will keep spectators enthralled throughout the day.”

Anyone wanting to be a part of that atmosphere has the opportunity to seek out their local club for the upcoming season. Practices for Hanalei commence the day after its annual meeting, as the women take to the water at 5 p.m. Feb. 5. Men follow at 5 p.m. Feb. 6. The youth program then begins in March.

“Kids, parents and grandparents paddling together give the North Shore community the continuity that is sometimes lacking in our hectic and fragmented society,” says Wallace.