Of all the water sports activities associated with Kauai Hawaii, outrigger canoe paddling ranks near the top of the list that one immediately associates with the Island lifestyle. Arguably so, advocates of surfing would list this Sport of Kings as the most identifiable Hawaiian water sports activity in the world. OK, I can not deny this, a few weeks ago I was in the interior of Turkey telling someone that I called Kauai, Hawaii home. He smiled and crouched down as if balancing on a board and screamed “surfing” !
Outrigger canoe paddling is an important part of Polynesian history and like surfing is gaining popularity worldwide. There are clubs from the ‘Hong Kong Outrigger Canoe Club’ to the ‘Gruppo Canoe Roma’ club in Italy, and of course let’s not forget two clubs in Germany. The ‘Kanu Verein Unterweiss e.V.’ and the ‘Team Phoenix-Outrigger’ clubs. While it may be difficult for European teams to gather for competitions, they happen weekly during the season from February to October. The unofficial end of the season is marked by the Molokai Ho’e, the 38 mile Molokai to Oahu channel crossing which began in 1952.
The final event in this year’s Koloa Plantation Days was held this past Sunday with Paddle Fest 2011 at Poipu Beach Park. It was a fitting way to end eight days of fun and activities that recognized and celebrated our past. Paddle Fest fit the theme perfectly. Honoring the ancient custom of outrigger canoe paddling, a ritual that tests the skill sets of physical and mental acuity today, as it did 1000 years ago.
Although the materials have changed, the canoes are the same length as during earlier times and weigh the same as they did when they were shaped and hewn from ancient Koa Acacia koa , trees at 400 pounds per canoe. A canoe was a reverent work of art and the tree was a gift from the god Ku, the god associated with trees and agriculture. Koa was favored because it had great powers of endurance, like the god Ku. It would not split from years in salt water, and it was not readily marred by being dragged across sand. Therefore when a tree was identified in the mountains great care and ceremony was involved in its harvest and only the best craftsmen were tasked with shaping these behemoths.
The connection to the past is important to these water men and women. The team is respectfully aware of their tie to the ancients. There is a solemnity prior to the race, team members touch foreheads together for a brief moment that is somewhat akin to a religious rite.
The men launched from Kalapaki Bay at approximately 10am. Outrigger canoe races start at exactly on Hawaiian time, which is usually within 30 minutes of the published start. This will allow race officials to check weather and ocean conditions to insure the safety of the participants. Don’t be fooled by thinking these are fair weather paddlers. It is not unusual to be in the open ocean with 6-12 foot swells working against you with strong trade winds at your back. And it is not uncommon for a canoe to huli or turnover in the open ocean. It takes a great deal of effort for the six participants to right size the vessel and sometimes too overwhelming, thank goodness there is a watch boat for such occasion when the team needs to be towed into shore.
The six man outrigger canoe team led by Na Molokama arrived first into Poipu Beach with a time of 1.18:19. Niumalu, the womens team, arrived at 1.25:30. There were a total of sixteen, six man canoes, and a total of thirty five single man out riggers. It was an opportunity for spectators to see how this ancient mode of transportation has evolved. From the fiberglass six man outriggers to the sleek modern carbon fiber reinforced plastic canoes that are over 16 feet in length and weigh approximately 30 pounds.
As always we welcome your comments and would like to hear what was your best on the water experience while in Kauai.