Racing on the ocean…

Racing on the ocean…

Early on Saturday mornings during February and March, you can see groups of students assembling at the Ala Moana Park in Honolulu. Wearing matching shirts in school colors, the competitive members move like a precision team to carry their 40’ long, 400 pound outrigger canoe from its parked spot into the water at Magic Beach. Gliding them gently into the ocean for their weekly five and a half mile race along the shoreline, the mood is exciting and tense. The ILH, (Interscholastic League of Honolulu) consists of students from the private schools in Oahu. The rivalries are intense…at stake are athletic scholarships awarded to the top athletes. You can tell from the straining shoulders, strong biceps, and thick thigh muscles that this is no sport for wimps.

While an outrigger canoe may not mean much to most people, but here in the Aloha State, outrigger canoeing is not only the official state team sport but it is a rich, historical reminder that to live in Hawaii is to know and respect the ocean. No other culture in history has such a strong and intertwined existence with the sea.

The teams

Outrigger canoes were first made from a single piece of wood from the koa tree. Their unique shape and design is for battling conditions in open waters. Hawaiians believe that the spirit of the tree continues to live in the Koa canoe, giving it life and purpose. Providing transportation and fishing which were essential to daily life and survival. Hawaiian culture continues to show a respect and care for the canoes. Although they are now made out of fiberglass, this rich tradition continues. They are sacred vessels that are each blessed with names.

The starting line
Ready to race!

The six-person teams in action make a classic, timeless sight reminding us all of old Hawaii drawings, etchings and songs. The long, streamlined canoes slice through the water against the open horizon, the paddlers reaching out and pulling deeply in unison, while the steersman calls out directions, encouragement and, always, the rhythm of the strokes.

Can you imaging paddling this fast for five miles?

Wow, they paddle strong, hard, and fast!! This is the essence of teamwork. The training connects the rowers to the ocean environment and Hawaiian culture, building community spirit and learning life skills. It’s such a commitment to harmony, teamwork, strength, and drive to watch them paddle on their 5.5 mile course. My arms are tired just watching them!

Excited spectators cheer them on
Custom paddles for each person

Watching along the shoreline was a familiar face…my artist friend Mark Brown was painting along the waters edge with his Saturday morning painting class! They are here to capture a moment of the race!

Saturday painting class
Artist Mark Brown capturing a moment
Painter Joanie, capturing the scene
Student paintings
Capturing the scene
Mark’s studio painting of the scene

There are many places that give visitors an opportunity to paddle an outrigger in Hawaii. It’s a wonderful way to connect your spirit to the ocean, get to know some native Hawaiians who guide you through your trip, experience the tropical breezes blowing off the water across your face, and even get some closeup shots of whales and turtles during the season. Make sure to take advantage and indulge in this ancient Hawaiian tradition!

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Monie Thompson