What it's like to paddle the 1,650-mile Hawaiian Archipelago by canoe

Posted by Staff Writer on Thursday, June 13th, 2019 at 2:37pm

We were six paddlers in an outrigger canoe in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Darkness engulfed us. Angry seas churned and spit in the strong, cold, quartering winds; swells careened our vessel up and down twelve-foot walls of water. Aware that the smallest mistake might end in the sea’s swallowing our tiny craft, we paddled on.”

Those are the words of Jamie Woodburn R(S), an Island Sotheby’s International Realty agent who nearly a decade ago, was part of a crew that undertook a six-year, 1,650-mile odyssey through the Hawaiian Archipelago. For nearly 40 years, Woodburn has immersed himself in Maui’s paddling community, helping to spearhead the resurgence of voyaging throughout the islands.

Jamie Woodburn Champion Paddler

Courtesy of Jamie Woodburn, Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Voyaging Society 

For decades, Woodburn paddled competitively with the Kihei Canoe Club, spending his weekends racing across the island. But Woodburn and Kimokeo Kapahulehua, a warrior for the Hawaiian cultural resurgence and avid paddler, wanted more than that.

Kapahulehua’s uncle, the late Kawika Kapahulehua, was the first kapena (captain) of the Hokulea, Hawai’i ‘s first traditional transoceanic Polynesian Voyaging Canoe in over 500 years. It had been his dream to travel through the entire Hawaiian Archipelago by canoe—a dream that his nephew decided to make a reality.

In 2002, the younger Kapahulehua founded the Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Voyaging Society with the help of Woodburn and longtime paddler, Chris Luedi. One year later, they took to the seas in an effort to honor and perpetuate the Hawaiian culture, using the ancestral knowledge passed down for centuries to guide them on their journey.

“We did it in segments,” explained Woodburn. It took them two years to get through the main Hawaiian islands—spanning roughly 350 miles—before they took on the 1,350 miles in the archipelago past Kaua’i.

Jamie Woodburn Paddling

Courtesy of Jamie Woodburn. Photo by Ron Dahlquist.

Upon reaching the Garden Island, the logistics of the trip changed. Aided by an escort boat, the canoe battled fierce winds and seas, each individual paddling one hour on, one hour off, 24/7. They finished the last leg— a 480-mile, 73-hour journey—in the summer of 2008.

The three men—Kapahulehua, Luedi and Woodburn—paddled all eight legs of the unprecedented 1,650-mile journey from Hawai'i Island to Kure Atoll.

“It was quite the experience for anybody that was involved with it,” said Woodburn. “It was just ordinary men with extraordinary goals and objectives—Kimokeo had a vision.”

To learn more about the Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Voyaging Society, visit www.WeAreVoyagers.org. To this day, the group aims to “promote sustainability, environmental health, respect for Mother Earth and humankind through the education and perpetuation of the Hawaiian culture through protocol, voyaging and the way of life on the canoe.”

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