Outrigger canoeing has been intertwined with Hawai’i and its people for centuries. And even today, it’s considered the Aloha State’s official team sport, boasting some of the largest and most challenging outrigger canoe races in the world. Here are a few races you should be sure to catch:
Touted as the world’s largest long-distance canoe race by its organizers, the Queen Lili'uokalani Canoe Race started in 1972 as a way for participants to train for the grueling Na Wahine O Ke Kai and the Molokai Hoe. The race was named to honor the last reigning monarch of Hawaii, Queen Lili'uokalani, held for the first time on her birthday — September 2.
Held in Kona on Hawai’i Island, the race now falls on Labor Day Weekend each year. The festivities include a torchlight parade, an awards luau and at least four days of racing — both outrigger canoe and stand-up paddling. Today, the race draws more than 2,500 paddlers from across the globe, from locales ranging from Japan to Australia to Canada.
The Moloka'i Hoe is one of the longest running team sporting events in Hawai'i, second only to football. It began in 1952, when three Koa outrigger canoes launched from Kawakiu Bay on Moloka'i's west side. Manned by six paddlers, the canoes battled the surf for more than 38 miles from Moloka’i to O’ahu, across the treacherous Ka’iwi Channel. Nine hours later, the first canoe landed on the beach at Waikiki in front of the Moana Hotel.
That started one of the world’s most prestigious outrigger canoe races, according to the event’s website. Today, the Moloka'i Hoe perpetuates one of Hawai’i's most integral and historic cultural traditions, all while testing participants’ mental and physical limits as they face one of nature’s most extreme elements. Every year, more than 1,000 paddlers flock to the Moloka'i Hoe, the men’s world championship in outrigger canoe racing. 2019 will mark the race’s 67th year.
Meaning “women of the sea,” Na Wahine O Ke Kai is the storied championship race from Moloka’i to Oahu for women. After the first men’s race from Moloka’i to Oahu launched in 1952, women fought for years for a similar race of their own. It took years of patience and persistence, but finally two female crews made the first unofficial crossing in 1975.
The first race was held four years later in 1979, when the Outrigger Canoe Club’s 17-crew field finished in 6 hours, 35 minutes, 14 seconds. Today, the event attracts some of the most competitive teams from countries all across the globe, who take to the Pacific Ocean to perpetuate Hawai’i’s cultural heritage through their endurance, devotion and sportsmanship.
One of Maui’s most celebrated canoe races is the Pailolo Challenge, spanning all the way from DT Fleming Beach in Kapalua to Kaunakakai, Moloka’i. Teams of six paddlers come as far as Australia and Canada to test themselves against challenging channel crossing conditions.
The race is organized and staffed by the Hawaiian Canoe Club, whose mission is to “perpetuate and preserve the art of Hawaiian canoe paddling by providing an environment rooted in traditional Hawaiian values that promote personal growth, character development, and achievement in physical fitness.”
The race spans 26 miles across the Pailolo Channel, notorious or being one of the windiest and roughest in the Hawaiian Islands. But that doesn’t stop hundreds of people from participating. And despite being one of the trickiest crossings in the state, the winning teams can often finish the race in about 2.5 hours.
Click here for the complete Hawaii Canoe Racing Association 2019 schedule.