'Honoring my Hawaiian heritage': Outrigger canoeing as a way of life

Posted by Staff Writer on Thursday, June 13th, 2019 at 2:36pm

Paul MacLaughlin (third from left) and crew after paddling the Moloka'i to O'ahu race. Photo courtesy of Ryan MacLaughlin.

Hawai'i and the ocean are forever linked. And over the last few decades, the rich history of outrigger canoe paddling and its integral role in the Hawaiian people's lives has resurged in the islands.

From high school paddling teams to crews that wayfind through the Hawaiian Archipelago, the outrigger canoe is still a main focus for Maui residents — including members of Island Sotheby's International Realty's team.

Take Island Sotheby's International Realty founder Paul MacLaughlin, for example. He began paddling in the 1950s as a child, and his son, Island Sotheby's International Realty owner, Ryan MacLaughlin R(B), has since followed in his father’s footsteps.

“My dad was involved in paddling at The Outrigger Canoe Club ever since he was 12 years old,” Ryan explained. “He paddled there until he was 40.”

Paul MacLaughlin (top row far left) and crew after winning the Moloka'i to O'ahu race in 1965. Photo courtesy of Ryan MacLaughlin and outriggercanoeclubsports.com

The elder MacLaughlin loved racing canoes, participating in sprints during the summer and long distance racing most of the rest of the year. He even competed in what is considered the world championship of outrigger canoeing: the race from Moloka’i to O’ahu.

“In all the years that he competed, he won the Moloka’i to O’ahu Race twice with his six-man crew — that’s something that is extremely rare,” Ryan said. “Some years he came in second, which is pretty much the most devastating thing that can happen since there are hundreds of crews paddling across 35 miles of ocean.”

Paul MacLaughlin on a surf board, escorting the first woman to swim across the channel. Photo courtesy of Ryan MacLaughlin.

Paul passed his love for paddling on to his son. Ryan, too, began paddling in the summers with the Outrigger Canoe Club. And when he began studying at the University of Hawai’i, he also paddled the famed Moloka’i to O’ahu race, finishing around 30th out of 150 crews.

Ryan learned that he preferred canoe surfing over competitive paddling, and would spend hours catching the waves that rolled in outside of Waikiki Beach. Even though years have passed since then, to this day, he continues paddling on Maui.

“It’s almost meditative and spiritual,” said Ryan. “It linked us to the past as our ancestors were paddling the same Hawaiian canoes in the same waves. It's honoring my Hawaiian heritage.”  



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