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2 Oct 2014
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Hawaiian Culture

Quickly approaching, on Sunday, October 12, 2014, is the world’s most prestigious outrigger canoe race and one of Hawaii’s most important cultural traditions, the Moloka’i Hoe. This year marks the 62nd annual event, which has become one of the longest running annual team sporting events in Hawaii, second only to football.

Traveling from across the globe, over 1,000 paddlers will come to Hawaii this month to compete in what is considered to be the world championship of off-shore canoe racing. The event made its inception on October 12, 1952 as 3 Koa outrigger canoes, powered by 6 paddlers, crossed 41 miles of open ocean from Molokai to Oahu. The initial crossing of the treacherous Ka’iwi Channel took eight hours and 55 minutes while the current record is held at just under 5 hours.


Originating from Polynesia, the outrigger canoe is about 40ft. long and weighs roughly 400lbs. Due to the canoe’s narrow 2ft. width, it is stabilized by an ama, a 10ft. long float which is connected to the canoe by two wooden struts called iako. This catamaran design allows the canoes to endure the tumultuous waters of the Pacific Ocean.


Evenly spaced the length of the canoe, sit six paddlers. Setting the pace in the first position is the Stroker. In the back, you will find the steersman who controls the canoe’s course with his paddle, and the Caller, usually in seat 2, signals the changes. 

In those early years of the race, the crews consisted of only 6 men, who boldly paddled the entire distance. Today’s teams are made up of 9-10 paddlers, the extras traveling alongside in an escort boat, with mid-channel rotations happening every 20-30 minutes. The exhausted paddlers in the canoe roll over one side while the rested paddlers climb into the canoe from the other side.

Crews competing for title must train and prepare for several months in order to put themselves in contention for ranking. The Ka’iwi Channel, which has a well deserved reputation as one of the roughest channels in existence, tests the limits of both physical and mental strength. Courage, endurance, determination, and teamwork are required as conditions can vary from still water to extreme winds and huge waves.


For the winners, it is a tribute to great preparation, conditioning, skilled strategy, and collaborative teamwork that make a difference by coming together in this satisfying athletic accomplishment.


A live webcast of the event can be found here: