Queen Liliuokalani Canoe Race

Queen Lili’uokalani Canoe Race

Of all the events and celebrations staged in Kailua-Kona, the Queen Liliuokalani Long Distance Canoe Race is my favorite. Each year, I look forward to it not only as a unique sporting event, but for all the photo opportunities it provides.

As an event, over 2000 paddlers, men and women from around the world come together to paddle 18 miles with the women paddling from the Kailua Kona pier to Kealakekua Bay and the men making the return trip back to Kailua Bay.

The energy surrounding the event is amazing as teams queue up to put their outrigger canoes into the bay and paddle around to the starting line.  The canoes, or Wa’a, are gorgeous, some crafted by hand from a Koa tree, while others are produced from fiberglass or carbon fiber-reinforced plastic, and/or Kevlar in order to make the canoe strong, yet light.

Each person on the 6-person team has a role.  The paddler sitting in seat 1 is called the stroke (or stroker) and is responsible for setting the pace of the paddle strokes. The paddler in seat two calls out the change, where each paddler takes a stroke and then switches their next stroke to the other side of the canoe.  Paddlers 3, 4 and 5 are usually the power paddlers. The paddler in the back of the canoe is the steerer, or helmsman.

Getting down to it, it is all about the stroke, both individually and collectively as a team. The few times I have been fortunate enough to be in a canoe with excellent, long-time paddlers, I have been amazed how both technique and teamwork has been not only stressed, but demanded. In open ocean, feeling the canoe surge ahead with each stroke is one of the small pleasures in life not to be missed and something I plan to do more.