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From Ka’anapali beach, Maui:
Canoe Culture
Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association
by Jeff Hoyt

Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association

Maui's Ka'anapali Beach is usually covered with blankets and sun-worshippers, but on this day, was instead occupied by ten sailing canoes reminiscent of ones used in centuries gone by. "I welcome you to the sands of Keka'a," pronounced Clifford Nae'ole, Hawaiian Cultural Advisor at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, waving a palm frond to the sailors as he invoked the ancient name of Ka’anapali. "It is here you will rest on this day. We will summon the wind so it may be at your back." The sixty sailors, who had raced each other and struggled against the elements for hours to reach the beach from Kahului, 30 miles away, applauded. "Thank you for continuing your tradition of walking on the water," Clifford intoned, then broke the solemnity of the movement with, "Party on!"

Canoe racing is much more than a sport utilizing wind, water and simple equipment. The Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association (HSCA), the group that organizes these races, has a loftier goal: "to learn, revive, educate and practice those ancient Hawaiian skills and values as they relate to sailing canoes and the Hawaiian culture."

A community outreach program Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association

"We're trying to perpetuate our culture, which was robbed from us," declares Terry Galpin, President of the HSCA. "My ancestors sailed in these. We try to keep our boats as traditional as we can." Some sails do bear the names of sponsors, but the boats are propelled by wind, manpower and womanpower.

"You're paddling the whole time," says Galpin, who is part of an all-female crew of six.  "There are ten legs to the race, and the longest leg is 100 miles. After three hours of paddling, you lose sight of land. You really see how insignificant you are." She does admit that it's fun to visit unpopulated parts of the islands by canoe. "It makes me think, 'I wonder what my ancestors thought when they first came here.'"

The HSCA does its best to impact the areas it visits, giving locals and tourists a chance to experience the sailing canoe thrill on non-race days. We found a 20-minute journey satisfying and invigorating, but couldn’t imagine what it would be like to paddle continuously for hours on end. Besides offering free rides, the community-based organization also helps disabled and at-risk youth get in touch with their lost culture.

"We teach them how to build the boats, and how to steer the boats," says Galpin of her labor of love. "We teach them the traditions, and teamwork. We've seen them develop a sense of pride in who they are, and increase their self-worth. To be able to accomplish something like that is pretty amazing. I cry every time."

Others concentrate on the competitive aspect of the event. Said one sailor with a smile, "I don’t have to win. I just want to be the fastest guy out there!"

For more information, check out the Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association website

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* Images courtesy

(Updated: 07/21/08 ET)

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