As a Hawaii transplant and former canoe paddler I was very excited to read of the upcoming film, “Year on the Water,” a documentary of the Southern California outrigger canoe scene. I do, however, take exception to filmmaker Brockett’s comment that outrigger paddling has long been dominated by men in Hawaii and Tahiti.
To know the history of Hawaii’s state sport one must acknowledge Na Wahine O Ke Kai (The Women of the Sea), the women’s 40-mile canoe race from Molokai to Oahu. Founded in 1979 by Shelly Gilman, Haunani Campos-Olds, Carleen Ornellas, Sig Tannehill and Rosie Lum, this annual event is the premier racing challenge for women canoe paddlers world-wide.
This dream of so many water women began in 1954, two years after the first men’s Molokai to Oahu canoe race was held. Although it would take more than two decades to convince coaches and race officials that women could indeed cross the formidable Kaiwi Channel, an unofficial crossing was made by two crews of 18 women each in 1975.
This race has flourished over the years as women have found strength and sportsmanship competing with their sisters while developing an ever-abiding love for Hawaii’s aina and kai (land and sea). It is a great thing to have the sport spread across the ocean and teach more of our youth, boys and girls alike, to be one with the canoe.
Irene Bowie, Laguna Beach