As Ka’anapali Beach activities go, outrigger canoe racing may not rank as high as a Maui sunset cruise or a parasail. But if the Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association (HSCA) has anything to say about it, the Wa’a Kiakahi Ka’anapali Beach event may shake up priority lists.
The Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association’s, Wa’a Kiakahi festival, now in its seventh year, was held June 10-12 on Ka’anapali Beach on Maui and was sponsored by the Ka’anapali Beach Resort Association (KBRA). For a weekend at least, outrigger canoe racing and Wa’a Kiakahi soared to the top of every resident’s list as well as that of visitors to nearby resorts including Hyatt Regency Mau Resort and Spai and the Westin Maui Resort and Spa. For good reason.
“Seeing all of these colorful outrigger canoes in front of the resorts on Ka’anapali Beach, the crews, and the opportunity to take an outrigger canoe ride for free stokes people’s fires, generates excitement!” exclaims Shelley Kekuna, KBRA’s executive director. “It’s an interactive beach activity unlike any other because it offers a cultural learning experience.”
Education is indeed a priority in all HSCA endeavors. As crews sail from island to island each year, they provide a history lesson unlike any other, where the classroom is the beach and the lesson concerns journeys and characters straight from James Michener’s Hawai’i.
“The Wa’a [pronounced “va-ah”] is how ancient Polynesians sailed from the south Pacific to the islands,” Kekuna says. “The Wa’a Kiakahi event puts people in canoes and gets them back in touch with what our ancestors went through to find these islands. They braved high seas in wooden wa’a’s and navigated by the stars. It wasn’t easy.”
Kekuna’s feelings are closely aligned with the HSCA mission statement: "To learn, revive, educate and practice those ancient Hawaiian skills and values as they relate to sailing canoes and the Hawaiian culture."
“The Ka’anapali Beach event helps us bring that mission statement forward,” sighs a somewhat exhausted but still going strong Terry Galpin, HSCA’s president. Galpin teeters on weariness for a reason: the sail to Ka’anapali Beach wasn’t too far removed from what the ancient’s experienced—high winds, rough sails, more than a few capsizings.
Yet even though it wasn’t exactly a champagne sail, Galpin remains in good spirits. She’s no slouch when it comes to taking on big waves. As a crewmember of HSCA’s one all-female team, she’s had her own personal water baptism in the ways of seafaring ancients, thank you.
“All of the women I sail with are ocean women,” Galpin explains. “And we’ve paid our dues.” She adds that aside with a look in her eye that sort of dares you to doubt her. “The first time we went out on the water they had to call a Coast Guard rescue unit.”
The women were undeterred. “Uncle Mike (HSCA’s founder) remained calm. He sat us down on the beach afterwards and told us what we needed to improve upon for the next time. And we did—and here we are.”
The experience has brought them closer. “All of us—and that goes for all HSCA crewmembers—have a love for these ancient vessels, of the ‘aina, the values and traditions of ancient Hawaiians,” Galpin says quietly. “Its incumbent upon us to perpetuate those values and traditions.”
HSCA member and Wa’a Kiakahi participant Leimoni Kekina talks about how during events held at Ka’anaplai Beach—all canoe rides and education are offered free to the public—and on other islands, community service is always on the agenda. “We partner with organizations such as the KBRA and non profits as a way to bring public awareness to the depth of island culture.”
Of course island culture isn’t complete without a little dose of another ancient custom, the art of “owe sanana,” which loosely translated means the blessing of joy and merry making.
And so it is that as Wa’a Kiakahi ends and crews prepare for their next sail, the crossing from Maui to Molokai, a traditional Hawaiian blessing is given. Smiles, hugs, Starbucks cups (and is that a beer someone’s drinking at 8 a.m.?) are raised. A conch shell is blown, a loud cheer is given and the wa’as take to the water. Again.
What lies ahead during the crossing is unknown. But as all HSCA crewmembers know—Maui visitors and locals too, now—it’s the journey that counts, not the destination.
It's far beyond the stars, It's near beyond the moon, I know beyond a doubt, My heart will lead me there soon.
--“Beyond the Sea”
All photos Jonathan Zizzo