Sunday, August 1, 2004

The Foti family, front row, from left: Julia Anderson, Nick Foti, Mary Foti, Heather Foti, John Foti, Chase Kessler, Joelle Foti holding Connor Foti and Jim Foti. Back row: Kathy Foti-Anderson, Phil Foti, Mollie Foti and Nicole Anderson.

Paddling along

The Foti family has competed
in paddling events worldwide

The Navy sent the Foti family to Hawaii.

Canoe paddling has sent them back around the world.

Art The adventures have included numerous channel crossings, from the Kaiwi Channel (Molokai to Oahu) to the English Channel (France to England). They have competed in races around islands, from Hamilton in Australia, to Liberty, in New York harbor.

And to think they found the sport in their backyard. Or, rather, across the street.

When Dr. Phil Foti was stationed in Hawaii in 1963, he and his young family moved to Lanikai. Not far down from their beach right-of-way was Lanikai Canoe Club's practice site.

"We were always fascinated with the practices," said Mollie Foti, married to Phil since 1958. "At the time, young parents were not paddling. It was more for young adults and kids."

The eldest of the four Foti kids -- Frank -- started when he was 11, and sister Kathy soon picked up a paddle. They were eventually followed by younger brothers John and Jim ... as well as mom and dad.

"We were going to the races with the kids so Phil and I said we might as well try our hand at it," said Mollie Foti.

That was some 30 years ago. Just as the sport has grown, so has the Foti family and their involvement with paddling and other sports in Hawaii.

"It's funny," said Mollie Foti. "We belonged to the first generation of Masters (35-older) paddlers. They were calling us 'makule' then because they thought we were old.

"I couldn't have imagined back then that we'd still be at it. But no one wants to retire."

Both Phil and Mollie Foti continue to compete for Lanikai, steering their respective Masters-55 crews. Jim and John Foti continue to be the staple of Lanikai's senior men's crew which has won 11 consecutive state titles (1991-2001) and 12 of the past 13.

The next generation of the family has already begun to make its mark as well. The sports range from paddling to rodeo to running.

Frank's daughter Caroline, 11, won the junior barrel race event at the Makawao 4th of July Rodeo. She and younger brother Noah, 9, also paddle.

Kathy Foti Anderson's daughter Nicole, an incoming senior at Iolani School, won the state cross country championship as a sophomore. A paddler for several seasons, she has also medaled since her freshman year at the ILH and state meets in the 1,500 and 3,000.

Nicole's sister Julia has paddled for Lanikai's 12-under girls crew which capped a successful OHCRA season with a gold medal in the association championships last Sunday.

John's son Nick is a steersman for Lanikai's 12-under boys crew. Daughter Heather, 9, is waiting to begin her athletic career.

At 10 months of age, Connor Foti has seen both his father Jim and mother Joelle win consistently this season. Joelle Yamamoto Foti, a former soccer player for Iolani and Hawaii Pacific, has steered Lanikai's Novice B crew to a number of victories this season.

"When we moved here, I hadn't a clue that we'd ever get involved in paddling," said Phil Foti. "One of the things I like the most about the sport is that it can be so good for so many people. Some of them can be all in the family and those that don't have a family get one here.

"I have learned many of the best things in my life from my kids. When we first looked at paddling, it was an exciting, beautiful thing but I never realized we would all have the pleasure and the opportunity to enjoy it as much as we have. But as soon as we all started to get into boats I knew we'd be part of the scene and had an intuitive feeling that our kids would become among the good paddlers in Hawaii."

Besides competing, Foti has been involved with the International Hawaiian Canoe Association, the world governing body of the sport. He took over as IHCA president in 1992 when founder A.E. "Toots" Minvielle died.

The association has taken the sport global. In 1978, to commemorate the bicentennial of Captain James Cook's first contact with the Hawaiian Island, the Fotis and Minvielle were part of a group which crossed the English Channel from Calais to Dover.

Minvielle, the founder of the Molokai Hoe, originally had envisioned a challenge race between an outrigger and a crew shell on the River Thames. When the race failed to materialize, the journey turned into a crossing of the English Channel in conjunction with the 150th celebration of Cook's birthday.

The Fotis owned the Wa'a Lele, the canoe which made the crossing, with Frank, 18, and John, 14, among the paddlers. The canoe remained in England where it has been refurbished and used by English crews to paddle the English Channel. This year, the canoe will be paddled to Ireland to further share the sport.

John, 41, and Jim, 37, have helped take the sport to the international level as well. The family is of Italian descent and the brothers have paddled in Italy, where the sport has been growing steadily.

The brothers have competed in virtually every international outrigger race in existence -- the World Sprints, Hamilton Cup, Hawaiki Nui Va'a, Catalina, Liberty Challenge and the Liliuokalani Races. They've also been successful in the OC-1 and OC-2 competitions.

"They've been to every place you can paddle and won there at least once," said Mollie Foti. "They have so many medals, it's ridiculous."

But of all the races, the Molokai Channel remains the favorite for the brothers. They've been part of Lanikai's winning crews in 1995, '96 and 2000.

"On a smokin' day, nothing beats the 'Channel,'" said Jim Foti, considered one of the top steersmen in the world.

"Molokai has to be the most fun race there is," said John Foti.

The ocean was destined to bring the family together. Phil and Mollie met as college students on a trip to Europe aboard the Andrea Dora a year before the passenger ship sank in 1956. He was at Georgetown, she at Mount Holyoke; they married three years later.

"The ocean around us stuck and has continued to be a motivating force in our lives," said Phil Foti.


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