Paddlers set sights on reaching NW islands
Sixteen people left Kauai yesterday with plans to paddle a Hawaiian outrigger canoe 450 miles over four days in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
The 15 men and one woman will stroke a six-man canoe from Mokumanamana, also known as Necker Island, to Laysan Island, starting tomorrow afternoon, said paddler Kendall Struxness of Hanalei.
This is the sixth year for the Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Voyaging Society's epic journey through the entire Hawaiian Archipelago.
The mission began in 2001 with a trip from Waikoloa on the Big Island to Kihei, Maui. Last year's trip was from Nihoa to Mokumanamana.
The society hopes to complete its mission next summer by paddling from Laysan Island to Kure Atoll.
This year's voyage includes four support crew for the paddlers and four crew for the escort vessel, the tugboat American Islander.
The participants come from all walks of life, including "a pig farmer from Molokai, a real estate broker, a personal trainer from New York, an insurance broker from Santa Cruz," Struxness said.
Three Maui men have participated in each segment of the multiyear project: Kimokeo "Bully" Kapahulehua, Jamie Woodburn and Chris Luedi.
Each year other paddlers join in. This year they are: Chris Smith, Michael Spalding, Katherine Hughes, George Rixey, Terry Quisenberry and Jeff Meadows of Maui; Kamakea Han of Molokai; Struxness and Scott Funk of Kauai; Frank Negri of New York; Matt Muirhead and Dave Loustalot of Santa Cruz, Calif.; and Scott Woodburn of Florida. Ages range from 26 to 63.
Kapahulehua is credited as the visionary of the project. "His vision has basically been to retrace his ancestors' footsteps by paddling the ancient sea trail," Woodburn said. "And to do it consistent with cultural protocol and traditions, paying respect and make sure what we do is passed on."
Though only two paddlers this year have native Hawaiian heritage, everyone participating feels a link to the islands, Struxness said. "I may not be Hawaiian by culture, but I'm Hawaiian at heart," he said.
The name of the group's canoe is Ke Alakai O Ko'u Mau Kupuna, which translates to "in the pathway of our ancestors."
The trip is costing about $110,000, much of which the paddlers contributed themselves. Support also has come from businesses, the Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association and individual contributors, participants said.
On the voyage, each person paddles an hour at a time, then rests in the escort boat until their next rotation. The voyage is taking place during a full moon for good visibility while paddling at night, Struxness said.
They train separately and don't paddle together except during the annual segments as the Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Voyaging Society. Part of the group's commitment is to visit schools and community organizations to share about their journeys and to create a video documentary to be used by teachers.
Struxness, a colon cancer survivor, said he is eager to "paddle in waters that haven't been paddled in centuries. It's new territory and there's something very gratifying about new territory."
Woodburn agreed. "It really makes you appreciate a number of things. ... One is the vastness and just how small you are in relationship to how big everything is out there. Another is the interdependence on each other and how you grow together as a family and deal with whatever comes up."