SB FILE / SEPTEMBER 2005
Team Bradley, last year's champion, returns to defend its title in Na Wahine O Ke Kai, a race from Molokai to Oahu.
Lums carry on Na Wahine tradition
Rosie was part of the first female Kaiwi crossing; Mahealani is in Sunday's race
When Rosie Lum first paddled across the Kaiwi Channel in 1975, there was no way she could have fathomed the magnitude of the accomplishment.
Lum, along with 17 other paddlers from the Waikiki Surf, Outrigger, Lanikai and Kailua canoe clubs, challenged an 18-woman crew from Healani Canoe Club in a race that became the first crossing between Molokai and Oahu by all-female teams.
Thirty-one years later, the Na Wahine O Ke Kai Molokai to Oahu canoe race has evolved into the world championship of women's long-distance outrigger canoe paddling. The 28th edition of the 41-mile race from Hale O Lono Harbor, Molokai, to the beach fronting the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki gets under way on Sunday at 7:30 a.m. with the first boats scheduled to finish around 1 p.m.
According to race director Hannie Anderson, when the first official race took place on Oct. 15, 1979, there were 16 crews competing. Sunday's field will include more than 70 crews that include paddlers
from Hawaii, Tahiti, Australia and California.
"It's something exciting every year," said Anderson, the race's director since its inception. "Every single year it feels like the first one. It's exciting to see the women (on race day), and I always get tears in my eyes."
The paddlers will compete in three divisions: open (ages 18 and over), senior masters (40 and over) and golden masters (50 and over). The open division crews are allowed 10 paddlers, and the senior and golden masters crews are allowed 12 apiece. Throughout the race, the canoes are accompanied by an escort boat that carries the substitute crew members who can be switched into the canoe in accordance with a particular coach's strategy.
"There's lots of strategy involved with the coaches," said Anderson, who expects calm ocean conditions on race day. "But you never know (what to expect) until you get out into the ocean."
Team Bradley has emerged as the favorite to win and defend its championship that was won last year in a little less than 6 hours. The crew, which is named after canoe builder Sonny Bradley, who crafted and maintains the team's racing canoe, is an all-star team of paddlers from across the state and Australia.
Eight members of last year's crew will defend their title on Sunday: Lauren Bartlett, Theresa Felgate, Margie Kawaiaea and Dane Ward of Maui; Kelly Fey of Oahu; Cherisse Kelii of the Big Island; Darcie Gray of Kauai; and Shelly Wilding-Oates of Australia. Additions Denise Darval-Chang and Mahealani Lum, both of Oahu, will round out the crew.
Fittingly, Mahealani Lum, Rosie's daughter, will get the chance to participate in "the journey" taken by her mother more than three decades ago.
"It gives me chicken skin," said Mahealani. "My mom was the first to cross the channel, and she's still with me. It's such a wonderful honor."
With various crew members residing in multiple locations, traveling by air to practice as a team wasn't an option for Team Bradley. According to Mahealani, coach John Puakea created a workout schedule for each of the women that included a combination of one-man canoe paddling, cross-training and weight lifting designed to get them ready for the rigorous test of endurance.
"As far as training goes, it's by yourself," said Mahealani. "We got together for two practices (as a complete crew) this year because it gets expensive to travel."
As an extra incentive, the winning team will receive $5,000 from Anheuser-Busch, one of the race's main sponsors. But while winning the race is the ultimate goal, Mahealani says that the process of training for and completing the race is the true reward.
"We're out there to paddle hard and work as a unit," Mahealani said. "You come across (the finish line) together and realize what you have accomplished."
As a race official, Rosie will have the chance to see her daughter take the next step in carrying on the family tradition.
"It's humbling for me," Rosie said. "I think it's wonderful that she loves the sport. I paddled with Kelly Fey (and helped mentor her), and now she's paddling with my daughter. It's just awesome."