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Let the outrigger canoe races begin!

IN ANCIENT HAWAII, THE hand-carved canoe was the ultimate expression of oceanic technology. Hawaiian royalty traveled in swift canoes delicately balanced with graceful outriggers. And in the early 19th century, King Kamehameha's massive canoe navy helped bring the islands under his rule. During festivals, the same vessels used for fishing became hot rods raced for speed and distance.

While the sport nearly died out during the last century, outrigger canoe racing has undergone a strong revival in recent years. This year, about 80 canoe organizations will compete in at least a hundred scheduled races between January and November.

Modern racing canoes are streamlined versions of six-man fishing canoes. The design approved for all races is not more than 45 feet long and weighing at least 400 pounds.

Boat crews provide a study in teamwork. The bow paddler, or stroker, sets the pace; the person in second or third position calls side-to-side paddling changes every 8 to 14 strokes. The two middle paddlers provide brawn; the fifth adds to the brawn but is mainly responsible for bailing in long-distance races. The rear paddler is the steersman, using the paddle as a rudder to turn and also reading the waters and currents to plot a course so the canoe won't huli (capsize).

The best races to watch from shore are local, fixed-course regattas held in sheltered bays, with courses usually set around buoys 1/4 to 1/2 mile apart. Most courses are close enough to the beach for easy viewing, and spectators can picnic and mingle with paddlers as club teams ready for their events.

Each island has its own kickoff to the regatta season, which ends with state championships on Maui August 7. Then long-distance racing takes over. Distances range from 5 to as much as 55 miles in open ocean, so the best place to watch a race is the finish line, not only for the excitement of the finish, but for the beach party that often follows. The most famous race is the 40-mile Molokai-to-Oahu "marathon," September 26 for women (called the Na Wahine O Ke Kai) and October 10 for men (called the Molokai Hoe). The first racers should cross the Waikiki finish line at Fort DeRussy Beach between 1 and 3.

For a complete schedule of races, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Michael A. Tongg, Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association, 169 S. Kukui St., Honolulu 96813.
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Title Annotation:Travel and Recreation; Hawaii canoe races
Author:Phillips, Jeff
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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