Every year a massive women’s outrigger canoe race is held that crosses the Kaiwi Channel from the island of Moloka’i to Waikiki on Oahu. It’s called “Na Wahine O Ke Kai” (NAH wah-HEE-nay OH KAY KAI) which is Hawaiian for “The Women of the Sea”. This year was the 30th year of the Na Wahine, which has become essentially the Super Bowl of women’s outrigger canoe paddling. It attracts crews from all over the world for the challenging, and often dangerous, 42-mile open ocean crossing.
This year, once again, Carrie’s club Waikiki BeachBoys entered four crews in the big race. They shipped their canoes over to Moloka’i a few days before and Carrie and her teammates had to fly over to Moloka’i on Saturday. Carrie even commented on how odd it felt to have a one-way ticket to Moloka’i…knowing that she’d be paddling back home. Saturday night we got the chance for a brief call – mobile phone service from Moloka’i is pretty sparse – and I could tell how excited she was. Me? I was nervous. Sea conditions were predicted to be HUGE. Biggest swells and roughest seas in a decade. In fact, if it was much bigger it would reach the threshold at which they actually cancel the race for safety reasons. I spent most of Saturday night just hoping that my girl came home safely to me.
To put it in perspective the Kaiwi channel is easily capable of generating swells that dwarf not only the canoes but the escort boats as well.
(Image from Hana Hou! Magazine – read the article here)
(These are from Carrie’s camera)
Sunday morning, bright and early, they were off. The course record is 5 hours, 24 minutes and 32 seconds and the thing about big, rough, seas is that they can often be fast seas too. A good crew can surf the swells and pick up speed. So there were a couple of teams, including the BeachBoys, who had their eyes on the record.
I arrived at the finish line, at Hilton Hawaiian Village, just as the first crews had come in. The finish area is quite a spectacle – very much like the finish areas of the Marathons and Triathlons I do. People, tents and boats up and down the beach. Out on the pier are the race officials and the announcer on the PA welcoming each of the crews in. She’d announce the club the boat belonged to and then read the names of each of the 10 ladies in that crew (6 paddle at a time, the other 4 are on the escort boat and rotate in as they go) and welcome each boat back to Oahu.
(I had one of the cameras on the wrong setting, sorry if some of the photos seem a little washed out)
On the beach a kapuna (Hawaiian elder) blew a conch shell and gestured to the sea and the sky, welcoming home and blessing each boat in turn.
After a long back-and-forth battle across the channel, Team Bradley (a hand-picked crew of elite women paddlers from Hawaii, New Zealand and elsewhere), had edged the BeachBoys #1 crew by barely a minute! The course record didn’t fall, but they got within a few minutes of it. After finishing 3rd a couple of times in recent years the BeachBoys were pleased to take 2nd this year, though of course they’d have liked to have beaten Team Bradley for first.
As the other crews started to come in I kept my eyes to the water, hoping to see Carrie’s boat. My nerves had subsided somewhat at this point. The buzz in the crowd was that of the 87 crews that started the race, only 2 had not been able to make it. Sea conditions were very big, but the ladies were handling it expertly. Still, I wasn’t going to be completely relaxed until I saw that she was home safely. Luckily I didn’t have too long to wait…
Her crew was racing another boat for the finish line (the orange buoy) and sure enough, they got there first! A very happy (and exhausted) crew of BeachGirls coasted into the beach after their finishing sprint.
Time to take my girl home for a well-deserved victory meal and a good long nap!