New York makes Hawai‘i connection through Kaiola paddlers

NAWILIWILI — When Kathy Kelly moved to New York, a part of Kaua‘i, and Hawai‘i, went with her.

Kelly, who could not give up her outrigger canoe paddling, met up and joined the New York Outrigger — a group instrumental in forming the Liberty World Outrigger Competition 12 years ago.

Back at the Kaiola Canoe Club hale in Niumalu, Doneen Stokes, Rebecca Pickett and Marlena Kaleiohi are rolling up their sleeves in anticipation of being in the event scheduled for June 28.

“It’s always the last Saturday in June, right before the Fourth of July celebration,” said Mike Balik, who became acquainted with Kelly when he went to the Liberty competition in 2006 as a Kaiola paddler.

“Kathy grew up on Kaua‘i, and after moving to New York because of her job, is very influential with the Liberty race,” Balik said.

In the shadow of increasing air fares due to increasing fuel costs, the opportunity to go was made possible through the generosity of Bob Keane and the Suite Paradise team.

“New York Outrigger is thrilled that Kaiola is returning to New York for the Liberty Challenge for the third consecutive year,” Kelly wrote in an e-mail to Denise Ham Young, self-appointed as the ‘den mother’ of the paddlers. “Our race is made more competitive by Kaiola’s participation.”

She said her sponsorship will be coming from the Manuwai club out of Connecticut and the New York Outrigger.

Stokes said the three ladies will be joined by two male paddlers from O‘ahu and a steersman from New York to form the Mixed crew for the Liberty race.

The Liberty World Outrigger Competition is one of the largest sporting events in New York Harbor and one of the premier outrigger canoe races in the world.

The race will start at the Brooklyn Bridge Park, move along the East River of New York City, extending to the Hudson River, down and around the Statue of Liberty before finishing on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge. That course will be 16.5 miles for the Women and Men teams while the Mixed team travel 12 miles.

The day-long competition hosts hundreds of international paddlers and represents the best of the aloha spirit. Previous Liberty Races have brought together Men’s, Women’s and Mixed teams from Tahiti, Sweden, Germany, Canada, Hawai‘i, Costa Rica, England as well as from around the United States.

Although migrated to New York, organizers have drawn from the heritage of paddling and pay tribute to the ancestral Hawaiian sport of kings.

The sport still emphasizes bravery, teamwork and respect for Polynesian traditions, the Web site states.

Balik, although not accompanying this year’s crew, said, “Having Kaiola paddlers take part in the Liberty Challenge is Kelly’s lifeline to Kaua‘i. It’s one of the ways she stays in touch with the place she grew up in.”

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