Paddling journey links Hawaiian Islands

Last leg of voyage marks ‘end of the beginning’

by Rachel Gehrlein – THE GARDEN ISLAND

Only 480 miles to go.

In the final leg of their 1,670-mile journey throughout the entire Hawaiian archipelago, 16 members of the Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Voyaging Society will soon fulfill their dream of linking the islands in a six-person outrigger canoe.

Kilauea resident Bob Kaden, who has been in communication with the group via satellite phone, said the paddlers are now dealing with sleep deprivation, blisters and overall soreness as they near the finish. The crew is scheduled to return to Hanalei Bay on July 21 or July 22.

“About now, some (of the crew) are asking ‘Why am I here?’” he said. “They are in the middle of the nuts and bolts of paddling and grinding it out. They are dealing with mental thoughts about the task.”

Beginning the multi-year voyage of the Hawaiian archipelago in 2003, paddlers traveled from the Big Island to Maui. Voyages from Maui to O‘ahu and O‘ahu to Kaua‘i soon followed.

In October 2004, 13 men and one woman paddled a six-person outrigger canoe for 28 hours from Kaua‘i to Nihoa Island.

The next leg of the journey came in August 2005, which took paddlers from Nihoa Island to Mokumanamana Island, or Necker Island, in 37 hours of nonstop paddling.

One year later, HOCVS began its journey at Mokumanamana Island and headed toward Laysan Island. The team of 16 paddled 461 miles in 83 hours to reach the island.

After a blessing Monday at Hanalei Bay, the group boarded the escort boat “Lady Alice” and headed toward Laysan Island. Once at Laysan, crew members will paddle nonstop until reaching Kure Atoll, which marks the end of the Hawaiian Island chain.

Crew members include veterans Matt Muirhead, Kendall Struxness and Pepe Trask, all of Kaua‘i; Kimokeo Kapahulehua, Chris Luedi, George Rixey, Jamie Woodburn and Kathryn “Ryn” Hughes, all of Maui; and Dave Lostalot of California. Seven first-timers include Anita Anderson, Colleen Kirkley and Peter Neiss of Maui; Theron Forrestor of O‘ahu; and Wayne Hess, Chris O’Kieffe and Dave Waynar of California. Alex Ibarra, 16, will serve as a deckhand and alternate paddler.

Support crew includes two captains, a chef, four crew members and two members of a Colorado-based film crew.

On Friday, when the group reached its destination, the canoe “Ke Alaka‘i o Mau Kupuna,” The Pathway of Our Ancestors, was released from the escort boat and six paddlers took to the water.

“By 10:30 Saturday morning they had already paddled 90 miles,” said Kilauea resident Bob Kaden, who has been in communication with the group via satellite phone.

Kaden said he has mainly spoken with Struxness.

The canoe will follow an escort boat and change paddlers every hour by zodiac boat. This routine will go on 24 hours a day until the group reaches Kure Atoll.

According to Kaden, the accommodations for the crew aboard Lady Alice are “the best they ever had.” Modifications, including the construction of bunk beds, were made to make room for the large crew.

“Evidentially the escort boat is really comfortable,” Kaden said. “There’s ice, a washer and dryer and hot showers.”

Before the crew started paddling, Kaden said there was a lot of nervousness and high expectations among the crew.

“There was a lot of nervous energy on the boat,” he said. “There were a lot of sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups.”

Though the group had calm weather en route to Laysan, once in the water there, conditions changed drastically.

“When they finally got in the water, they found really lumpy seas,” Kaden said. “There were confused seven-foot seas — not real pleasant paddling. But things are going good. There are always going to be little glitches — that’s part of the process.”

Along with the rigors of paddling, the group learns and participates in Hawaiian chants about paddling, the sunrise and sunset through the group’s spiritual leader and kupuna Kapahulehua.

An avid paddler, Kapahulehua has focused his attention on island culture and educating others about the Hawaiian spirit.

“A true leader, a Hawaiian legend, a great inspiration to anyone,” Struxness said. “He just says hi to you and you feel it. That’s just the kind of guy he is.”

To prepare for the final trip, Struxness — who has been paddling canoe for 25 years — said he had spent “a lot of time in the canoe and a lot of time in the weight room.”

The core members of HOCVS live on Kaua‘i and Maui, which makes it easy to get together to practice, he added.

“We get together several times a year and paddle the Kaua‘i Channel,” Struxness said. “We’re together all the time — it’s a good group of guys.”

Struxness became the first person to successfully cross the Kaua‘i Channel in a one-man canoe in 1998.

On the last trip, when the group paddled from Mokumanamana Island to Laysan Island, they were the first people allowed to enter the newly minted Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

The team dedicated the journey, the longest paddle canoe voyage in modern history, to creating awareness of the monument and its preservation.

But on this trip the group was denied access to the monument. In order to complete their final voyage, the crew and escort boat has to stay outside the 50-mile borderline of the monument.

“After having been able to paddle by every single island up to Laysan, it is a tremendous let-down,” Struxness said. “But we’re not going to let that stop us from reaching our goal.”

At a presentation of his journeys in April, Kapahulehua said residents should be fortunate the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands became a monument.

“If we don’t protect it, it won’t be done,” Kapahulehua said at the time. “If we don’t protect it, we will have a lot to lose by 2050.”

For Struxness, this last leg of their journey signifies the beginning of new journeys.

“It’s the end of the beginning,” Struxness said. “As we get closer to the end, we realized there is much more to do.”

HOCVS is planning to paddle throughout the Pacific, including Fiji and Tonga, Struxness said.

Through their journeys, HOCVS aims to perpetuate outrigger canoe voyaging and educate others on the fragile ecosystem of the Hawaiian Islands and Hawaiian culture.

“We realized we have an impact on people,” Struxness said. “That’s the kind of thing that keeps you going.”

• Rachel Gehrlein, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or rgehrlein@kauaipubco.com

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