The Hawaiian fishing canoe Ka‘ulupe‘elani

The revival of canoe racing on Kaua‘i began in 1955, when members of the newly organized Kaua‘i Canoe Racing Association (KCRA), led by association president William Ellis, began training under the direction of coach Ray Mant at Nawiliwili with two purchased canoes.      

Inaugural races were held at Nawiliwili on Kamehameha Day, June 11, 1955, and Kaua‘i’s first annual regatta took place there on September 25.  

That same year, coach Mant acquired a dilapidated 34-foot long, six-person Hawaiian fishing canoe named Ka‘ulupe‘elani from John Nishi of ‘Ele‘ele.

The canoe had been built by the Puaoi family at Lawa‘i Kai around 1850 from a single koa log taken from a forest that once grew in the hills above Lawa‘i.

Then in about 1893, Ka‘ulupe‘elani, which means “wild growth hidden by the heavens,” became the property of Alexander McBryde.  

By the time it was given to John Nishi’s father in the early 1900s, it had lain half-hidden for a long time in McBryde’s Lawa‘i Kai canoe house.

John Nishi’s father had used it for fishing, but Ka‘ulupe‘elani had been unused for many years when Ray Mant heard about it and tracked it down to John Nishi, who kindly donated it to the KCRA.

Many people who saw the broken-down canoe told Mant it was beyond repair, but not Tetsuo Sato of Hanama‘ulu, who agreed with Mant that it could indeed be restored.

Sato did a magnificent job of precise cutting and fitting in overhauling Ka‘ulupe‘elani, and in the process, discovered that its outrigger needed no replacement.

A year later, in 1956, Ka‘ulupe‘elani, the pride of the KCRA, was in seaworthy condition and in use as a training canoe.

During the intervening years between Ka‘ulupe‘elani’s restoration in 1956 and today, the old fishing canoe deteriorated with age and is now no more.

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