Kauai paddlers prepare for Tahiti

Although the first race of the Kauai Hoe Waa Canoe Association winter series struggled with slow times on the windless nine-mile course from Poipu to Port Allen,  hot and sticky conditions Sunday were a boon for local elite paddlers preparing for the Hawaiki Nui Vaa Canoe Contest in Tahiti Nov. 6-8.

The highlight of Sunday’s race was the inclusion of an all-wood V3, or three-man rudderless outrigger canoe, built on Kauai by Christian Martson Sr. under the guidance of master waa-builder Jean Wong of Tahiti.

Christened Te Ahi, it was manned by Christian Martson Jr., Luke Evslin, and Tyrus Siale, and in the spirit of the Halloween-themed race, the crew turned out adorned in pareau and haku lei.

“Though it was a brutally flat and hot race, being able to steer Christian and Tyrus in the new V3 made it one of the funner races I’ve ever done,” said Luke Evslin of Kamanu Composites. “I am excited to get the new boat out there in the surf — if the wind ever comes back.”

Since canoe races in Tahiti are held in notoriously hot and calm conditions, Sunday’s lack of tradewinds gave the paddlers training for the event a taste of things to come.

Held over three days with dozens of 12-man crews vying to be first past the finish buoys, the Hawaiki Nui Vaa race is a contest of endurance and skill and decision-making over 75 miles of paddling.

“As it is our first time attending this race, we are hoping to finish in the front half of the pack” said Christian Martson Jr. of Hanalei Canoe Club.

That cultural exchange is expected to fuel interest and innovation in all classes of paddling like the Kauai Hoe Waa Association, Kauai’s OC-1 Surf Ski and Stand Up Paddle racing organization.

“Outrigger canoe paddling is the official state sport,” said Dana Miyake, president of Kauai Hoe Waa. “Getting out there in a canoe is the best way to be part of the Hawaiian traditions that brought us here in the first place — the surest way to be connected to the past but also the local community today.”

Sunday’s race drew two dozen competitors, 10 on the short course from Kukuiula Harbor to Port Allen, and 14 paddlers braving the heat and glassy sea to finish the long course from Poipu down to Port Allen. The V3 crew finished the course first with a time of 1:16.

Top finishers for the short course: Men: Tom Thonpson, 1:11:28; Women: Doneen Stokes,  1:19:14

Top finishers for long course: Men: Mark Frazer, 1:20:09; Women: Kristin Foster, 1:29:22

 All Kauai Hoe Waa races are held on Sundays. Novice paddlers are welcome to show up and receive instruction.

The next race is the “Thanksgiving Express,” slated for Nov.17, with the course leaving Kalapaki Beach and finishing at Poipu Beach Park.

Info: kauaihoewaa.org

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