The water was around 12-feet deep, and it was clear all the way to the bottom of Hanalei Bay as an outrigger canoe floated just offshore, its passengers praying for swell.
“Come on, waves,” Cliff Barber chanted from seat six, craning over the back of the canoe to watch a hint of a set approach. “Get ready …”
On his mark, five paddles sliced into the water, staggered evenly on both sides of the canoe and launched the vessel forward in time with the wave, which was barely big enough to nudge the nose of the canoe into the air.
“There’s nothing out here,” Barber said. “Looks like the other group is headed in anyway.”
In unison, the five people in the outrigger canoe dipped their blades back into the glassy water and steered up the Hanalei River, back to the Hanalei Canoe Club clubhouse.
While it was the typical 15 to 20 people in attendance who participate in Julie Wallace’s twice weekly practice sessions for outrigger canoeing, the session came with an additional mission.
The Hanalei Canoe Club had loaned out their double outrigger canoe for the Hukilau event in Hanalei on Aug. 20, and they needed to get it back to the clubhouse.
“You guys in the double outrigger will drive over and launch it from the sand,” said Wallace, who heads up the practice sessions for the Hanalei Canoe Club, after dividing the group between the single and double outrigger canoes.
So, for a few in the group, the recent practice session began in the bed of a pickup truck on the way to Pine Trees, where the double outrigger canoe was waiting.
“They could have picked a sunny day for this,” Louise Barnfield joked, ducking down behind the cab of the black pickup to avoid the rain that had just begun to dump in sheets from low hanging clouds.
Barnfield said she really didn’t mind the rain, though. Getting wet is part and parcel of water sports and she’s been rained on plenty in the four years she’s been outrigger canoeing with the Hanalei Canoe Club.
Once the canoe was launched and gliding in the bay, the rain stopped and little patches of sun squeezed its way through the clouds. After about 20 minutes of steady paddling, switching sides every 10 to 15 strokes, the double outrigger canoe wove its way back to the clubhouse, dumped some of the equipment it had hauled across the bay, and set back out downriver.
The double outrigger met up with Hanalei Canoe Club’s two other single outrigger canoes in the middle of the bay just as another bout of rain stopped. The canoes paused long enough to transfer a passenger from the double outrigger canoe to one of the single outrigger canoes and then the three vessels went in different directions.
“I started doing this six years ago and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my whole life to stay in shape,” Barber said. “I lost 15 pounds in three months and gained lots of muscle when I started doing this. I was solid as a rock.”
Barber, who hails from Daytona Beach, Florida and now lives in Princeville, is 72 years old and said his outrigger canoeing habit keeps him fit.
Wallace said other benefits to the sport are the ability to work together as a team and the tranquility that comes with being in the middle of Hanalei Bay.
“Sometimes there’s dolphins and turtles,” Wallace said. “It’s peaceful and we’re not training for competition or anything, though most of the people that come out with us do compete.”
Though Wallace’s Monday and Friday morning sessions with Hanalei Canoe Club could be dubbed recreational outrigger canoeing, and there are peaceful elements about it, Wallace said, it’s not meant to just be an hour or two of relaxed fun.
“It’s about exercise, too, and working together,” Wallace said. “Though we do tie off to buoys and we’ll jump out and swim for a moment, so we do have some fun.”