Paddle for Life: The fight against cancer takes to the seas

It’s an early Saturday morning in October with a slightly humid chill, and a multitude wearing pink shirts in honor of breast cancer awareness month vibrantly glow and bustle in the faint light of dawn at Mala Wharf and Hanakaoo Beach Park in Lahaina, the old royal capital of Hawaii in west Maui, preparing to undertake an epic outrigger canoe voyage, paddling not for a medal or recognition, but in honor and in memory of those who were and are part of the ongoing fight against cancer, a paddle for life.

Totaling 34 miles, Paddle for Life: Voyage to Lanai is an annual non-competitive event and fundraiser that occurs in October during Molokai Hoe weekend, put together by the Pacific Cancer Foundation which sees paddlers of all ages, experience and fitness levels cross the Auau Channel from Hanakaoo Beach Park to Hulopoe Beach on Lanai’s enchanting south coast on Saturday, and then back to Maui on Sunday. The roundtrip journey greatly reflects the arduous voyage of cancer patients and survivors, as both take a tremendous amount of patience, perseverance and teamwork to successfully complete.

From 14 canoes and 225 participants in 2015, Paddle for Life 2016 has exploded to 24 canoes and 425 participants from across Hawaii, the U.S. Mainland, Canada, England, France, Germany and Dubai, with five crews of all-cancer survivors and at least one cancer survivor on most teams. Among its many sponsors are the Safeway Foundation, the Hard Rock Cafe and SGS Hawai’i Inc. Landscape Management. Several participants from Kauai paddled with Maui’s Team Nalu captained by veteran ocean voyager Mike Garretson. They included Janet Nathanson, Fran McDonald, Lisa Oliarte-Mayo and Tami Rollins of Kukuiula Canoe Club in Koloa, and Fili Leasau of Niumalu Surf and Outrigger Canoe Club in Lihue. Also from Kauai were Susan Oshiro-Taogoshi and Shirley Gorospe of Puuwai Pink Paddlers in Wailua, all either cancer survivors or paddling for loved ones affected by cancer.

“This event is so much more than a fundraiser,” says Nancy La Joy, executive director of the Pacific Cancer Foundation who has completed her third voyage this year. “The courage and determination of our cancer patients and survivors cannot be summed up into words. It is a powerful experience on so many different levels.”

The sun rises, and with many helping hands the boats are ready with food and cases of water for the over 400 participants as well as gifts for Lanai which include 80 pounds of poi, 40 ulu (breadfruit) trees, and 100 taro. Once loaded with cargo and crew the boats head across the glittering sea of Hanakaoo Beach and the canoes take off, each stroke a dedication, each pull a breakaway from pain, each reset a new beginning.

Over 4 hours and 17 miles later the voyage is halfway complete as the canoes reach Hulopoe Beach and a traditional arrival ceremony commences led by Poipu native and long-time Maui resident coach Kimokeo Kapahulehua of Kihei Canoe Club.

The ceremony involves the asking of permission to enter the island, the bearing of gifts and the sharing of chants and prayers by representatives of each Hawaiian island. The visitors are received with a warm welcome by a large Lanai congregation led by Kepa Maly, executive director of the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center, and are treated to his refreshing fluency in the Hawaiian language as well as the genuine aloha spirit and ruggedly lush charm of the Pineapple Island.

After the ceremony is complete, voyagers enjoy a day of rest and fellowship before the return journey on Sunday. After a healthy breakfast and yoga session, the trek back to Maui begins. Paddlers are strong and spirits soar, soon Hanakaoo Beach is in sight and cheers resound during the final stretch.

With paddlers as young as 5 to as finely aged as 91, the 8th annual Voyage to Lanai is successfully complete and obstacles have been shattered through perseverance, patience and teamwork.

Over $125,000 was raised by sponsors and generous donations from family and friends, the world is joining the cause, and the fight against cancer has taken to the seas in an enormous way.

On Oct. 7-8, 2017, hundreds will unite once again to Paddle for Life. Join the fight! For more information, to donate, or if interested in participating in Paddle for Life 2017, go to

To get involved with the Kauai chapter of Manaolana Pink Paddlers, a group committed to enhancing the lives of those stricken by cancer by introducing them to the Hawaiian sport of outrigger canoeing, with an aim to prove that there is life after cancer by encouraging physical exercise to build strength, confidence and friendships, contact organizer Tom Kirkpatrick at


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