HANALEI — Onlookers and paddlers were in high spirits even as thunder rumbled and storm clouds lingered over Hanalei Bay on Sunday for the start of the 22nd annual Na Pali Challenge.
About 400 spectators watched as canoes set out on the course stretching 36 miles along the Na Pali coastline, ending outside Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor in Kekaha.
There’s nothing like the sight of the bold, colorful canoes gliding across the deep blue ocean in Hanalei Bay to start your Sunday morning.
“We’re pretty laid back, but we have been preparing since winter, with a few training sessions out here sporadically,” said Vinny Lum with The Paddle Family, a team including members from places such as Canada, New Zealand and New Mexico. “We didn’t get as many sessions as we like, but we’re pretty happy with what we’ve done.”
Lum seemed to be happy to be a part of the Na Pali Challenge experience in general.
“We just want to go out and make it all the way to the end,” he said.
Racing out of the Seattle Outrigger Canoe Club, Jocelyn Ritchie and Josie Sparks were happy to finally be at the Na Pali Challenge after all their dedication and hard work.
“It’s hard to explain how excited I feel, after many months of preparation,” Ritchie said. “We’ve just been so looking forward to it.”
Ritchie also talked about training a bit, that it’s been nice training in saltwater for a change, especially since their usual training is in a freshwater lake.
The first to hit the water were the Na Opio or 18 years and younger, and 60 years and older divisions, with women paddlers entering the race afterward.
Each team consisted of six women and six men, who take turns in the canoe, making water changes that are announced by radio every 30 minutes.
Kauai Outrigger Association hosted the Na Pali Challenge.
“I’m originally from Oahu. I have been in the mainland for over 35 years, so for me it fills my opu to see so many Hawaiians supporting the sea, the land and nature,” Sparks said. “This sport has such a strong spiritual side to it. We feel unified by it.”
Sparks continued, “It just fills my cup with something that I cannot get from being in the mainland.”
Monique Rowan is a lifelong North Shore resident who writes periodically for The Garden Island.