EEarly on a Thursday morning, as half-awake Maui residents bustle about work and school, a group gathers in a circle on Kenolio Beach in Kihei across from the old Suda store. The group of about 50 is an equal mix of Maui natives, longtime residents, and visitors gathered for mele oli, or song. The mele oli calls us to stand up, to focus our energy and to seek knowledge. Kihei Canoe Club leaders are slowing down ‘olelo hawai’i (Hawaiian language) for tourists trying to keep up, as the distinction between locals and visitors becomes more evident.
This is how paddling begins at the Kihei Canoe Club. It starts with culture and aloha. Then waiver forms. I am kindly handed a wooden paddle that matches my size and given a lesson in how to hold it so as not to offend the ancestors. Beginner paddlers are given a non-intimidating lesson in all the basics: how to push a canoe through the water, the proper stroking technique, and how to jump into the canoe so they don’t stay on shore or hang to the side when the boat comes down. throws into the water. The devotees of the Kihei Canoe Club, recognizable by their red shirts, form a fit, lively and cheerful group, eager to share their knowledge and passion for wa’a (canoes) and Hawaiian culture.
Leaders match up visitors and recreational members based on their group size, and off you go. A few awkward canoe entrances, sure, but no one gets stuck in the sand. My group paddles in a wa’a kaulua, or double-hull canoe, guided by coxswain Jerry, a canoe club veteran and a Texan who transplanted to Maui a long time ago.
After paddling for about 15 minutes, we stop a few hundred yards from the shore. The morning ocean is still calm and we rock gently on the deep blue water for a few moments. Jerry opens us up with a few jokes, and we walk around the boat, introducing each other. On wa’a, we are a community and must work together.
“If any of you are dolphin whisperers,” Jerry said, “now is the time to do your thing.” Groups often encounter wildlife, including turtles, dolphins, and monk seals. Last week Jerry let us know that they paddled alongside a pod of dolphins.
We learn a little more ‘olelo, then i mua (move forward). Our next destination is Kalepolepo loko ‘ia (fish pond), just outside the Visitor Center of the Hawaii Islands National Humpback Whale Sanctuary. All of the Kihei Canoe Club’s wa’a gather in the shallow water, while the paddlers take a break, take photos, and jump in for a swim. The honu are not bothered by our presence and swim around us or continue to bask on the rocks in the morning sun. Jerry tells us about the history and importance of loko ‘ia and points to the remains of a nearby pond that has since been claimed by the ocean. The coxswain is knowledgeable and shares a wealth of information and upcoming events with tourists curious to see as much of the island as possible.
We paddle another step farther from shore, over a more open ocean for a breathtaking panoramic view that stretches from Mauna Kahalawai (“water house”, the mountains of West Maui) to Haleakala. After another break to splash around, the wind begins to pick up on the way back. Now is the time to have some fun. The canoe club wants us to enjoy the experience to the fullest, so we pick up the pace and cross the water, sliding back and forth until we are through Suda, then carefully sneak back to shore. What a wonderful way to start the day.
“Before 1973, we didn’t have canoes, we didn’t have paddles,” Vanessa Kalanikau, daughter of Moki Kalanikau, told me after we landed. It was Moki Kalanikau who, along with a group of friends and supporters from the community, created the Kihei Canoe Club in 1973. “Its main goal was to keep street children away, to give them something to respect. and what they believe in, ”Kalanikau said proudly. . The canoe club gave many keiki something about themselves that they could feel good about.
“Tradition comes first,” Vanessa said. “Paddling will always come later. ”
“It’s not just about paddling,” she says. ” It’s beyond this. It is the ocean, the water, the wind, the rain, the air, the animals. He symbolizes a lot. When I paddle, I don’t just row. I have felt everything, from my father, from my ancestors, for a long time… wa’a for me is a spiritual connection.
Visitors wishing to experience paddling on their own should show up at the canoe club on Tuesdays and Thursdays by 7:00 am to register for the 8:00 am paddle, as spaces can fill up quickly. Tourists are invited to make a tax-deductible donation of $ 40, which supports the many educational and cultural programs of the Kihei Canoe Club. Maui residents can come for free as a guest of a club member or for a first try. Recreational paddling takes place daily at 7 a.m. for club members and there are programs for people with special needs and paddlers ages 5 to 92. If residents want to come back and become club members, they are asked for $ 150 in dues, which covers unlimited paddling with the group for one year. “Cheaper than any gym membership!” longtime member Kathy exclaimed.
“What would you say to anyone who wants to try paddling for the first time? I asked Vanessa.
“It’s important that a lot of people understand the cultural part of any canoe club before entering wa’a,” she replied, adding an invitation, “come with me, I’m here on Thursday. “
[Editor’s note: the original and print version of this story stated that Kalepolepo loko‘ia is outside the Pacific Whale Foundation office. In fact, it is outside the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center. It has been corrected.]
KIHEI CANO CLUB
Kenolio Beach (Sugar Beach)
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Photos: Kihei Canoe Club
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