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Keeping the Culture

Molokai gets a koa canoe.

Molokai paddlers take the island’s new koa canoe for its maiden voyage at Kamalo Wharf. Photo by Ed Misaki.

By Catherine Cluett

For the first time in over 30 years, Molokai has its own koa canoe. The canoe took its maiden voyage at Kamalo Wharf last Thursday, and was celebrated by the island’s four canoe clubs which will be sharing the outrigger.

“It’s a special day in our lives,” said one community member who has been involved in building the canoe. “We’re celebrating Hawaiian culture.”

Not having their own koa canoe means clubs must borrow one to paddle when they travel to state races. “It’s already a disadvantage to paddle on waters you are unfamiliar with,” said Molokai Canoe Club President Liko Wallace. Getting in a canoe you’ve never paddled is an added handicap.

“It’s like a customized glove,” she said of having a club boat. “Everybody would feel comfortable in it.”

Wallace said koa canoes are required by the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association (HCRA) for state races for cultural reasons.

“They want to try to keep as much as the cultural alive and not let upcoming technology kill what we are trying to preserve,” she explained.

Wallace said she thinks the canoe will first be used for practice in a couple weeks. However, before it can be raced, HCRA officials must come over to weigh it and make official measurements. She said according to regulations, the canoe cannot be lighter than 400 pounds.

After its first trip into the water on Thursday, the canoe was “water lined,” a measuring process that ensures the canoe will handle well with the weight of a crew. The measurements serve as a guide for the canoe’s builders to put the finishing touches on its design. Water lining is also done so the canoe will meet HCRA’s rigorous standards for racing canoes’ weight, shape and size to assure fair competition.

Those who paddled the koa canoe during its maiden voyage all agreed it handled beautifully.

Molokai’s koa canoe was crafted by boat builders Kirk Clarke and Rae Young.

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