Study Proves Benefits of Paddling

By Jack Kiyonaga, Reporter

A three-year study conducted by the University of Hawaii has determined what many in Hawaii already know — outrigger canoe paddling is both popular and beneficial to the health of the Native Hawaiian community. 

The study was conducted by the UH Office of Public Health Studies and surveyed over 13,500 Hawaiian residents. The results revealed that while 20 percent of Hawaii residents have paddled, over 40 percent of Native Hawaiians have participated in outrigger canoe paddling. 

Paddling, and other culturally relevant physical activities like hula, can offer insight into “chronic disease prevention and management” in the Native Hawaiian population, according to the study.  

The findings show that activities like paddling that are physically demanding as well as culturally relevant could be an important and meaningful way to improve physical activity rates in Hawaii, according to the researchers. They also noted that paddling appealed to a wide range of ages, income groups and geographic locations.

Dr. Landon Opunui, interim executive and medical director at Nu Pu’uwai on Molokai, is abundantly familiar with the diverse benefits of paddling. 

In December 2022, Opunui competed in the Hoki Mai challenge, a three-day, 300-mile paddling competition from Rapa Nui to Motu Motiro Hiva — a 43-plus hour journey which Opunui described as more grueling than an Ironman Triathlon. 

“Everyone has different reasons for paddling. For some it is the friendships created, others enjoy being a part of the paddling community. For some it may be health benefits, others it may be the competition,” said Opunui. 

As a doctor, Opunui is able to speak to the physical benefits of paddling. 

“From keiki to kupuna…paddling combines cardiovascular exercise, strength training and skill, promoting heart health, muscular strength, endurance and overall fitness,” said Opunui. 

However, the impact of paddling goes beyond just physical health. Rather, Opunui explained, paddling “benefits individuals across multiple dimensions of health and well-being.”  

For Opunui, paddling aids in mental, social, emotional and spiritual health through intrinsic elements of community and discipline.


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