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Uniting for the Race

Amid a sea of mingling visiting paddlers and residents, hula performances, vendor booths and ono food, Friday evening’s Kulaia festival brought the connection between the community, paddlers and Na Wahine O Ke Kai race back to Molokai.

Organized by Molokai Canoe Festivals Committee, the ho`olaulea welcomed paddlers coming to the island for Sunday’s race, as well as paid tribute to the Molokai crewmembers on the three-year Worldwide Hokule`a Voyage. The event was held in front of the Molokai Public Library with vendors and booths lining the street that was blocked off for the occasion.

Penny Martin, Molokai paddler and crewmember on the first Hokule`a voyage, introduced the three Molokai voyagers participating in the vessel’s Worldwide Voyage. The crewmembers, Keoki Pescaia, Mahina Hou Ross and Uncle Melvin “Mel” Paoa Jr, will fly to Samoa and sail to New Zealand. The Hokule`a departed the Swains Atoll, on Sept. 17 for Pago Pago, Samoa, before the next leg that goes to Aotearoa, New Zealand begins. Paoa, Molokai captain who has sailed on the Hokule`a since the early 1980s, was honored at the event.

“We are proud of him as our captain and appreciate all the years he has put into serving, not only Hokule`a, but Molokai as well, and representing us in the most positive way,” Martin said. “We love you and wish you many more voyages.”

Recreational paddler Penny Duvauchelle said paddling is a time to get out on the water and enjoy fellowship with family, friends and the community.

“It’s about doing something healthy for myself and loving our island,” Duvauchelle said.

This is New Zealand native Sugar Te Paa’s first year paddling in Na Wahine O Ke Kai canoe race. She has been paddling for 15 years and raced with the international Ocean of Hope team. Every year, Ocean of Hope dedicates their racing to those affected by cancer, Te Paa said.

“[Kulaia] gives opportunity for the community to be exposed to international paddlers,” she said. “It’s events like these that bring the town together for a common purpose, even though they may not paddle. It’s brings a reason to celebrate and foster the community spirit.”

While the festival is a tradition that hasn’t been carried on in recent years, organizers wanted to return to the spirit of the celebration, said event coordinator Lori-Lei Rawlins-Crivello. She said this is just the beginning and Kulaia’s purpose is to bring everyone together.

Community members were invited to take a survey during the event. Based on the response, the event could become annual, Rawlins-Crivello said.

The festival featured performances from musician Kawika Kahiapo, the Ho`okena band and Grammy-award-winning Molokai artist Raiatea Helm. The event was broadcasted live for KPOA radio station by emcee Alaka`i Paleka and Ke`van Dudoit.

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