Much like football on the mainland and soccer in Latin America, outrigger canoe paddling is an integral part of Islander culture, registered as the official state sport here in Hawai’i. Outrigger canoeing dates back to 200 AD and is a strong reminder of the importance of the ocean in Hawaiian daily life.
We sat down with Charlee, a Waiakea employee and Hilo local, to learn more about outrigger canoeing. Born and raised a waterwoman, Charlee has been paddling since she was 11 years old.
So, What’s Outrigger Canoe Paddling?
Outrigger canoe paddling is an ancient Hawaiian activity practiced today as a modern competitive and recreational endurance sport. The 6-(wo)man canoe racing community is rapidly growing and gaining popularity.
“Historically, canoes were used all around the Pacific for different things, voyaging being one of the most monumental influences,” Charlee shared. They were also used for general transportation, fishing, and surfing. “While the cultural significance of canoe paddling can go on for 10 more pages”, said Charlee, “there is something very significant and special about practicing a sport our ancestors did centuries ago and reviving it to fit our modern lifestyle”.
How Did You Get Started With Canoe Paddling?
Most people may not even know what outrigger canoe paddling is, but according to Charlee, it was a different story for her, “being raised on the beach, I was no stranger to the sport.” Her mother paddled before she was born, creating a community of teammates that later became friends and family to Charlee. After Charlee’s mom signed her up for paddling in 5th grade, she was hooked! It wasn’t until after high school when she found out that paddling had an even longer track record in her family–her grandmother paddled too!
“Water is where I go to find peace. I honestly believe it is impossible to do this sport and not love it. Once you experience for yourself the euphoria of being out on the ocean, chartering untouched waters, gaining new perspectives of land and life itself, there’s no way to keep yourself from going back. Connecting with the ocean in such a raw manner ignites emotions that I can’t put into words.”
Outrigger canoe paddling is so much more than just a recreational sport to Charlee. She continued, “the people involved at the heart of canoe paddling are absolutely amazing.” Knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation, and she doesn’t have plans to stop anytime soon. Unlike most other sports, outrigger canoe paddling is truly a “team” sport. Every single member’s hands must be in sync with one another, all working together to achieve a common goal. Charlee says what she loves most about the sport is, “being a part of a team, watching what great things many hands can do when working together.” It keeps her drive strong and focused for her coach and teammates.
What Does a Typical Day Look Like?
With a full time job at Waiakea, Charlee has to make time to practice with her outrigger team. Her day-to-day looks like this: work, practice, home, repeat. That’s an 8-hour work day, practice 3 times per week, running twice per week, a race on Saturdays, and occasional community/team building and fundraising. While it can be time-consuming and tiring Charlee says, “canoe paddling brings so much excitement and chaos to my life.”
During the season (March-September), consistent hydration and healthy nutrition is a must.
The Superbowl of canoe races goes from Molokai to Oahu, extending over 42 miles and takes about 6 hours to finish!
All the hard work pays off at the finish line. It’s clear that this is not just a sport for Charlee. Outrigger canoeing is a bonding experience with people beyond your coach and team; it extends to other clubs and brings together people of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities. By motivating each other on long paddling runs, the all-women races Charlee participates in are empowering, showing exactly what her girls are capable of. “My Seasters [crewmates] encourage a better me, both on and off the water and I hope to do the same for them.”
To follow along with Charlee and her outrigger team, check out their Instagram here!