A Controversial Molokai Rule

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - October 21, 2009
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Outrigger Canoe Club was in uniform in the Molokai

An interesting debate surfaced following the 2009 Molokai. A new race rule is the focus of some of the post-race analysis and breakdown by canoe paddlers across the globe.

Take nothing away from the phenomenal performance by Shell Vaa from Tahiti, which won its fourth consecutive Molokai to Oahu long-distance championship. The Tahitians beat their closest competitor, Team Primo of Hawaii, by more than 12 minutes - or an estimated one-andone-half miles.

The topic of many discussions surrounds the following rule: All crews must be in complete CREW uniform at the START and COMPLETION of the race. Crews not in full uniform will be penalized.

Sounds simple enough, but it turns out not everyone got the message. More than 20 crews received 10-minute penalties for what officials called “various rules violations” including the one above.

It’s still unclear how many crews were actually guilty of violating the uniform rule and how many of the 20-plus crews were penalized for it. The mere thought of adding 10 minutes to your finishing time and dropping several places because of a violation has many paddlers puzzled and asking, “Why the change?”


The responses have ranged from disgust to “just deal with it.” Some say it is “silly” to mandate team jerseys, while others believe it’s the sign of the times - as in economic times.

Many speculate organizers implemented the rule to give the 2009 race a professional look, especially with added television and live Internet coverage this year. The thought of 112 crews in uniforms on the starting line outside Hale o Lono Harbor on Molokai would provide a powerful image that could attract potential sponsors.

The Molokai and Na Wahine o Ke Kai attract thousands of paddlers from around the world. They are often billed as the world championships of long-distance outrigger-canoe racing. Putting on these events is not cheap, and race officials have relied heavily on the support of sponsors.

But over the past several years, advertising budgets have been slashed and many big-name sponsors have pulled out. It’s one reason individual teams and crews have sought or received sponsorships from private companies, groups or foundations.

Take a look at the top crews in both races this year. The winners, Shell Vaa and Team Bradley, both are sponsored by companies. A quick glance at the field reveals more brand names: Team Primo, Team Livestrong, Teawa Haku/Air New Zealand, Team Wahoo’s and the list goes on.

Sponsoring a team isn’t cheap. To get the biggest bang for their buck, companies require crewmembers to wear jerseys with logos on them. Stickers also are placed on the hull of the canoe for maximum exposure to the cameras covering the event.

Like it or not, it’s the future of all sports, including canoe paddling.

If there are any doubts, just ask our neighbors Down Under, where they deal with the same rule. Only the Aussies take it a step further: Forget time penalties - in Australia, a crew can be disqualified for a violation.

Maybe more reminders were in order, but obviously the word was out with so many crews showing up with team jerseys.

Yes, some paddlers prefer long sleeves, others find comfort in no sleeves and many more simply go shirtless, so it would be tough for everyone to wear the same jersey. But remember, the rule only requires crews to start and finish the race with the same uniform. What you wear in the channel is your business and isn’t being questioned.

Silly, perhaps, but if providing a professional look to attract new sponsors is the goal, then race officials have the right idea, especially considering the current economic climate.

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