A New Venue For Duke’s Challenge

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - January 12, 2011
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Conrad Hilton and Duke Kahanamoku (date unknown)

What started as a fundraiser for Waikiki Community Center a quarter century ago has evolved into a world-class event enjoyed by hundreds of visitors, residents and businesses each year.

The Ala Wai Challenge was known for its exciting canoe races and ancient Hawaiian makahiki games. But after 25 years, it was time for a change.

“After being at the same venue all these years, it was time for a different look,” says Jeff Apaka, community relations director at WCC. “The Ala Wai Canal will always be the perfect training ground for upand-coming canoe paddlers and kayakers, but we’re excited about taking this to Waikiki.”

The Ala Wai Challenge is now The Duke Kahanamoku Challenge and will be held Jan. 23 at Duke Kahanamoku Beach outside Hilton Hawaiian Village.

“I can’t think of a better way to say mahalo to the Waikiki Community Center for all they do for Waikiki and its people,” says Hilton Hawaiian Village general manager Jerry Gibson. “We invite everyone to come on down and enjoy the day with your families. It’ll be a great day to be out with the canoe races in the ocean, Hawaiian makahiki games, food booths, terrific entertainment including the Royal Hawaiian Band, Melveen Leed, Dennis Kamakahi and others - and the best part is that it’s free.”

“With the resurgence of the visitor industry and the Pro Bowl happening the following Sunday, there should be many curious onlookers at Duke Kahanamoku Beach,” says Apaka. “It’s going to be a spectacular day!”


The event will continue to feature quarter-mile outrigger canoe races, but this year the sprints will be in the open ocean. Apaka says many companies have been training for weeks.

“Uncle Nappy (Napoleon) is supplying the malia mold canoes for us,” says Apaka. “The race will start on the beach, and paddlers will turn at a buoy just beyond the Hilton pier and sprint back to beach. It should be exciting for racers and spectators.”

Event organizers also will honor two water sports legends: the Piianaia family and the late Mau Piailug. For more than three decades, the Piianaia family has been synonymous with the ocean and the Hokule’a. Abraham introduced his two sons Gordon and Norman to a life at sea and together they became living legends. They continue to share their wisdom with Hawaii’s keiki.

Piailug was a master navigator who willingly shared his knowledge of voyaging without the aid of instruments to those who wanted to learn. He died last July, but not before touching the lives of thousands around the world.

“Nainoa Thompson will speak about our honorees,” says Apaka. “They are legendary ocean mariners who’ve been on the high seas and have done much for Hawaii.”

The festivities will start at 9 a.m. with a double-hulled canoe procession, followed by a traditional oli and kahiko by Halau Hula ‘o Hokulani and kumu hula Hokulani DeRego and Larry DeRego. The races begin promptly at 10 a.m. The challenge also will feature a stand-up paddleboard relay called the Duke’s Hotel Managers Challenge.


“The hotel with the best stand-up paddlers will be competing for a koa paddle perpetual trophy,” says Gibson. “It’s going to be an exciting, heated competition.”

“It will be fun watching hotel managers compete against each other in the lagoon,” says Apaka with a laugh. “The winning hotel will have bragging rights for a year.”

Despite the change in name and venue, the beneficiaries of this event will remain the same. For 31 years, Waikiki Community Center has cared for the people of Waikiki, serving an estimated 15,000 people each year.

“We want to keep our doors open for all of Waikiki,” says Apaka, who also is an area resident. “We’ve had our financial struggles like everyone else, but we’re grateful for events like this that allow us to serve.”

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