A Silly Ruling Hurts Young Paddlers

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - January 27, 2010
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There’s little question change is difficult. But what happens when change makes little sense to those involved?

Supporters of high school canoe paddling are questioning why the state implemented a rule change when it comes to racing inside Magic Island.

For years parents, classmates, teammates and friends cheered on Interscholastic League of Honolulu (ILH) paddlers as they crossed the finish line at the entrance of the Ala Wai Channel.

It was the perfect venue: Spectators were close enough to the action to see the determination and drive in the faces of the young paddlers. It also was a chance to see hours of training and sacrifice come to fruition in the final sprint home.

For the athletes, there was deep gratification hearing and seeing loved ones supporting their passion. But something is missing this season, and it has nothing to do with the intensity of those competing.

“After more than 20 years, the state tells us we can’t finish inside Magic Island anymore,” says a longtime paddling coach, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution for speaking out.

“Canoe paddling is supposed to be the official state sport, but this is another example of the state not supporting that.”

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources says this is not a new policy, and added that marine event permits issued to the league in 2008 specified races could no longer take place in the Ala Wai Channel.

The DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation views the waterway as a “navigable” channel used mainly for boats from eight to 85 feet. The DLNR says it has received numerous complaints from boaters having difficulty maneuvering in and out of the channel during races. The state believes it is not safe to have races within the channel at the Ala Wai Harbor.

“We want to know who grumbled or who thought the paddlers were creating safety hazards,” says another veteran coach. “We want to work with others, but we can’t get any answers.”

Adds longtime paddler Pat Caldwell, who volunteers during races, “There’s no congestion or safety issues, and there’s plenty of room for the canoes to finish without affecting boat traffic.”


The DLNR says it recognizes that “racing in the channel has been a popular event in past years, but safety in the navigable channel must be ensured.”

As a result, race start and finish lines must begin outside Magic Island. The state adds the U.S. Coast Guard will not permit racing in a navigable channel either.

Instead of dozens lining the shoreline decked in school colors, spectators are now fighting for space on a crowded seawall to watch the races more than a quarter-mile offshore. Most squint to get a glimpse of the blades slicing through the ocean.

Yes, something is missing from this picture. Supporters call it aloha.

“This kind of stuff is old hat as far as the paddling community is concerned,” says Caldwell.

“Maybe we can reverse this nonsensical rule if we make a little noise!”

Most of us may not fully understand the importance of Hawaii’s (often ridiculed) permit process to the use of city and state facilities, but this one just doesn’t add up.

First and foremost, I agree safety is the No. 1 priority, but is the state overreacting? Keep in mind high school races happen only twice a week for several weeks every school year - that’s it! And most of the races occur on weekdays.

Also we’re talking about clean, healthy competition for Hawaii’s youths. This isn’t a rule-breaking group of vandals abusing our precious ocean resource. This is the same group that “gives back” to their communities with ocean cleanup projects and fundraising events for the homeless and the hungry.

They preserve our Hawaii while perpetuating our Hawaii. It would be a shame if a compromise could not be reached - not for the adults, but for the sake of the kids.

Yes, change is difficult to adjust to, especially when it may not be necessary at all.

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