Capt. Jack Sparrow Paddles On

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - November 09, 2011
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Wendell Balai and the White Pearl

Move over Johnny Depp, there’s a new Captain Jack Sparrow in town, and this pirate is on a roll.

Kaneohe’s Wendell Balai stole the show again at the Paddling Athletes Association’s Halloween race by winning his third consecutive costume contest in the popular paddling event.

“I really wanted to go all out and win this third one so I could make it a three-peat!” laughs an excited Balai. “I thought I would retire after this one, but now I cannot.”

Balai transformed his white Pueo one-man canoe into the White Pearl, a spin-off of Disney’s legendary pirate ship the Black Pearl from Pirates of the Caribbean.

But that’s not all. He also assembled an amazing pirate costume and stayed in his fictional character the entire day.


“It took me nearly two weeks, working every day after work from three in the afternoon to midnight,” says Balai, a heavy equipment operator by day.

“I spent about $200 on my costume and boat.

My wife and kids were a huge help too and so were some of my wife’s friends. Everybody was asking, ‘Where’s Wendell?’ during sign-ups. So when I pulled up to the starting line, everyone was freaking out. I was so stoked!”

Despite limitations a bulky costume and the elements added to his vessel to create the White Pearl Balai still completed the 8-mile course from Maunalua Bay in Hawaii Kai to Kaimana Beach in Waikiki in an impressive time of 1:08:04. He finished fourth in the competitive OC1 Male 50-59 division and was awarded a brand new Makana Alii canoe paddle for his costume contest efforts, his third paddle in as many years.

“I had a hard time drinking water with my costume, so I didn’t drink the entire race,” says Balai. “Pretty good time and I finished 50th out of 155 competitors in the White Pearl!”

“Jack Sparrow prevails!” says PAA founder Manny Kulukulualani. “With three (OC1) sheets to the wind, Wendell Balai takes to the costume contest with all out effort, adding yet another Makana Alii paddle to his arsenal. Jack Sparrow and all costumes were fab!”

The PAA Halloween Race has become one of the more highly anticipated paddling events of the paddling season, and one reason is Balai. Three years ago, he blew away the field with what he called the “Tiki Man” costume which, included a handmade mask that resembled something out of a Gilligan’s Island episode. And like Sparrow, Balai stayed in “Tiki Man” character the entire race.

“That first year only a handful of people dressed up in costumes, and I was yelling at everyone while I paddled,” says Balai. “I had a hard time breathing through the mask, but everyone was laughing.”


Last year, Balai made a statement about Hawaii’s crystal methamphetamine crisis by dressing as a recovering meth addict. His oneman canoe read, “Hawaii’s Meth Project, Not Even Once.”

“I wanted to help out the Hawaii Meth Project,” said Balai. “I kept their sticker on my canoe the whole one-man season. I even had it on for the solo-race (from Molokai to Oahu).”

This year, he knew the pressure was on, and he more than delivered. Paddlers are already looking forward to 2012, knowing Balai will be looking to raise the bar even higher. “Like I said, I was going to retire but I cannot now,” he says. “I got to think of something out of the box.”

Can you say four-peat?

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