Crossing The Kaiwi On Wood

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - August 05, 2009
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Tom ‘Pohaku’ Stone crossing Kaiwi Channel on a solid wood board

Long before the X Games on ESPN, there was Tom “Pohaku” Stone.

Stone is a legendary waterman and former professional surfer who has pushed himself to the limit nearly all his life. He has windsurfed across the Kaiwi Channel with his son, sledded down lava hills on the Big Island - and recently crossed another item off his things-to-do list.

Stone fulfilled a lifelong dream by paddling a traditional solid wood board from Molokai to Oahu - a 33-mile journey on nothing more than a 12-foot board made of wood, and a ton of heart and soul.

“I’ve always wanted to know if the traditional stories about our ancestors paddling from Molokai to Oahu on a board were true,” says Stone. “I wanted to prove it could be done.”

The 58-year-old Stone has been on a lifelong mission to perpetuate his Hawaiian heritage. His latest effort came on the day of the annual Rainbow Paddleboard Race. Stone actually wanted to be in the event but knew anything could happen because of his equipment. He also was recovering from a fractured shoulder, so he took to the course as an unofficial competitor.

“I started before the rest of the field and the conditions started off OK, and I was feeling pretty good for the first hour,” he recalls. “I made it about five miles before the leaders came up on me. They recognized the significance of what I was doing and the paddlers who caught up and passed me congratulated me. It was a good way to honor my ancestors.”

But about 10 miles into the course his shoulder started bothering him. “And that’s when I made a big mistake,” he recalls. “I took an anti-inflammatory pill and started getting sick. It’s the first time in my life I got sick in the ocean.”

He says he took about an hour break on his escort boat and then got back on the board and started pounding his way to Oahu. The pain in his shoulder worsened as his wooden board absorbed water, but he never stopped paddling. Stone says the hardest part was the last five miles off Oahu.

“The tide was at its peak high and the whole coastline from Sandy Beach to Portlock Point looked like a big washing machine,” says Stone. “The current was whipping in the opposite direction, so I told my escort boat I was going to head toward Waikiki and stay outside of the current and eventually circle back when I reached Aina Haina.”

After 11 hours and 15 minutes on the water, more than six hours after eight-time world champion Jamie Mitchell completed the race, Stone reached Oahu.

“My body was sunburned and sore but we had new knowledge,” he says humbly, then laughs. “I didn’t cross the finish line, but I told my escort boat, ‘We made it to the island, I no care.’”

Stone made it to Oahu with a lot more than he left Molokai with.

“When I started the board weighed about 70 pounds and by the time it was over it weighed more than 100 pounds,” he chuckles. “Even though I took steps to seal the wood, the board still took on more than 30 pounds of water.”

Besides raising awareness of Hawaiian culture, Stone also took on the challenge to raise funds for three nonprofit organizations: Kanalu, Punana Leo o Kamakau and Na Kama Kai.

“It’s time for me to give back to the kids and prove you can make a difference,” says Stone. “You just got to try. I wanted to give up out on the Kaiwi, but my friends reminded me, ‘Eh, that’s not you,’ and I kept on paddling.”

Stone’s historic and extreme crossing is believed to be the first ever on a Hawaiian wooden board in modern times. But, then again, no one is really surprised, considering the source.

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