Honoring Two Paddling Legends

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - January 20, 2010
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Hannie Anderson

For nearly a quarter century, the folks at the Waikiki Community Center have honored Hawaii’s finest watermen and women during the Ala Wai Challenge. Each year the center selects two living watersports legends in Hawaii as part of its annual fundraising event.

The 2010 honorees are two of Hawaii’s most influential contributors to the sport of canoe paddling while perpetuating the Hawaiian culture.

Hannie Anderson and Tay Perry will take center stage at the 25th Ala Wai Challenge, the perfect pair for the Jan. 24 silver anniversary celebration.

“Aunty Hannie” is known worldwide for her role in the annual Na Wahine O Ke Kai long-distance canoe race from Molokai to Oahu. Anderson is one of the founders of the event and continues to serve as race director. She also is a race commissioner with the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association and past president of the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association.

Anderson first joined Waikiki Surf Club in 1951 and always believed women could paddle across the treacherous Kaiwi Channel. In 1975, her dream came true. Anderson was an official of the first unofficial women’s crossing of the Kaiwi Channel. Eighteen women from Healani and Onipa’a canoe clubs accomplished what many said could not be done: They conquered the Kaiwi Channel. Then, in 1979, after years of fighting for what she and several others believed in, Anderson helped establish the Na Wahine O Ke Kai. The event is still recognized as the world championship of long-distance outrigger-canoe racing for women.

“I’m very honored, very humbled and pretty surprised. I don’t know what to say,” says Anderson of the honor. “It’s just something I’ve done all my life because that’s what I love to do. It’s a labor of love, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Tay Perry, son of legendary Waikiki beach boy George Perry, developed an interest in canoe building after watching his father. Perry started paddling in 1948 with the Ko’olaupoko Lions Canoe Club at Kailua Beach, and at the age of 16 was the first president of the now-powerful Lanikai Canoe Club.

Today he is a master canoe builder and restorer of koa canoes. He still paddles competitively and has completed 44 Molokai to Oahu crossings in a six-man canoe and a one-man canoe. His last effort came in the 2007 Molokai Hoe with Lanikai Canoe Club.

Tay Perry

Perry is the current vice president of the Friends of Hokule’a and Hawai’iloa, an organization dedicated to the preservation of the Hawaiian canoe. His work can also be seen in Washington, D.C.

Perry participated in the creation of a Hawaiian canoe exhibit in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and has done restoration work for the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

“It was a surprise to me and I certainly consider it an honor,” says the humble Perry. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the water and I’ve been paddling most of life and building canoes, but I’m not one who usually likes to do this kind of stuff. But Jeff talked me into it.”

Sunday’s event starts at 8 a.m. at the Ala Wai Neighborhood Park and Clubhouse with a double-hulled canoe procession. The races begin at 9 a.m.

The Ala Wai Challenge is billed as a fun-filled community event for Hawaii residents, businesses and visitors, but don’t be fooled. Several businesses take this competition very seriously. Word on the street is presenting sponsor Hawaiian Electric is shooting for the gold. Employees on the company’s two coed teams have been training for the quarter-mile sprint three times a week for several weeks with hopes of topping their second-place finish last year.

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