Paddlers Race To Say Mahalo

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - November 11, 2009
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Tad Tucker with son Kia’i

It’s not often we get a chance to do something with a real purpose, but when we do the feeling can be so rewarding. Several hundred paddlers experienced that sense of fulfillment recently.

“Great race, great cause!” It was a statement repeated by dozens of competitors following the second annual Fallen Guardians Memorial Race. This was truly an event with a purpose.

On Sept. 4, 2008, Coast Guard helicopter 6506 crashed into the Pacific Ocean. All four members on board died when the HH-65 Dolphin went down during a training flight. Pilot Cmdr. Thomas Nelson, co-pilot Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Wischmeier, rescue swimmer Petty Officer 1st Class David Skimin and flight mechanic Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Nichols were all members of the United States Coast Guard’s District 14 in Honolulu. All four men left behind families.


“I started putting together the race right after the accident happened as a way to honor the crew,” says race director Tad Tucker, a veteran canoe paddler and U.S. Coast Guard reservist. “The main reason was to bring the ocean community out and say we care - that was the most important thing for me, to say we care.”

The 10-mile race from Hawaii Kai’s Maunalua Bay to Magic Island is open to OC6, OC1, OC2, paddleboard, stand-up paddleboard and surf ski participants. Proceeds from the race go to the Coast Guard Foundation’s Fallen Heroes Scholarship Fund. The fund was established for children of the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard who have died in the line of duty.

A Coast Guard chopper checks out the race

“Everybody is family in the Coast Guard, and when this tragedy happened last year we all suffered,” says Tucker.

He says last year more than 520 paddlers took part in the inaugural race, which raised $6,802. This year the turnout was just under 400 people. Tucker estimates after expenses he’ll contribute more than $4,000 to the foundation.

“This year we gave away T-shirts to every participant and provided bentos for the paddlers,” says Tucker. “It’s an excellent feeling and I’m humbled by the outpouring of support.”

Tucker says the recent crash off California involving a Coast Guard C-130 with a seven-member crew and a Marine Corps AH-1W Super Cobra with two aboard hit close to home. The tragedy also reminded him why he took on the challenge a year ago.

“This one rippled through our whole family,” says Tucker. “The Coast Guard sent numerous personnel to assist. These are the men and women who train every day to be ready to answer the call when someone is in trouble at sea.”

Tucker is grateful there were no problems out at sea during this year’s memorial race. He says he knows paddlers were at ease knowing the U.S. Coast Guard was hosting the event.

“It was a chickenskin moment to see the helicopter blaze by the paddlers, and I know the pilots were equally impressed when they came around Diamond Head and saw an armada of canoes filling the bay,” said Tucker.

Tucker hopes to continue organizing the race, but admits finding sponsors, securing insurance policies and permits is a challenge for someone who is “not an event organizer.”

“I’m a plumber by trade,” he laughs. “I think it needs a committee in the future to have real progress. Up until now it’s been me, my friend and our checkbooks.

“I want to thank all the people who came together on race day to make the event happen. All the boat captains that donated their time and boats to help keep us safe on the water. All the volunteers from New Hope and the Coast Guard taking care of the registration and setting up tents and passing out food. The band, all volunteers from the Pacific Fleet Band. My friend Jack who helped on numerous occasions over the last four months. And every one else who helped make this a successful event.”

But thank goodness for guys like Tad Tucker. He is a difference-maker who allows all of us the opportunity to make a difference as well.

For more information about the Coast Guard Foundation, please visit

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