Paddling In Lady Liberty’s Shadow

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - July 15, 2009
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The New Hope Canoe Club crew paddles toward the Statue Liberty

A gentle wind greets paddlers as they head down the Hudson River toward Ellis Island. In the distance sits a landmark that symbolizes freedom, independence and democracy. But for more than a dozen members from New Hope Canoe Club, paddling past “Lady Liberty” meant much more.

“I remember my mom talking about the Statue of Liberty and what she represents,” says veteran paddler Cy Kalama, the club’s head coach. “To be able to paddle up to her and come right in front of her was an inspiration for all of us.”

On June 27, New Hope Canoe Club competed in the Liberty World Outrigger Competition, one of the largest sporting events in New York Harbor. This isn’t the first time a Hawaii team competed on the Hudson. Since the inaugural event in 1996, several Hawaii teams and clubs have brought home titles in the men’s, women’s and mixed races. But this was the first appearance for New Hope. The Christian-based club started in 1999 with a mission to reach the world through canoe paddling.

“We say ‘E Kaupe,’ which means to reach out, and we thought this event would give us a chance to fulfill our mission to reach out, outside of Hawaii,” says Kalama. “We want people to see the heart of New Hope. This wasn’t about paddling, this was about sharing the aloha spirit.”

New Hope entered two teams in the 12-team mixed division. Three other clubs from Hawaii also were on the starting line at Brooklyn Bridge Park: Waikiki Yacht Club and Windward Kai Canoe Club of Oahu, and Namolokama O Hanalei Outrigger Canoe Club from Kauai.

The 11-mile course took the paddlers under the Brooklyn Bridge where they passed the South Street Seaport, Staten Island Ferry Terminal and Ground Zero. From there, they crossed the Hudson River at the Holland Tunnel and headed back past Jersey City and Ellis Island to the Statue of Liberty.

“It was magnificent to see that symbol of hope and liberty,” recalls women’s coach Lee Kalama. “She is a symbol of freedom and represents a strong message that our nation welcomes all.”

Crews then headed across New York Harbor around Governors Island and under the Brooklyn Bridge before reaching the finish line near the Manhattan Bridge.

“It just amazed me to see the passion they have for canoe paddling up there,” adds Kalama. “New York Outrigger Canoe Club brought canoes in from Florida, Connecticut and Canada to make sure there were enough canoes for visiting clubs. Their love for the sport is incredible.”

Hawaii responded. Namolokama finished third overall, Waikiki Yacht Club sixth, New Hope seventh and ninth, and Windward Kai 10th.

“It was such a blessing to be a part of this race, says Cy Kalama. “It’s not as competitive as in the early years when the big guns from Hawaii and across the world came to compete, but it was chick-enskin.”

Following the races, about 250 paddlers and supporters enjoyed a luau at Brooklyn Bridge Park. The menu included kalua pig, chicken katsu, Spam musubi, rice and macaroni salad catered by L&L Hawaiian Barbecue in New York. New Hope provided the entertainment.

“We put on a 40-minute show with Hawaiian and Tahitian dancing and a lot of audience participation,” chuckles New Hope steers-man John Tilton, who served as the luau’s emcee.

“We called the coaches on stage to honor them, but instead we taught them the hula and Tahitian. It was a blast!”

“New Hope was definitely in the house,” laughs Cy Kalama. “Our girls and guys put on a fantastic show and the organizers were appreciative of our contribution. We definitely brought Hawaii to New York.”

The club called its East Coast adventure “From the Pineapple to the Big Apple.”

From all indications: Mission accomplished.

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