Scary Moment At Nanakuli Regatta

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - June 29, 2011
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The water at Nanakuli Beach was crowded with people during the Father’s Day regatta

It was one of the most horrifying moments I have ever witnessed in the sport of outrigger canoe paddling. It was a Father’s Day many of us will never forget. Thousands of spectators and competitors were enjoying the warm sunshine and clear skies at Nanakuli Beach Park during Leeward Kai Father’s Day Canoe Regatta when all eyes shifted to the horizon.

Two canoes in the women’s Novice A event were racing toward the finish line in lanes 11 and 12. Both clubs were pounding away at the ocean, working hard to catch a growing swell. Danger was the furthest thing from their minds.

The women from New Hope Canoe Club and Honolulu Pearl Canoe Club muscled their way onto the wave about 50 yards offshore and were roaring to shore like two runaway freight trains. Only one problem: They were running out of ocean and about 100 unsuspecting bodysurfers and bodyboarders in the shore-break were directly in their paths.

Veteran paddlers recognized what was about to happen and started sprinting toward the shoreline. Stopping these swift-moving canoes would be a challenge, if not impossible. The wave was just seconds away from pounding on the shore.


There was a brief sigh of relief as the crew from New Hope flipped its canoe at full speed as it crossed the flag, avoiding certain disaster. But those sighs were soon replaced with screams of terror as Honolulu Pearl Canoe Club continued to roar to shore.

The crew’s steerwoman desperately tried to turn her canoe or even flip it, but it was too late to pull off the emergency maneuver.

The Honaunau slid across the crowd of bodysurfers and a split second later, the beautiful koa canoe slammed onto the sand with its crew still aboard. It was a thunderous impact and everyone feared the worst.

Paddlers carry the severely damaged Honaunau. Peter Caldwell photos

At that point, the outcome of the race wasn’t important. Hundreds of people from different clubs rushed to the shore-break. By then, what was left of the splintered canoe was being sucked back into the ocean in the backwash. Swimmers scrambled to get out of the way while the women in the boat crawled to safety. Two paddlers were seriously injured and required medical attention. But amazingly, no one else was injured.

The Honaunau, however, was severely damaged. Club members cried as pieces of their canoe were brought ashore. They held hands in prayer knowing this day could have ended much differently.

On the club’s website, officials write, “Our Heart is broken. According to our traditions, Honaunau is a living member of the great Hawaiian outrigger paddling ohana. Honaunau is now in great hardship and she needs your help.”

Club leaders understand it will take much care, time and money to bring Honaunau back to good health and racing shape. The canoe has a rich history. It was originally built in August 1952 for Honaunau Canoe Club on Hawaii Island. It was made from a koa log from South Kona and blessed in 1956 as Honaunau.

The vessel was eventually purchased by the late Pinky Thompson, who brought her to Oahu where she became part of the Hui Nalu Canoe Club in Hawaii Kai. The beautiful koa canoe made several crossings in the prestigious Moloka’i to Oahu canoe race. Gary Oakland, founder of Honolulu Pearl Canoe Club, purchased the canoe years later and it became the club’s prized possession.


On Father’s Day, a member of Honolulu Pearl Canoe Club’s family suffered a tremendous blow and we all feel their pain. Broken but not destroyed. The Honaunau will return to the ocean again.

For more information on how you can help members of Honolulu Pearl Canoe Club, go to: http://www.honolulupearlcanoeclub.org/2011/06/22/honaunau-needs-your-help/.

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