The Mcfarlane: It’s About Pride

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - July 01, 2009
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Outrigger Canoe Club hosts the Walter J. Mcfarlane Memorial Canoe Regatta at Waikiki on July 4 each year

It’s an event that technically doesn’t count, but don’t tell that to those who line up on race morning at Waikiki Beach.

For 67 years, canoe paddlers have taken center stage in the surf at Waikiki in the Walter J. Mcfarlane Memorial Canoe Regatta. The annual Fourth of July event was named in honor of the former Outrigger Canoe Club president. Mcfarlane died in 1943 at the age of 36.

“I think it’s a significant event, because it’s held in Waikiki where the sport came back to life in this modern era,” says veteran waterman Walter Guild, a grandnephew of Mcfarlane. “This race ties in the old-timers with the next generation. When I see Wally Froiseth, George Downing and Nappy Napoleon on the beach, it gives me a sense of nostalgia.”

Guild played football for the University of Hawaii in the late 1970s, but his accomplishments in the ocean, particularly in the canoe, are what stand out.

“I was attending the Mcfarlane before I even started paddling,” chuckles Guild, a longtime Outrigger Canoe Club member. “I started paddling in 1970 and I’ve raced in every Mcfarlane since, so I’ve seen much in the last 40 years.”

Thousands will line the shore at Waikiki Beach and hundreds more will peer from hotel balconies for a view of the exciting finishes.

“The Mcfarlane” is the longest continuous canoe paddling event in Hawaii and the only wave-riding contest on the Oahu Canoe Racing Association’s schedule. But despite its rich and competitive history, results don’t officially count toward standings to qualify for the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association state championships.

This one is about pride.

“The points don’t count because of the intangibles and the venue evens the playing field, but make no mistake about it, clubs go out to win it every year,” says Guild. “By this point in the season, you know which crews are the strongest and there are few surprises, but on the Fourth of July anything can happen and everyone’s a contender.”

This one also brings out the best in canoe surfing. As part of Macfarlane tradition, each club is allowed to use experienced steersmen in every race. It is mainly a safety issue, especially when the surf at Waikiki comes alive.

“It doesn’t take much; a three-foot wave is more than enough when you’re maneuvering 45-foot canoes close together in lanes,” says Guild. “Everyone thinks experienced steersmen pray for big surf. Truth is we’re probably more nervous than the paddlers because we’re responsible for everyone in that canoe. The sport’s best will rise on that day.”

Such was the case last year when Lanikai Canoe Club won an amazing 15 of 39 events. The Windward Oahu powerhouse collected 126 points along the way to win the AAA division for clubs with large participation. Host Outrigger finished with 81 points followed by Kailua’s 65 points. Hui Lanakila Canoe Club won the AA (middle-size) class, followed by New Hope and Leeward Kai. Kai Oni won the A (small-size) class, followed Anuenue and Waikiki Surf Club.

Defending champion Lanikai will no doubt return in force.

“Lanikai is a special group, and the young guys in the club from the ‘80s and ‘90s have poured their knowledge back into their club,” says Guild. “They had a vision on how to become a power, and it’s just amazing to see what they’ve done. I’m happy to see them elevate the sport.”

The Mcfarlane Regatta is the final tune-up before the final OHCRA regular-season regatta and the organization’s championship in mid-July. The state championships are set for Aug. 1 on Hilo Bay.

But first things first, and that’s winning the big races at Waikiki Beach on the Fourth of July. But who’s counting? Chances are, everyone!

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