Na Wahine O Ke Kai – 2015 Cancelled

The unofficial world championship of open water outrigger paddling for women, the Na Wahine O Ke Kai (Women of the Water) from Molokai to Oahu across the Kaiwi channel has been cancelled.

Although the impact of Tropical Storm Niala was cited it would appear that the decision was ‘taken in the interest of certain less than experienced crews’. This year’s race would have marked the 37th running of the event & the cancellation has affected 72 crews and 800 paddlers from around the world including teams from Canada, Japan, the USA mainland, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia & Canada as well as Hawaii.

Late in the afternoon of the day before the race – with competitors & their outriggers already in Molokai awaiting the start of the race early the next morning – the organizers cancelled the event due to a small craft advisory forecast for the Kaiwi Channel indicating winds approaching 30 knots, 4 metres wind waves and heavy rain. The last & only other occasion on which the race has been cancelled was in 1980, the 2nd scheduled running of the event, when waves were approaching 10 metres in strong winds.

Whilst speaking with one of Hawaii’s leading women paddlers I was told: “there were many factors…… the tide creating large peaks, wind creating a lot more breakable waves, and the experience of crews and escorts. I think it was 20 foot seas and about 30 knots in the channel. I took video while coming back. We had to hold on the entire time – fun, but not that safe if your captain doesn’t know the water. The gale force winds were in the Pailolo channel. The day before, a guys team broke their iakos going ama under. That channel is normally perfect downwind. The Kaiwi channel was coming directly down the middle, from the north, so the angle was hard to navigate. You would need to paddle up the wave and go down its back, if you wanted to safely cross, which is hard to do because of the steepness of the wave. Very sharp turns, when you want to go straight. Add changes during a race, and its just not safe”. 
Teams have been thrown into confusion – apart from the disappointment flowing from the fact that most crews have trained solidly for over 9 months for the event & undertaken international flights to compete, substantial entry & canoe transport fees will not be refunded & their outriggers will need to be returned to Oahu from Molokai.
The first sign that the race had been cancelled appeared in a 3.59pm post in the official race Facebook site late in the afternoon on the day before the race was due to start early the next morning. It left competing teams dismayed – only 5 hours earlier in the site’s previous post a message had been published welcoming teams from California, Samoa, New Zealand, Tahiti & Fiji. 

Race director Hannie Anderson and the race committee determined that strong winds and treacherous surf throughout the Kaiwi Channel would have made the 66klm crossing too dangerous for paddlers, escort boat personnel and water officials.

Here’s perhaps the most famous shot from the 2012 Molokai Hoe to give readers an insight into what race organisers needed to consider…….not to mention the adrenalin rushes that flow from this magnificent sport:

molokai-hoe-2001

There is no doubting Hannie Anderson’s competency to make such decisions, nor is the any question that the safety of competitors must be paramount. Take a look at this video from the 2012 event is which 10 outriggers were swamped in 3metre swells.…..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IqrcTiOQXk

There is, however, room for debate covering surrounding areas such as eligibility for entry requirements. The sport’s governing body in Tahiti is looking to authorize women (& juniors) to paddle the final leg of the Hawaiki Nui Va’a race from next year, a move that will see the women competing in open sea conditions between Tahaa & Bora Bora in what I believe will be the world’s most spectacular event for women. Another world famous acquatic event that has had to address these issues is the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, a legendary event conducted in often treacherous seas – organisers of this event have put in place a comprehensive list of requirements for any individual wishing to participate.

Team Bora Bora, an experienced grouping of current outrigger World Champions & recent Pacific Games winners will be back – with the experience they gained in last year’s event, I believe they are capable of winning the Na Wahine O Ke Kai for the first time!

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