Va’a – Na Wahine O Ke Kai

The Na Wahine O Ke Kai, a 41 mile (66km), V6 (10 paddlers) outrigger canoe ocean race from Hale O Lono, Molokai, Hawaii across the Kaiwi Channel to Fort DeRussy Beach on the island of Oahu, is the most prestigious long distance open water outrigger canoe race for women in the world.

Ten girls who between them won 5 gold, a silver & a bronze medal at last month’s World Va’a Championships in Rio, Brazil departed Bora Bora for Molokai earlier this month to compete in the 37th running of the Na Wahine O Ke Kai conducted today, 21st September, 2014:

na-wahine-o-ke-kai

The Na Wahine O Ke Kai was first run in 1979 when 10 crews made up the field; 20 years later a record 84 crews made up the ‘fleet’. Interestingly woman had been trying to run the event since 1954, two years after the initial Molokai Hoe but the proposal met with resistance with crossing being deemed ‘too treacherous’ for women. Ultimately it took an unofficial crossing by two women’s teams in 1975 to see matters advance for the fairer sex until women’s persistence saw the first official race conducted in 1979. The championship has been run every year since 1979 except for 1980 when the event was cancelled in the face of waves approaching 10m! The record for the event is held by Mooloolabah (Australia) who won in 2004 in a time of 5:22:11. In the last 10 years Team Bradley has won 8 times, finishing second in 2011 & in 2014.

Tahiti’s first attempt at the championship was in 1984 but their va’a failed to finish due to a cracked hull. Tahiti has competed 7 times since but has never won the event, nor even been placed.

Calm conditions, clear skies & a light easterly indicated a long, hot, hard haul ahead – tactics & strategy would play as important a role as mental disposition & physical condition. Many thanks to ‘Ocean Paddler TV’ for the excellent coverage, videos & photos.

Sixty one crews greeted the starter at 8am in the knowledge that most would be paddling for around the next 5, 6 even 7 hours. Team Bora Bora started quickly leading the event with Waikiki Beach Boys whilst Team Bradley & Hui Nalu were close at hand on a slightly different route closer to shore. An hour into the race as the leaders bunched off La’au Point at the first water change Team Bradley were in charge followed closely by Waikiki Beach Boys, Hui Nalu (open) & Team Bora Bora. A group made up of Northern Beaches Australia, Outrigger Canoe Club & Hui Nalu (40s) followed battling for 5th position.

Team Bradley photographed off La’au Point showing the relative calm of the seas:

team-bradley

Now into the Kaiwi Channel it was clear from the ‘white caps’ on the swell that the breeze was barely reaching 15knots. Some 2 hours into the race with Oahu now visible on the horizon Team Bradley & Waikiki Beach Boys were still only metres apart battling fiercely for the lead which chopped & changed regularly:

waikiki-beach-boys

Outrigger Canoe Club had made up ground & were now wrestling with Team Bora Bora in an endeavour to push themselves forward to battle with Hui Nalu for third place.

The two leaders being so close together saw the setting that pushes both teams to give of their very best, to perform beyond expectation. The battle saw each crew take the lead before being forced to surrender it on several occasions over the next hour. The competition had now entered its 4th hour of commitment & endurance. It was a race of guts, a true test of mental & physical strength, one which reflected the hard work done plus the value of technique & strategy …… it represented what outrigger racing is all about.

With Oahu looming & consideration being given to the potential place-getters, Team Bradley & Waikiki Beach Boys had pulled away from the field with Hui Nalo a clear third.

As Diamond Head came into sight Waikiki Beach Boys would again take the lead with a powerful surge seeing Team Bradley take a line further from shore in an endeavour to regain control over the race – at last the wind & swell had changed favourably to assist well managed crews in improving their position. Less than 4kms from Diamond Head as the courses of the two leading crews merged Waikiki Beach Boys were leading Team Bradley by around 400m. Bordering on exhaustion, Waikiki Beach Boys were increasing the number of water changes in an endeavour to maximize the amount of energy left in their paddlers.

Waikiki Beach Boys would power on to win in 5:29:12 from a determined Team Bradley with Hui Nalu making up the winner’s dias. Solid performances also from 4th placed Outrigger Canoe Club, 5th overall & Masters winning crew Hui Nalu (40’s) & well done Team Bora Bora photographed below approaching the finish line on a courageous race, finishing 6th & first home of the international crews in 5:55:32:

team-bora-bora

The va’a (outrigger canoe), a vessel with a history dating back thousands of years juxtaposed against the backdrop of modern day architecture & engineering in the form of Waikiki’s beachfront is not lost.

An analysis of the results shows that the winners paddled at an average 9.33km/h. Team Bora Bora averaged 8.69km/h, a margin which the experience will help to reduce! I spoke with Nohealani an experienced member of the powerful Hui Nalu crew that powered home to take third place. They led early with Team Bora Bora & Nohealani had this to say:

 “The conditions were good in my opinion. If the swell or winds are too bad it becomes very messy. It was hot, we had a really nice ride from when we hit Makapuu. The times were good, 5:29, which is close to record 5:22, so not brutal.  Tahitians looked good. Young. Lot’s of strength. This is a long race, so strength can only get you so far. If they work together, and do more Hawaii races, they can move up in the ranks. Just like any other sport, experience will give you more of an advantage”.

Team Bora Bora arrived to the beat of numerous toeres as is the cultural tradition. Tahiti Mana, this year’s winner of the Heiva i Honolulu & acclaimed as Hawaii’s best dance group was there in force to ensure the Tahitains had the reception they justly deserved. Tahiti Mana was founded in 2011 by well known Tahitian Manarii Gauthier, an exceptional dancer in his own right & indisputably a wonderful animator. Here’s a video of the reception extended to our paddlers then a great shot where the paddlers joined with the orchestra after the event:

toere-waikiki

The official photographs can be found here http://Facebook.com/808photo.me They give you a great feel for the event, make you wish to participate. There’s a great shot of Team Bora Bora beside their Va’a in their black tops.

Maururu rahi roa no to otou toito raa!

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