Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Paddling – Competitive and Recreational Information

One of the perks of living the Hawaii life is the myriad of local sports one can engage in here. Of course, you’ll find most of these sports other states, but they are typically associated with Hawaii – surfing, standup paddle boarding, boogie boarding, and wave riding to name a few.


A Passion For Paddling!

One such sport strongly associated with Hawaii has to be Outrigger Canoe Paddling. There are a few chapters scattered elsewhere around the country, but canoe paddling is truly considered one of Hawaii’s premiere sports. Paddling is a great sport that almost anyone can take part in. Whether recreational or competitive paddling, paddling has a place for you!

There are several different types of canoes: 1 man, 2 man, 4 man, but today I’m going to talk about the most popular and that is the 6 man canoe. These are the canoes you see during the intro to Hawaii Five-O and just happens to be my favorite sport.

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Competitive Outrigger Canoe Paddling in Hawaii

Competition paddling is a challenging sport that involves training, commitment, and determination. In the 6 man canoe competitions, you have 3 types of crews: all men, all women, or mixed (3 of each). Each person in the boat has a job to do.

  • Seat 1 is the stroker. The stroker sets the pace for the other paddlers. Everyone in the boat followers the stroker.
  • Seat 2 calls changes. Changes are called when you switch from one side of the boat to the other. Paddlers stroke on staggered sides of the canoe. The call counts differ depending on the circumstances. At the start of the race and going into and out of turns, for instance, a caller would typically call power changes (10 strokes). Once the boat “lifts” and you have a good glide, the caller will then change to a longer change of 14 – 20 strokers per change.
  • Seats 3, 4 and 5 are the engine seats. They are the power of the boat and its their job to stroke deep and hard to keep the lift and glide going.
  • Seat 6 is the steersman. Not only does the steersman steer the canoe, he or she is also the crew captain who calls direction and motivation to the crew during the race.

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Hawaii Canoe Paddling Associations

The head paddling association in Hawaii is the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association. Then there are 7 member associations (or chapters) around the state spread out among the different islands.

Here on Oahu, there are 2 chapters:

  1. OHCRA or Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association (18 clubs) with over 3,000 paddlers; OHCRA members race in the Koa wood canoes.
  2. Hui Wa’a (19 clubs) with over 2,000 paddlers; Hui Wa’a races in the fiberglass canoes.

There are 3 paddling seasons:

  1. Pre-season (medium to long distances)
  2. Regatta (short fast hard races)
  3. HCRA Distance

The HCRA Distance

The HCRA Distance culminates in the 2 most prestigious canoe races in the world: the Moloka‘i Hoe for men and the Na Wahine O Ke Kai for Women. Both races run across the Kaʻiwi Channel, which is between the islands of Molokai and Oahu.

The race is approximately 38 – 41 miles and takes just over 4 1/2 hours until the lead canoes start to cross the finish line. It’s a long treacherous crossing that tests the paddler’s physical and mental strength and endurance.

Many other countries participate in these two races as they are considered the International Championships of the sport. The finish line at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Pier on Waikiki is an exciting place to be if you happen to be on Oahu!

2012 Race Day Schedules for these two events:

  • September 23, 2012 for the women’s Na Wahine O Ke Kai
  • October 7, 2012 for the men’s Moloka‘i Hoe

Being a Molokai paddler is a badge of honor and pride in treated with respect among the worldwide paddling community.

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Recreational Canoe Paddling Programs in Hawaii

You don’t, however, have to be a championship paddler to get a seat in the boat. Most of the clubs have a Rec Paddling program, so ask around. Everyone is welcome and it’s some of the most fun you can have on the water.


Rec paddling really doesn’t require any great skill, it’s fun, exciting, and a terrific workout! During off season you should be able to get a seat in a 6 man or a double hull no problem. We love to bring in new paddlers to the sport. There is a special fellowship and bond that comes from being a part of Hawaii’s original team sport. Come on down and get in the boat!


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5 Responses to “Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Paddling – Competitive and Recreational Information”

  1. David Buck
    September 7, 2012 at 8:02 am #

    Great article Jayney

  2. Heidi White
    September 10, 2012 at 7:14 am #

    Looks like lots of fun Jayney, Thanks for sharing! I love to follow all that paddling excitement, which you really captured in those photos!

  3. Sila
    February 7, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    Great article- love the cover pics!!! Should hire that photographer !!! lol!
    love it!!

  4. Jan Mackay
    August 20, 2015 at 6:16 am #

    I used to paddle for Kai O Pua out of Kona, Hawaii back in 1974. I still remember the one race in Oahu that I steered to the wrong flag and by the time I realized what was happening we lost the race. They had a red and an orange right next to each other and I don’t know why but the colors were so close that I ended up steering to the wrong flag. I felt so awful for all my crew mates for losing the race because of me. I was humiliated and crying but everyone still held me close and said all was okay. So sorry Kai O Pua. My mistake.
    I loved paddling and it was my life along with caring for my daughters. I miss that life. Now at 66 I am living in Newport, Oregon and still am by the ocean but its not the same.

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