|Story by Catharine Lo
Photos by Monte Costa
At 6 on a clear Sunday morning in June 2010, the excitement along the ribbon of white sand at Ka‘anapali Beach begins to percolate. It’s two hours before the start of the Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association’s Maui-to-Moloka‘i race, a rough, thirty-four-mile jaunt from K a‘anapali to Hale o Lono Harbor across the wind-slapped Pailolo Channel. As dawn’s soft light illuminates L ana‘i’s rust-red landscape ten miles away, the seven competing crews clamber in and out of their vessels, pulling the triangle sails taut, stocking the boats with bottled water and energy bars, and making sure that every piece of safety equipment is accounted for.
Nimble fingers tie life-securing knots in the rigging. Free hands grab onto hulls and outriggers and muscle each of the 800-pound, fully loaded canoes so their noses face the sea. Supporters arrive with cameras and breakfast sandwiches in clutch. Morning beach joggers slow their stride as they pass, and early risers stand on their hotel balconies, coffee in hand, watching the scene unfold.
Crew members gather in a circle for the blessing, clasping hands as the kahu (priest) prays for a safe journey across the water. The paddlers get ready to go: They paint their faces with thick layers of zinc oxide, clean their sunglasses on available dry shirts, phone loved ones not in attendance. Finally, they embrace family, friends and each other before taking their places alongside their boats.
An air horn lets out a suspended blare, and the seven canoes push off together. The multicolored flotilla glides out to the open ocean, and the crowd watches until the canoes become specks dwindling into the horizon.
“That,” a spectator gasps, “is just beautiful.”