Most of the WOW paddlers are 50 or older, and many were new to paddling when they started with the team. There seem to be two main reasons they are so enthusiastic about it: The first is the magic of paddling itself—the experience of being on the ocean, of using your body to pull a canoe through the water, of feeling your strength and capability. It’s not a little thing. But there’s also the team’s camaraderie. Momi calls WOW a “sisterhood.”
Momi had never participated in any sort of sport before. “It never occurred to me,” she says. “I don’t want to get hurt, lose teeth, break any bones. I’m basically lazy. With paddling I get to sit.” She first paddled when her employer formed a team for a race. She liked it, and after the race she joined a canoe club. But she wasn’t a good paddler, she says, and the coach told her she was the reason for his high blood pressure. “At the end of the second season,” Momi says, “I wasn’t getting any better, and he wasn’t liking me any better, so I stayed away. Then a woman I’d met said, ‘There’s this woman coach, and she’s close to us in age. Come back.’”
That coach was Miri. When she’s not teaching PE, computer and graphic design, advising the yearbook staff and working as librarian at St. Joseph School, or teaching a 5 a.m. aerobics class at Spencer Health & Fitness Center, the soft-spoken, tattooed, motorcycle-riding wonder woman coaches the Wahine on Water. She started the team in 2010 and named it after the motorcycle group Wahine on Wheels. Miri took Momi aboard, coached her, encouraged her, even gave her private lessons. “She never gave up on me,” says Momi. “She has such heart and such passion.”
Many canoe clubs don’t accept older women who are new to paddling, but Miri, 55, says she wanted to welcome women who aren’t necessarily athletic and who didn’t start paddling when young, so they could find what she calls “the peace.” The youngest sibling in her family and a selfprofessed tomboy, Miri grew up in Pahala and graduated from Ka‘u High School. Her father was an electrician for the sugar mill, but he was also an athlete. “Dad was the baseball coach at Ka‘u High till he died,” she says. “We rode bikes or walked, swam all day long. That was it. I wanted to please my father.”
When she was 37, Miri started paddling. But it wasn’t easy, she says. “I was intimidated by it. I had to work at paddling to get good. I wanted to impress Chucky Aki, my coach, so he’d put me in a good crew and help me along. I picked up a lot and he saw it. My first year paddling we went to Moloka‘i. The crew I was with took first place every single time.”
After a while she changed clubs and then took six years off. “I was a little tired of the club thing,” she says. “Sometimes it didn’t go the way it should, and that dampened my spirits a little.” But she continued to paddle on her own until Ira Kekaualua of the Keaukaha Canoe Club asked her to start an older women’s team. That became WOW.
Paddling has gotten Miri through some tough times and changed her life, she says, and that’s what she hopes other women will experience. “If you can make one person feel better about herself,” she says, “then you’ve accomplished something.
“I think because of our age and our experiences, we are all at the point in our lives where we can finally make fun of the things that were once breaking our hearts,” she says. The sisterhood supports each other in rough times: “We’ve had jobs lost, babies dying. One of our paddlers went to her ex-husband’s house and found him after he’d been dead for three days. … ‘Get in the boat!’”