Water-related races and regattas in the Islands have ranged from swimming, yacht, rowing and canoe races.
One early club was Healani – it was formally incorporated on December 13, 1894, but participated in earlier races under the Healani name.
An early account of competitive rowing appeared in the December 16, 1871, issue of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser: “There was a race between two-oared boats, of which four were entered, Young America the winner … there was splendid rowing exhibited, and the winners became such by purely hard work.”
King Kalākaua’s birthday on November 16th, 1875 marked Hawai‘i’s first regatta with extensive rowing competition. The King, a rowing buff, viewed the event from his yacht along with other members of his royal family.
There were aquatic sports, including five-oared whaleboat races, canoe races, yacht races, and swimming. Capping the day were spectators who climbed greased poles extending over the water. (Honolulu Rowing Club)
“Rowing is very popular, especially at Honolulu, where the Myrtle (‘Reds’) and the Healani (‘Blues’) Boat Clubs have for more than twenty years been rivals in four-oared shell, six-oared and pair-oared sliding seat barge rowing contests.”
“Regatta Day, the third Saturday in September, a legal holiday, is the important rowing carnival day, but races are also held on July 4, and at other times. Occasionally crews from the other islands or from the Pacific Coast participate in these races.” (Aloha Guide, 1915)
In the 1920s, there were five rowing clubs in Hawai‘i. The men’s clubs were Myrtle and Healani from Oʻahu and Hilo from the Big Island. The Healani and Myrtle Boat houses were near each other at what is now Pier 2 in Honolulu Harbor.
The Oahu-based Kunalu and Honolulu were the two women’s clubs. Kunalu was coached by Healani, while the Honolulu Girls were affiliated with Myrtle. (Honolulu Rowing Club)
Over time, teams reverted back to the canoe, principal means of travel in ancient Hawaiʻi. Most permanent villages initially were near the ocean and at sheltered beaches, which provided access to good fishing grounds, as well as facilitating convenient canoe travel.
“The canoe racing capital of the Hawaiian Islands … was at Waikiki, an area between the Hui Nalu Club and the Outrigger Club. (M)any canoe races took place in Honolulu Harbor during the regatta time when you had a Myrtle Boat Club, Healani Boat Club, the Hilo Boat Club, they would all participate and many of the canoe races took place right in Honolulu Harbor.” (Steiner)
The ancient Hawaiians paddled the channel waters in their canoes for food, recreation, trade, communication and military purposes. The rich history of the islands is full of accounts of mythical demigods and real-life heroes testing their skills on the oceans.
Control of Hawaiʻi’s channel waterways was an important part of Hawaiian society. This importance is reflected today in modern Hawaiʻi’s claim to state ownership of interisland waters (Hawaiʻi State Constitution, Article XV). (NOAA)
Control of the interisland waterways was an extension of domination of the land by the aliʻi. The “nature of the dominion exercised over a channel lying between two portions of a multi-island unit was based on Polynesian rather than Western concepts.” The Polynesians view the surrounding waters as part of the land. Control of the ocean by Hawaiians was implicit in the control of the islands themselves. (NOAA)
Kaiwi is known for the Kualau or Kuakualau – the strong wind and the rain out in the ocean. It is customary for it to blow in the evening and in the morning but sometimes blow at all times. “Where are you, O Kualau, Your rain goes about at sea.” (McGregor)
Wind speeds decrease in the lee of each island; whereas winds in the channel increase in strength. The area out in the channel is subject to heavy, gusty trade winds.
These winds had an effect on the waters in the channel; “… the ship turned toward Lae-o-ka-laau. As we went on the Kualau breeze of Kaiwi blew wildly, and many people were bent over with seasickness”. (Ku Okoa, 1922; Maly)
In Hawaiian tradition, Lāʻau Point on Molokai represents a point of no return. For those traveling by canoe from Oʻahu to Molokai across the Kaiwi Channel, once Lāʻau Point is sighted, there is no turning back to Oʻahu.
More commonly known today as the Molokai Channel, the Kaiwi Channel separates the islands of Molokai and Oʻahu; it has the reputation as one of the world’s most treacherous bodies of water.
In 1939, William K Pai is reportedly the first person to swim the Kaiwi Channel, from ʻIlio Point on Molokai to the Blowhole near Oʻahu’s Sandy Beach (because he first paddled a little offshore before swimming, it was ‘uncertified.’) Since then, several others have tried and succeeded.
On October 12, 1952, three Koa outrigger canoes launched from Molokai’s west side; nearly nine hours later, Kukui O Lanikaula landed on the beach at Waikīkī in front of the Moana Hotel. Thus began the world’s most prestigious outrigger canoe race, the Molokaʻi Hoe. Two years later, the women’s Na Wahine O Ke Kai, Molokai to Oʻahu Canoe Race, was inaugurated.
Healani is a regular participant in the Molokai to O‘ahu race. In the 1960s, my father skippered his Na Alii Kai (haole sampan boat) and escorted the Healani fiberglass canoe in the Molokai Channel race. He escorted the winning Healani teams (fiberglass) in 1966 and 1967.
“The 1966 race showed what the channel could do. One canoe was destroyed and several damaged in 20-foot seas and 35-knot winds.” (Sports Illustrated) (Waikiki Surf Club won the koa division.)