The Malia is a 6-man Hawaiian racing canoe hewn from a single koa log in Kailua-Kona on the island of Hawaii in 1933. Malia is also part of the National Historic Register of Historic Places.
Her builder, James Takeo Yamasaki, designed her expressly for racing, one of the favorite sports of Hawaiian Royalty, dating back to King Kamehameha V (1863-1872).
She was purchased in 1936 by Dad Center of the Outrigger Canoe Club on O’ahu, but by 1948 became the property of the newly formed Waikiki Surf Club and has remained in their care ever since.
When launched she measured 39′-2″, but over time was modified twice. In 1950 she was lengthened to 39′-6″, and in 1973 she was lengthened to her present racing measure of 40′-1″.
Between 1952 and 1954 the Malia won fourteen straight Senior Men’s Races, and she has proven a dominant factor in canoe racing since. Her greatest accomplishments were performed in the very popular, highly prestigious, and very difficult 40 mile race from Molokai to O’ahu across the Molokai channel.
From the beginning of the annual Molokai-O‘ahu race in 1952, the Waikiki Surf Club, paddling the Malia, won first place a total of twelve times, six of which were consecutive, (’53, ’55, ‘58-’63, ’66, ’69, ’72 and ‘73). No other single canoe has ever won as often or for such a long continuous stretch.
In the 1960 race, Malia set a record time of 5 hours 29 minutes that was not surpassed by either a koa or a fiberglass canoe until 1981 when a California club, in the koa canoe Mālama, beat Malia’s record by a scant 4 minutes.
In 1959, two Koa outriggers were shipped to North America for the first Catalina Channel Crossing: one hull named, “Malia” (calm waters) and the other named, “Niuhe” (shark).
There were only two official entries in that first Catalina race, and “Malia,” manned by an all-star Hawaiian crew, won the crossing in a time of 5 hours, just eleven minutes ahead of a relatively in-experienced Californian team in the “Niuhe.”
The Malia’s contribution to canoe racing goes well beyond her own accomplishments. In 1959, the first fiberglass mold was made – actually pirated. (NPS)
“This shell, reportedly taken without authorization while she awaited shipment back to Hawaii was later made into a mold. From this mold, and hulls of canoes that came from it, other molds were made. … thus the Malia inadvertently sired a noble fleet of fiberglass-and-resin canoes.” (Holmes; Mancell)
The 1960 Catalina Channel Crossing Race hosted five, fiberglass Malia’s and the following year there were 8. By 1981, Malia mold canoes had achieved a remarkably wide distribution, including: Samoa, Australia, Japan, Great Britain, Canada, Illinois, Louisiana, Florida, New York, Hawaii and California.
The first mold, since it had been taken from a hand-crafted Koa hull, had some inconsistencies on its surface so better molds were manufactured as the number of Californian clubs grew and built their fleets of malias. Today, the majority of fiberglass canoes in both Hawai‘i and California are progeny of the Malia mold.
One boat from Hawai‘i inadvertently gave birth to outrigger canoe racing in North America. The malia mold is an integral part of Canadian and North American paddling history. Without the malia mold, outrigger racing in Canada may never have taken hold as early as it did.
From a single hull, there are now enough outrigger canoes to support more than 50 outrigger racing clubs throughout North America. There is still a “Malia Class Race” in Southern California. (Mancell) (Lots of information here is from Holmes, Mancell and NPS.)
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