The Power Of Paddling
The gentlemen of Kukui‘ula Outrigger canoe club crushed the competition at the recent Pailolo Challenge. Members of the 50+ age division made the 26-mile trek from Maui to Moloka‘i and placed fourth in their category and 40th overall (out of 120 teams). The group also set a new personal record, finishing 40 minutes faster than last year.
“Our fitness level could have been better, and we definitely have room for improvement next year,” says founding member Mac McDonald.
Though they didn’t place first, in no way are these athletically ambitious men defeated. More likely, they’re going to work harder for next year’s competition. What makes them stand out is that they are at an age when many others might be contemplating retirement and dreaming about spending their days at leisure.
These guys, who are as fit as — if not more so — men who are decades younger, are not spending their days twiddling their thumbs. They practice three to four times a week during the season, which starts the end of January and finishes up in October, and also cross train in other areas on their “days off.”
Even the ladies make great strides in their athletic endeavors. Katy Otsuji, who is married to Kukui‘ula Outrigger co-founder Marvin, won first place in the 50+ women’s division in the Pailolo Challenge. She also took first in the 55+ women’s division at the Nā Wahine O Ke Kai.
Katy says the sport not only takes strength and endurance — there’s not an ounce of fat on her body — but it also takes knowledge and experience.
“You learn to pace yourself and are no longer afraid; you can push hard from beginning to end,” she says.
Denise Morrison, who also defies age, agrees. She says this is especially true when it comes to paddling on the open ocean.
“You can’t fight it, it’s stronger than you. It’ll help you or it’ll hurt you,” she says.
Morrison, an experienced open ocean paddler and steerswoman, saw the difference in her skills compared to others when she raced with a Canadian crew from Newport Beach to Catalina Island. Her team members had only ever practiced on a lake and didn’t understand how to “catch bump” or ride with the waves. Still, her team took first place in both the women’s 40s and mixed-40s age divisions at the Catalina Crossing outrigger championships.
The talented athletes of Kukui‘ula Outrigger, which include adults ages 18-70, started competing together about a decade ago. Marvin, who also serves as the club’s head coach, says he thought Kukui‘ula Small Boat Harbor was an excellent place for a new group to practice. He sought the financial support of entities in the area that just happened to be looking for an organization to assist.
“So it was a perfect fit,” says Marvin, who has been paddling some four decades now.
The Kukui‘ula Outrigger “family” has grown ever since. The South Shore club has some 10 canoes and about 80-100 members. Paddlers are categorized according to experience level and age group, and participate at whatever degree they choose or can dedicate their time to.
But Marvin says that once it gets into your system, it gets your juices flowing and you’re hooked. He enjoys watching this process of people working hard, not necessarily just to win, but to feel good about their accomplishments.
“They’ve earned that right to be there, whatever level that success is, whatever little things they chip off,” he says.
“Just seeing that smile when someone comes in after a 9-mile race when at the start of the season, they couldn’t even do a quarter of a mile sprint. And they’ve been kicked around a little bit to be in that spot.”
The club accepts new members at the start of each year for six-man canoe, sailing canoe and one-man paddling opportunities. Teams can compete in everything from coastal 5to 10-mile races, to longer off-island distance and channel-crossing races up to 41 miles. However, it takes a high level of commitment to be a part of a competitive team, which at Kukui‘ula Outrigger includes the active 50+ age groups for men and women. The most positive aspect of having this age group is that it provides a healthy outlet for those who are more “evolved,” as the team members joke, and it gives them a chance to compete in a sport.
“And it’s something I love to do,” says Arlen Williamson. “When we go out there to train, it doesn’t even feel like I’m working out.”
Williamson, who is in his 30th year of paddling, says he can be on the water for hours and not even notice how quickly the time flies.
“It’s not like working out,” agrees McDonald.
And it’s something they make sure not to miss out on.
“Because you know your teammates are counting on you being there,” McDonald adds. “It’s a good pressure.”
The rigorous training, intense competition and, not to mention, being in the middle of the ocean without an island in sight for miles, is something only the brave and physically adept like these men and women can handle and comprehend.
“We’re a different breed,” says Marvin.
Visit kukuiulaoutrigger.com for more information, or if you’re interested in joining in January contact Fran McDonald at 635-0165. All adult age groups and experience levels are welcome.