Solid Roots: Ka’ai Bruhn- Traditions and Canoes

One of the best known beaches in the world, Waikiki was the favorite playground of Hawaiian royalty in the 19th century. At the time, Waikiki was an area of wetlands fed by streams from the valleys above Honolulu.  We spent this week at the Hilton Hawaiian Village eager for a week of stand-up paddling and surfing. It was our third visit but we had never heard how the Waikiki wetlands gave way to the resorts and beaches so popular today. This visit included a true bonus. We met Ka’ai Bruhn in his Duke Kahanamoku Canoe Stand right on the shore of the nearby lagoon.

He didn’t start with the story of his passion for 6-man outrigger canoe racing, but we teased it  out over a conversation around our favorite paddles.  We had shipped our Kialoa SUP paddles over to Hawaii – and coincidentally Ka’ai mentioned that he uses Kialoa paddles when he races. Then the story evolved. His favorite race is the Molokai-Oahu that takes place yearly in October.

In 2004 and 2005 as a member of the Lanikai Canoe Club, Ka’ai’s team won the race. That 42 mile route is always full of wind, swells, uncertain conditions – and according to Ka’ai, an amazing experience! This photo shows the 2004 team after their victory. That’s Ka’ai in the back on the left – pretty happy group.

We connected easily, tied by stories of “the good old days” when shrimp and lobster were abundant in the wetland that is now the lagoon.  Our Florida/Bahamas past paralleled Ka’ai’s – and he found us as an eager audience to some local history.  He respects the strong connection between Duke Kanahnamoku and the exact geographic location of both the resort and the lagoon nearby.

It’s great to hear what Ka’ai loves about running his business throughout the 16 years he’s been at the resort. “The lagoon is a wonderful place and the nearby safe beaches allow people of all ages and all abilities to learn to swim and enjoy watersports in salt water. It’s rare to find a place like this. Visitors can safely learn a respect for the sea while having fun.

The connected-ness between this part of Waikiki and water sports became known worldwide because of Duke Kahanamoku. His family had a four bedroom home nearby and Duke learned to swim right here – like so many others from around the world.  The difference? Duke trained and had both the skill and the drive to become fast enough to break the world record for swimming in several Olympics. Not satisfied just breaking records, Duke gave swimming and surfing exhibitions and popularized both sports – and his Waikiki home.”

As you would expect from a waterman, Ka’ai comes from a family with deep respect for Mother Earth – land and sea.  In the yin and yang of life, mixing water sports and family, the tradition of love and respect is simply part of life. Ka’ai’s grandfather always said, “People say we should be careful so that we don’t ruin Mother Earth. The truth is, in the end, Mother Earth will always win. It’s us, humankind, that should be watchful and caring for our own survival.”  Powerful perspective!

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