Sailing Canoes, Hawaiian Culture and a Jazzy Good Time!

Look at that sailing canoe! Even sitting on the sand it looks fast and elegant. Except for the block on the main sheet the entire craft is made the traditional way with ropes, knots and wood. Ed and I had the chance to take a ride with part of the Team Olukai as part of the activities around the Olukai Ho’olaule’a event.

Since 1987, the Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association has been leading the charge to ‘learn, revive, educate, and practice ancient Hawaiian skills as they relate to sailing canoes and the Hawaiian culture.’ As the team races various courses across the Hawaiian island chain, at each stop the team offers free canoe rides to locals and tourists, educating them on the cultural and historical importance of the craft. We hopped aboard with three of the team members and set off for exhilarating fun.

Throughout the sail the team shared stories and information, tradition and obvious commitment to their sport. The winds and seas were probably quite mild compared to what they’d usually experience in a crossing, but we had the jazzy, sea-splashed pleasure of getting a taste of the experience. 


Inquiring about the ti leaves and wreaths on the canoe, we learned that it had recently been completely re-built. That day was its first launch since being blessed the evening before. The more we learned about the entire story the more engaging it became. For Ed and for me the experience riding along with the team was more than impressive. It provided a unique combination of harnessing wind, surf, paddles and camaraderie – all dear to us. We can’t wait to return to Maui and the Olukai Ho’olaulea next year.

Olukai – Strong tradition of giving

On May 12 we were fortunate to be on Maui and to have the chance to experience the last 3 miles of the famous Maliko Gulch run as part of the Olukai Ho’olaulea paddling event. From the first contact with the team from Olukai at Paia Youth and Cultural Center to the finish of the final participants a Kanaha Beach Park it was obvious that Olukai lives their vision and mission daily.

It is a lot more than the excellent products they deliver.  To summarize from their website, “OluKai was conceived from a desire to create a better class of products for the life we live in and around the water. There is a strong tradition of giving an offering or tribute in Polynesian culture.”  Let me share a story of just one of the dedicated Olukai team members I met and observed at the event.

Michelle St John, on the far right in the picture, first started chatting with me after I finished the 3 mile fun race segment and we were waiting for the Maliko Gulch racers to arrive in an hour or so. In the Olukai booth, she and some team members were answering questions, and generally giving us kudos and smiles for having done our first Maui North Shore down-winder. Suddenly, Michelle looked at me (62 year old, salt sprayed, sweaty person) and asked, ‘Are you thirsty?”

Heck yeah I was thirsty – I didn’t think to bring water on the SUP journey. The ice cold bottle of water she handed me was about the best tasting refreshment in the world! Because of that exchange I happened to notice Michelle throughout the rest of the day.  She didn’t remain standing casually on the beach for long. As you can see by the banners, the wind had picked up by 1:00.  

Paddlers started arriving in droves, 10-12 at a time. As they sprinted to the finish, they ditched their boards and dashed off. The hand full of strong young teens ready to collect the boards and stack them out of the way were overloaded in no time.

Without a moment’s hesitation I saw Michelle dash into the fray, giving a hand or managing to collect and move 14 foot paddle boards for as long as it took.  Splashing knee deep in the surf or slogging through the deep wet sand there was one consistent thing – a big smile and plenty of energy.

 That’s the spirit that pervaded the day and the event.

This annual event blends elite competition with family-friendly cultural activities including canoe sailing, ancient Hawaiian games, traditional luau, hula, and live music. We had an amazing time – from the incredible clear waters and knee-knocking swells to the luau feast and traditional games.  What a great way to support Olukai and to be able to benefit their “Ohana Giveback Program.” We saw it up close and first-hand. This is not a “your logo here” company! Way to go, Olukai.