This weekend’s Moloka’i Hoe is a race against the record books

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Picture courtesy of Outrigger Canoe Club.

Only three canoes took part in the first Moloka’i Hoe in 1952. Everyone else was justifiably afraid of paddling through the treacherous Ka’iwi Channel. Nearly nine hours after departing Kawakiu Bay on Moloka’i, the Kukui O Lanikaula crew was the first to finish the race by reaching Waikiki.

Back then, paddlers not only raced against each other, but the channel itself. Now, 67 years later, the ultimate opponent is the record book.

On Sunday, October 13th, paddlers from across the world will gather on The Friendly Isle to compete in the 67th annual Moloka’i Hoe, one of the oldest organized athletic team competitions in the state — second only to football — and one of the most prestigious canoe paddling races in the world. But even as the 40-plus mile race has seen more paddlers participate over the years, with better training and better equipment to boot, a curious trend has emerged: record-setting times have become increasingly rare.

The current record of 4 hours, 30 minutes and 54 seconds was set by Tahiti’s Shell Va’a in 2011, making this current eight-year dryspell the second longest stretch without a new record. The longest was from 1996-2006. But prior to that, from 1952 to 1995, a new record was set at least once every four years.

The closest anyone has come to breaking the current record was last year’s Shell Va’a crew, which completed the race in 4:35:16 — 4 minutes and 22 seconds shy of the record for those counting at home — a short wait on land but an eternity on the water.

There’s another record on the line, however, that is particularly relevant for Hawaii: 14 years without an all-Hawaii team winning.

The race has been dominated by Shell Va’a lately, which has won every Moloka’i Hoe of the decade except two, and 11 of the last 13. The other winning crews in that time were Tahiti’s EDT Va’a in 2014, and Red Bull Wa’a in 2017, a Kona-based crew with five paddlers from Hawaii and four from Tahiti. In 2005, Lanikai Canoe Club was the last team composed entirely of paddlers from Hawaii to win.

If the trend continues on Sunday, this decade would be the first ever without a win for an all-Hawaii team. No pressure, though. It’s not like they’ll be paddling through a notoriously difficult channel or anything.

The Moloka’i Hoe is scheduled to start at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, October 13th at Hale O Lono harbor on Moloka’i.

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