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Hilton Hawaiian Village starts paddling program for staff

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Kahu Kordell Kekoa, left, leads the reaffirmation of two outrigger canoes with, from left, Hilton Hawaiian Village executives Julie Walker, Debi Bishop, Stephen Wong and Duke Ah Moo.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Shortly after departing on a short paddle off Duke Kahanamoku Beach, one of the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s newly acquired outrigger canoes overturned in the water. “Better to get it out of the way now,” Hilton’s Stephen Wong said afterward with a smile.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    The Hilton Hawaiian Village refurbished the “Naholowa’a and Keali’i Kai,” spending about $2,000 in the process.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Hilton Hawaiian Village employees paddle in an outrigger canoe at Duke Kahanamoku Beach on Jan. 25, led by steersman Stephen Wong, right.

The family that plays together, stays together — even if that family is actually a group of nearly 2,000 employees working at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

That was one of the messages hotel executives shared on Jan. 25, when kahu Cordell Kekoa helped reaffirm the Hawaiian names of two outrigger canoes on the sand at Duke Kahanamoku Beach with a small group of invited guests.

Corporate wellness activities for employees are nothing new, but the Hilton Hawaiian Village has added a local component with the acquisition of the Keali‘i Kai (“Chief of the Ocean”) and Naholowa‘a (“The Sailing Canoe”) last fall.

After buying the canoes from Na Keiki O Ka Mo‘i Canoe Club of Waianae, front service manager Stephen Wong spent several months sanding, repairing and repainting the boats with Hilton-style blue and white color schemes. Hilton came up with the $12,000 needed for the purchase and repairs so the boats can be used by the resort’s nearly 2,000 employees as part of the hotel chain’s Thrive@Hilton wellness initiative.

“We all work so long and hard, it’s great for us to get away and do fun things,” said Hilton Hawaiian Village Managing Director Debi Bishop. “We already do two bowling tournaments a year (and) two golf tournaments per year. We’re very committed to our team and providing activities for them to interact outside of work.”

Wong, 59, will oversee the new paddling program. It won’t be the first time he’s taken co-workers out in canoes in his more than 35 years with the hotel. A founder of the Koa Kai Canoe Club, Wong said he got permission to use Nappy Napoleon’s boats at Duke Kahanamoku Beach near the hotel for early morning paddles with co-workers nearly a decade ago.

“I used to take team members out on my own,” said Wong. “Nappy Napoleon used to let me borrow his canoes and we’d go out at 6 o’clock in the morning. So I’ve done this before.”

Thanks to Wong’s friendship with Napoleon, the Keali‘i Kai and Naholowa‘a will be stored at the beach alongside canoes from other clubs. When not in use by employees, the hotel will contract with Waikiki Beach Activities to make them available for use by hotel guests.

Purchasing the canoes follows through on a pledge Bishop and Wong made after fielding a crew in the Na Koa Wounded Warrior Regatta at last summer’s Duke’s Ocean Fest. Wong said he hopes to recruit “50 to 60 people” to participate in the new paddling program so they can field a crew at this year’s event.

Judging by other employees’ reactions to being out on the water last month, that shouldn’t be too hard.

“This is where you can come out and relax your mind,” said messenger Gerard Bell, 52, who joined the Hilton Hawaiian Village staff in 1999 and described himself as a “lifelong waterman.”

“For them to bring out these beautiful canoes for us to use before or after our shifts, what other job offers that? I’ll definitely be motivated to come out. For me, it’s just about getting out there and having fun.”

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