Sleek six-person outrigger canoes are once again plying Maui waters, but hundreds of paddlers are missing the keen competition of the summer regatta season.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources announced Wednesday that the emergency restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic for commercial and recreational boating and ocean activities were being relaxed, allowing 10 people on a vessel at one time.
Kihei Canoe Club President Berney Coleman, 71, said he is excited to be able to get out on the water in the club’s red-and-yellow canoes — even if just for recreational purposes. He said almost half of its 200 members are above the age of 60 and rely on paddling for exercise and for their overall mental health.
Coleman had been advocating for more relaxed guidelines since the onset of the pandemic, and was pleased to hear there was forward momentum.
“We are extremely excited about that. I have so many members that will be so happy,” he said.
Although paddlers are being allowed back in their boats, the summer racing season remains grounded. Practice was getting underway in earnest in early spring when the Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association made the tough decision to call off the seven-event regatta season that would have launched this weekend.
Also canceled were the State Championships to be held Aug. 1 in Keehi Lagoon on Oahu and the World Sprints, Aug. 15-23 in Hilo. Long-distance races also were affected, with cancellation of the prestigious Na Wahine and Molokai Hoe women’s and men’s races from Molokai to Oahu and the 26-mile Pailolo Challenge from D.T. Fleming Beach in Kapalua to Kaunakakai.
MCHCA said it would provide an update June 15 on the prospect of holding smaller long-distance events that would normally follow the regatta season.
Unable for more than two months to paddle in six-person crews, members of the island’s nine canoe clubs had to settle for swimming, stand-up paddling, heading out in one-person canoes or surf skis, or other solo alternatives.
Kahana Canoe Club President Shaina Auld, 27, said when she first heard the regatta season was going to be canceled, it was “kind of hard to swallow.”
“I felt like it was a real rebuilding season for our club. So, personally, it’s been kind of hard,” she said.
The summer season is also critical for fundraising through food and merchandise sales, raffles and special events. Some clubs also run keiki programs.
Auld said she is looking into putting together options for the children at Kahana, and is thinking of possible fundraisers and volunteer work permitted under state and county guidelines.
She’s also encouraging club members to look on the bright side.
“Right now I come across a lot of my teammates, my aunties and uncles, and despite the fact that the season is out of reach, I tell them we can take advantage of this time by having fun and focusing more on family,” she said.
Ka‘ili Moikeha, 28, is the club manager at mighty Hawaiian Canoe Club, which has claimed multiple State Championships and was set to defend its 35th straight county title. The Kahului club, which has around 300 members, has been “trying to be creative” in thinking of ways to keep club morale up despite the lack of competition to drive team spirit.
“We want to get our members back on the water as soon as we can, but do it safely,” she said.
“We’re definitely excited things are starting to open back up, but this is still a take-it-slow kind of thing. I know groups are still limited, but we are excited that this is going to be lifted and we can get to paddling and get back on the water,” she said, commenting before the formal announcement from DLNR.
The club still plans to host its fundraiser July 25 at the King Kamehameha Golf Club if allowed.