The teamwork begins before they even hit the water.
Before every race, members of the Lokahi Outrigger Canoe Center crew have to lash the outrigger and booms to the hull, using a 50-foot length of cotton rope. It’s an intricate process that involves teammates passing the rope between them, leading it through holes in the canoe, securing them in a traditional formation, and tightening it down.
A poor job can lead to an unsteady ride or even an overturned boat.
“It’s a team effort. Not one person can do it,” said Brandon Browning, a board member for the club. His stepdaughter competes on the under-19 crew. “It’s trust that you and I as crew members are going to make sure this boat that we are putting together, that it’s going to stay afloat.”
And it’s an ancient process. Even so, some teams have moved on to using less traditional, and perhaps faster and easier methods — vinyl and winches and such. Not at Lokahi.
“To me, it’s a bonding process. To me, it’s attaching yourself to that canoe. It’s spiritual,” said Sam Medeiros, co-founder of the paddling club.
“The way they lash the boats, it’s the same lashing that has been done for thousands of years,” he said.
Medeiros said paddlers put their mana — their inside spirit — into the boat when they tie.
“Wherever we are from, we all have that power within us, we just have to expose it at times,” he said. “Some people bring it out, some people don’t. Some people don’t know they have it.”
The six members of the U-19 crew have it.
They will compete in Hawaii this weekend in the annual Queen Lili’uokalani Canoe Race, the world’s largest long-distance outrigger canoe race. Events, including a torch walk and stories from veteran paddlers, started Thursday and racing runs through Monday. The Lokahi crew race Sunday.
“I play a bunch of different sports but paddling is one of my favorites because of my connection and history. A bunch of my family paddles,” said crew captain Makana Dudoit, a first-year student at Santa Rosa Junior College and Browning’s stepdaughter.
Both Medeiros and Dudoit said process is as important, if not more so, than winning in the Lokahi paddling philosophy. Both are Hawaiian and emphasized the aspects of paddling that are not affected by winning or losing — the teamwork, the preparation, the feeling of ohana, or family.
Dudoit said that will be a special part of the trip for her.
“I grew up in Hawaii. I grew up in the culture and a lot of them didn’t,” she said. “I am just excited to share my culture with a lot of my teammates.”
They feeling of ohana is a key part of paddling, even in competition.
Dudoit said that in a recent race, a rival team flipped its boat. But everyone in the race slowed and cheered them back into the boat before racing on.
“Instead of one less competitor, we kind of cheered them on so we could all finish together,” she said.
But I had to ask. Did they win?
“We did win,” she said.