The Na Wahine O Ke Kai Women’s Molokai to Oahu canoe race started with a few strong-willed women with a dream in 1954. It took 20 years before the dream became a reality.
The dream began in 1954, two years after the first men’s Molokai-to-Oahu Canoe Race took place. Waikiki Surf Club’s Senior Women’s crew proposed for consideration a race for the women also. Coaches and officials insisted the women couldn’t handle the treacherous channel. It took years of patience and persistence to convince everyone that it was possible for women to paddle across the Kaiwi Channel.
In October of 1975 with fair ocean conditions, the first unofficial crossing was made by two crews of 18 women each. One crew was incorporated from four canoe clubs: Kailua, Outrigger, Lanikai and Waikiki Surf Club and was spearheaded by Donna Coelho. They named themselves “Onipaa”. The other was from Healani Canoe Club, coached by Babe Bell. They proved that women could paddle across the Kaiwi Channel. Part of the dream had come true. Hannie Anderson and the late Leinani Faria, then President of Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association also shared the dream, and officiated this first crossing.
The dream of so many women, who had worked so hard, had finally become a reality four years later. Na Wahine O Ke Kai (Women of the Sea) was christened by one of the founding members Puna Kalama Dawson. The iconic Na Wahine profile logo was created by artist Toni Marston. Mary Winchester of Windward Kai Canoe Club was elected President. Hannie Anderson was appointed Race Director and remains in that position today – 45 years later. A proxy Race Director is now on the course.
Na Wahine O Ke Kai (Women of the Sea) took on a new meaning on October 15, 1979, when Outrigger Canoe Club led an amazing 17-crew field and finished in six hours, 35 minutes, 14 seconds. Since 1979 Outrigger Canoe Club has won four times: 1981, 1984, 1985 and again in 1992. Hui Nalu Canoe Club won the event in 1982 and 1983. OffShore Canoe Club has paddled its way to victory from 1986 thru 1991 and again from 1993 to 96, setting a new course record of five hours, 24 minutes, 32 seconds in 1995. The race was cancelled in 1980 and again in 2015 due to 30-foot surf and strong winds.
For 45 years, the World Championship of women’s racing, Na Wahine O Ke Kai has drawn women paddlers from across the globe. The 40-mile trek across the Kaiwi Channel from Molokai to Oahu has evolved from 17 crews to 70. The 12-women crew evolved into 10-women. Master divisions 40, 50, 55, Juniors and finally 60s were added throughout the years. Racing in Koa canoes and Hawaiian specification canoes has evolved into the Unlimited canoe division.
Na Wahine O Ke Kai canoe race has flourished through the years – attracting crews from all over the world because of the tireless efforts of race supporters, volunteers, and of course, the paddlers. Through their endurance, devotion and sportsmanship they have helped to perpetuate Hawaii’s cultural heritage.