Updated: September 27, 2023
The 72nd annual Molokaʻi Hoe Canoe Race — a grueling 41-mile race across the treacherous Kaʻiwi Channel — is back after a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Oʻahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association will host the men’s world championship in outrigger canoe racing on Oct. 8.
Competition paddlers from canoe clubs around the globe train for the race all year.
Leaving from the south shores of Molokaʻi, more than 1,000 paddlers will spend eight hours plus battling winds, currents and large swells to try to arrive first in Waikīkī.
“When you do a race in between the islands it’s not like following the coastline,” said Mike Atwood, vice president for Kona paddling club Kai ʻŌpua. “In the Molokaʻi race, you never really know what the tide is going to do.”
The Molokaʻi Hoe is a testament to the strength, skill and resilience of Hawaiʻi’s canoe paddlers and a sport that is celebrated worldwide.
“It is a showcase of the Hawaiian spirit and a tribute to the legacy of our ancestors who navigated the open ocean using only the stars, wind and currents,” the association stated in a press release.
On race day, canoes will launch at 8 a.m. from Hale O Lono, or “House of Lono,” a long and narrow white-sand beach on Molokai’s south shore. It was once a heiau (place of worship) for Lono, the god of agriculture and fertility.
The six-man paddling teams will chart their way through the choppy waters of the Ka’iwi Channel and end their journey on Waikīkī shores at Duke’s Beach – Hilton Hawaiian Village.
The Molokaʻi Hoe attracts top paddlers from Hawaiʻi, Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand and around the world. The race is known for its challenging conditions, including strong currents, open-ocean swells and winds that can reach up to 30 knots.
Atwood, who has competed in the race 22 times, said it can be scary for those unfamiliar with the strong currents. Paddlers will see swells that at times can tower over them.
As the race continues toward Oʻahu, Atwood said it’s common to not see other teams. They all chart their own courses.
“It’s relying on the escort boat, the coach and the canoe’s steersman,” he said.
Atwood said there is a women’s version of the race, Nā Wahine O Ke Kai. The last race took place in 2019. According to the race website, officials hope to schedule their next event for Sept. 24.
Oʻahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association is partnering with Salt and Air Studios and Nexstar Media, owner of Hawaiʻi’s TV Stations KHON2 and KHII Channel 5, to produce and air the event live on Oct. 8. The event will air live on KHII Channel 5. It also will be live-streamed on www.khon2.com.
In a joint statement from Mike Prickett of Salt and Air Studios and Kristina Lockwood of KHON2:
“We want to share every moment and highlight of this important race to help perpetuate our Hawaiian culture and sport of canoe racing. In addition, we look forward to highlighting the host island of Molokaʻi and the legacy of this historic race.”
For more information about the Molokaʻi Hoe canoe race, including registration and race details, visit www.molokaihoe.com.