Women’s long-distance race turns 40


This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Queen Liliuokalani women’s long distance outrigger canoe race — a race that has not only become the largest canoe race in the world, but also an event that broke down barriers for women in the sport.

Until 1974, women’s crews only paddled in short-course regattas.

The race salutes the pioneering women and the support crews who believed in their ability to paddle an open ocean race and steered the way for others to follow.

“We knew we could do it. Our 6-mile, long-distance race from Keauhou to Kailua kick started what the race has grown to become today,” said Blondie Kamaka, one of the members of the pioneering Kai Opua Canoe Club crew. “We paddled because we love it, and now it’s a legacy. We knew we could go farther and we did the following year.”

Teams from seven foreign countries — including Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Tahiti, Singapore, will join nearly 100 crews from around the United States, including Arizona, California, Hawaii and Washington.

“People love to come because this is more than just a race — it’s an event,” said Kai Opua Canoe Club president Bo Campos. “It’s the whole weekend. The people from out of state can come, hang out and embrace what Kona has to offer.”

Campos estimates the event will draw 2,500 to 2,800 competitors to Kona’s waters.

The event includes the signature 18-mile long-distance, single-hull, six-person canoe race for men’s and women’s crews, 6-mile men and women waa kaulua (double hull canoe) races, standup paddleboard races, OC1-man, OC2-man and teen long-distance canoe races.

The women’s race starts at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, with the ladies paddling a grueling 18 miles from Kamakahonu Beach to Honaunau Bay.

The top crews are expected to arrive at Honaunau just after 9 a.m.

Back for its fourth year is the Alii Challenge — a blend of “Survivor” and “Amazing Race” that includes a paddling distance of almost 17.5 miles followed by the crews negotiating a land course that incorporates Hawaiian cultural aspects.

“There are die-hard guys who do the Alii Challenege,” Campos said. “It’s amazing that a lot of the guys race through the weekend and have energy to compete Monday as well.”

At 5 p.m. today on the lawn at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, Kai Opua hosts a talk story with the original 1974 women’s paddlers, coaches and officials.

After the races, Saturday wraps up with a torchlight parade though Kailua Village. The parade from Hale Halawai to Kailua Pier starts at 6:30 p.m.

For more race information, including a detailed slate of events, photos and history, visit kaiopua.org.