This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Queen Lili‘uokalani women’s long distance outrigger canoe race — an event that has not only become the largest of its kind in the world, but it’s also a race that broke down barriers for women in the sport.
Up until 1974, women’s crews only paddled in short-course regattas. The Queen’s 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 other women to follow.
“We knew we could do it. Our six-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.”
The countries represented include Australia, Canada, German, Japan, New Zealand, Tahiti, Singapore, with nearly 100 crews from around the U.S., including Arizona, California, Hawaii and Washington.
“People love to come because this is more than just a race — it’s an event,” Kai Opua Canoe Club president Bo Campos said. “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 single hull six-person canoe race for men and women crews, 6-mile men and women waa kaulua (double hull canoe) races, stand-up paddleboard races, OC1-man, OC2-man and teen long distance canoe races.
The women’s race starts at 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning, with the ladies paddling 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 Ali’i Challenge, which includes a paddling distance of almost 17.5 miles followed by the crews negotiating a land course that incorporates Hawaiian cultural aspects
“There are diehard 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.”
Today, Kai Opua hosts a talk story with the original 1974 women paddlers, coaches and officials. The public is invited to attend at 5 p.m. on the lawn at King Kamehameha’s Hotel.
After the races Saturday, the day wraps up with a torchlight parade though Kailua Village. The parade starts at 6:30 p.m., going from Hale Halawai County Pavillion to the Kailua Pier.
For more race information, including a detailed slate of events, race information, photos and history, visit kaiopua.org.