The History of Hawai‘i From Our Files: Racing in the Moloka‘i Hoe

In 1957, Paradise of the Pacific gave readers a glimpse at the exhausting 37-mile competition.


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Each year, paddlers hit the water for one of the most grueling races in Hawai‘i. The Moloka‘i Hoe started in 1952 with three outrigger canoes racing from Kawākiu Bay through the Kaiwi Channel to Waikīkī. In 1957, Paradise of the Pacific gave readers a glimpse at the exhausting 37-mile competition.


“The canoe race weekend is a holiday for residents of Molokai, the Friendly Isle. Friday afternoon finds electricians, carpenters, mechanics, and hunters converging on a small crescent strip of beach known as Kauakiu on Molokai’s northwest tip.


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“Only road to the beach is two ruts of dust through private land. Scrubby kaewe trees and tufts of coarse windblown grass grow by the wayside. Deer tracks crisscross this dirt road that is frequented only rarely by fishermen.


“But now the padlocked gate swings open as Jeeps and trucks rattle down the road loaded with equipment. Portable generators sputter as strings of electric lights are laced through the kaewe trees. Picnic tables and a refreshment booth are knocked together. The hammering echoes along the lava cliffs on either side of the small bay.




“Housewives tramp down the sand with kitchen equipment. Children race about collecting bottles and cans to clean the beach. Hunters are out in the kaewe trees stalking the deer that will become venison steaks for some 300 persons Saturday night.


“Saturday noon finds families converging on the beach in trucks and dented cars. They bring blankets, food, and the household ukulele or guitar. A bus is already making scheduled runs from the airport with visitors and canoe crews from Oahu.”


The prize is $500, which is far less than the crews spent just getting there. Paradise notes that a paddler can lose 5 pounds in the six hours it takes to propel the 400-pound koa wood canoe across the channel, without a compass and only using a coconut shell as a bailer. Half a dozen bonfires burn during the party the night before. Canoe crews sleep first, bundled in blankets between the outriggers of the canoe.


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“The beach again becomes a mass of activity at 4 a.m. Canoes are uncovered and inched down the beach to where waves lick the sand. Breakfast is served—stew, hot cereal, hard boiled eggs, oranges, coffee, and crackers.


“Suddenly, the dawn seems to lighten too fast. Anchored cabin cruisers cough their motors to life as canoes are launched amid shouts of good luck.


“A running figure, silhouetted in the golden dawn, stumbles out to a point of rack at the end of the bay, raises a revolver in the air, and fires the shot that sends canoes sliding toward Oahu.


“The canoes race together for a few brief moments, then scatter like chickens before a mongoose as they gain the open ocean.


“Trailing each canoe is its escort motor launch with six reserve paddlers.” The escorts can’t help. Men paddle 30 strokes a minute.


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“Canoes become harder to handle as they near Oahu as the swells become shorter and the paddlers weaker. But this is when seamanship is most important for the canoes have to pass through a rip tide of current that flows around Koko Head. Unseen powers wrench the canoes sideways and fling bows off course.


“But once around the point, the water is calm and canoes follow the current toward Diamond Head.” Paddlers pick up the pace, going to 40 strokes a minute, and soon the winning team makes it to shore in a record 6 hours, 5 minutes.


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Seventy years later, the Moloka‘i Hoe hosts more than 1,000 paddlers from around the world each year. It has been postponed for 2022.



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