Keauhou Canoe Club inspires students with Hawaiian culture, paddling fun

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A program born out of a partnership between the Keauhou Canoe Club and West Hawai‘i Explorations Academy is challenging the school’s eighth-graders to learn and grow in ways they never could while sitting in a classroom.

Na Mea Kupaianaha, which means “discovery of wondrous or amazing things,” is a monthly program offered by the canoe club that shares fitness, fun and Hawaiian culture through the sport of outrigger canoe paddling with the students. The intent of the program is to bridge the generation gap by increasing knowledge, awareness and appreciation for the participating students and their adult mentors of the cultural richness of paddling and heritage offered in the Keauhou Bay setting, according to Keauhou Canoe Club membership secretary Bill Armer.

Keauhou Canoe Club stroker Richard Shouse displays paddling techniques for Izaya Edmonds, Tobias Davis, Rowan Paoli and Sam Anderson-Moxley while steersman B.C. Celello keeps an eye on the stroke timing. Photos courtesy of Keauhou Canoe Club.

“The question is which generation is teaching and learning more with the other generation?” Armer, the program’s organizer, said in a press release.

Each monthly session hosted at the club’s Keauhou canoe hālau begins with reciting a Hawaiian oli and a cultural presentation led by Noelani Campbell, Keauhou Canoe Club’s cultural liaison. Keiki learn the cultural significance of paddling and key Hawaiian words used in the state’s official team sport.

Students also visit Keauhou historic landmarks, such as the birthplace of King Kamehameha III and the Kuamo‘o Battlefield with its Lekeleke Burial Grounds. In addition, the eighth-graders will build a mo‘okauhau, or genealogy tree, from a visual mathematics perspective.


Paddling activities are guided by 20 club volunteers serving as strokers and steerspeople to assist 40 students and instructional staff. Program participants are taught a variety of skills — paddle handling, stroking posture and techniques, timing, canoe etiquette and boating safety. Six- or 12-person canoes are used for paddling and students help launch and return canoes to the beach. The fun also includes competitive sprints within Keauhou Bay.

After the last canoe is securely stowed, the 2.5-hour sessions end with participants gathered around a canoe for a moment of silence and a short Hawaiian language cheer.

The program started in September and continues through February.

“I like paddling; it’s fun and definitely a workout,” said West Hawai‘i Explorations Academy eighth-grader Sola Laliberte in the press release. Sola’s classmate Leo Lenta added: “it’s good how everyone is working together, synchronizing and stuff.”


Student Kira Matsuoka said the program “makes you connect with yourself, the ocean, this place and Hawaiian culture.”

Sam Anderson-Moxley with West Hawai‘i Explorations Academy’s Bridge Year Program — a transition to high school initiative offering real-world challenges to inspire and empower the school’s eighth-graders — approached Keauhou Canoe Club cultural committee and board member Jessie Chambers about the possibility of forming a partnership. Na Mea Kupaianaha is the result of that request.

West Hawai‘i Explorations Academy students and Keauhou Canoe Club participants gather to end a paddling session with a moment of silence with all hands on the canoe.

“The bridge year is all about getting students to learn out in the real world, to experience and engage with their ‘aina and to participate in outdoor adventures,” said Anderson-Moxley in the press release, adding the goal is to get students to learn in a setting away from being behind a desk. “Paddling with [Keauhou Canoe Club] gives students the opportunity to have a hands-on learning experience where they learn about history, culture, language, sport and math while also practicing teamwork, collaboration and timing.”

Anderson-Moxley emphasized that the partnership between the canoe club and school enables the eighth-graders to learn from and engage with mentors in the community, not just their teachers, which is invaluable.


West Hawai‘i Explorations Academy underwrites the cost for students and staff members to participate in the program and also gives them full club membership for the duration. The school also provides student transport to the canoe hālau. Keauhou Canoe Club provides use of paddles, life jackets and canoes. Many of the participating canoe club members, who range from 40 to 80 years old, have teaching and coaching experience.

Keiki come prepared to get wet, bring their own towels and lunch to enjoy afterwards.

Chambers, who envisions Na Mea Kupaianaha as a recurring educational offering for school groups, hopes the program will attract keiki to participate in the canoe club’s youth program, which includes participating in the summer Moku O Hawai‘i regatta season.

“Our [West Hawai‘i Explorations Academy] partnership is allowing us to broaden the base of our ongoing youth outreach through the expansion of our cultural, educational and athletic activities,” Chambers said in the press release. “Na Mea Kupaianaha enriches the student experience and ultimately strengthens [Keauhou Canoe Club’s] commitment to our youth through the perpetuation of culture-based outrigger paddling.”

Founded in 1980, the mission of Keauhou Canoe Club is to educate youth, its membership and the community at large about Hawaiian culture, values and traditions. The club provides paddling opportunities for people of all ages. For more information, visit the club’s website.

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