50th Annual Queen Lili‘uokalani canoe race kicks off Saturday; with donations to Maui

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The 50th Annual Queen Lili‘uokalani 5-day canoe race kicks off this week in Kona, with the organizers donating a percentage of the proceeds to Lāhainā.

Mike Atwood, race director and canoe coordinator, said Kai ‘Ōpua Canoe Club wanted to do something to help its island neighbors still recovering from the tragic Aug. 8 fires.

“We feel this is an opportunity for not only Maui clubs but all clubs to come together to show community and spirit of being a paddler and … to support each other and be around each other,” he said. “We definitely want to support Maui in any way we can.”

Atwood said members of international clubs also have asked what they can do to help, and also intend to donate proceeds.

The event started Thursday with a cultural rock walk in the Kailua Village, followed by a race meeting and an international paddlers reception.

On Friday, there will be a queen’s race cultural fair, with voyaging canoe Makali‘i present, and a talk story session from 4 p.m. until 5 p.m.


The races begin on Saturday, with the wāhine and kāne wa’a kaukahi (single canoe) races at 7:30 and 11:45 a.m. The 18-mile race is from Kailua Bay to Hōnaunau, with other races going from Hōnaunau back to Kailua Bay.

Kai ‘Ōpua Canoe Club President Kris Hazard, who has been involved with the race for 15 years, said this year it’s important for paddlers to become aware of Hōnaunau while they are there.

“Social media has exploded the visitor count to Hōnaunau and it’s fragile down there,” he said. “We are working with them [the community] to educate people and mitigate some of the people and visitors that go. But it’s tricky.”

She said more than 190 canoes are heading south to finish at Hōnaunau; and she is telling the paddlers to take extra precautions after meeting with the families there.

“We made a trifold brochure with QR code that carries a letter from the community from Hōnaunau telling the people how special it is and how to care for it,” she said.


Following the long race there will be an award presentation at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Resort with a torchlight parade at 7 p.m.

On Sunday, races start at 7 a.m. with teen single-hull canoes, wa’a kaulua, one-person and two-person races, and a lū’au at 2 p.m. On Monday the kūpuna race starts at 8:30 a.m.

Atwood said the first race began in 1972 for the Moloka’i to Oahu race, and it has evolved into a community and cultural event over the years, bringing more than 2,000 paddlers from all over the globe to participate and making it one of the largest, if not the largest, in the world.

“It turned into a lot more than just being on canoes, getting on the starting line and competing,” he said. “It’s turned into a cultural and community event. We still have the tradition of outrigger canoe paddling, but it also involves the culture of outrigger paddling.”

Atwood’s first canoe race was in 1973, and he later became director in 1999. He said the races were founded by Mary Jane Kahanamoku and her husband Louis who started the races while talking with her husband at their kitchen table. They talked about the training course and divisions, and prepared a proposal to present to the Kai ‘Opua Canoe Club Board of Directors.


The board agreed and now their legacy continues.

The first Queen Lili’uokalani 18-mile canoe race was for men only and attracted eight crews who paddled from Kealakekua Bay to the Kailua Pier. The following year, race organizers opened the race for women, with the women’s race starting at Kailua Bay and finishing in Hōnaunau Bay. 

Today the race, named after Hawai’i’s beloved Queen Lili’uokalani, who ruled from 1891 until the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893 and whose birthday is Sept. 2, is steadily growing to the point that they may have to cap the number of entries in future years.

Throughout the weekend attendees can enjoy the races, along with fun and educational events.

The 50th Queen Lili‘uokalani Outrigger Canoe Races is made possible through the support of
Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority through the Community Enrichment Program and the
sponsorship of Kai Opua Canoe Club, Queen K Texaco, Ocean Paddler Television, Helekunihi
Trust, King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, Hulakai and numerous corporate and community

For more information visit

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