HONOLULU, UNITED STATES
PEARL HARBOR — With some paddle power from Kaneohe Bay service members, Honolulu Pearl Canoe Club is racing from Molokai to Oahu Sunday.
The international “Molokai Hoe” race will be the first for Michael Rigoni, a Navy assistant supply lieutenant from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 24.
“The Molokai race is 42 miles and potentially seven hours,” Rigoni said. “It’s important to keep your head on straight, to keep working with your teammates and keep that teamwork mentality.”
Rigoni is one of nine paddlers and two coaches representing the Honolulu Pearl Canoe Club, which extends membership to civilians. Since joining in 2009, Rigoni said he’s enjoyed the opportunity to practice and competitively paddle.
The club takes into consideration members deploying or having limited time to practice, something Rigoni appreciates.
“Our club understands and recognizes it,” he said. “We’ll work with you and do our best to get you in a boat as often as possible.
Taking first seat, Rigoni joins the crew racing across the Kaiwi Channel from Hale O Lono Harbor in Molokai back to Waikiki Beach on Oahu. More than a thousand canoe paddlers from around the world are set to complete in the race, which has been held since 1952.
“For most of us the Molokai race is the culmination of more than six months of paddling and training,” said club member Trae Young, a lieutenant stationed with Defense Logistics Agency Distribution Mapping Hawaii at Joint Base Hickam-Pearl Harbor. “So knowing this is the ‘Super Bowl’ of the entire season is exhilarating!”
The club’s female paddlers entered the Sept. 28 “Na Wahine O Ke Kai” race, which follows the same 42-mile route from Molokai to Oahu. Tracy Sampson, a Marine Corps captain with MALS-24 and member of the club, was on the female team racing from Molokai.
Since she’s started paddling, Sampson said it’s complimented her regular workouts and is a fun way to exercise.
“Everything from running to upper body strength has [improved],” she said. “It’s not something you notice right way in the season. Progressively as the season moves on, the practices get harder. One of the ladies on our crew lost 30 pounds.”
Besides the great workout, both Sampson and Rigoni say they’ve enjoyed meeting new people. The club’s civilian paddlers, including Volkan Buyukacar, appreciate having the athletic muscle and camaraderie.
“I like having people from all over the U.S. in our club,” said Buyukacar, whose wife is a retired Air Force officer. “Everyone has a different cultural background, and it’s great. It’s like a melting pot.”
For the club’s military members, having the chance to participate in a traditional Hawaiian sport has helped them develop a bond with the local culture. Sampson and Rigoni said they’ve enjoyed how much of Oahu they’ve seen because of practicing and competing with the club. Before the Molokai races, the club competed in several others, including the 25-mile Dad Center Canoe race from Kailua Beach to Waikiki.
It’s been a pleasant surprise for Rigoni, who said he enjoyed getting out and seeing natural scenery while he paddles. Seeing sea turtles, dolphins and beautiful sunsets are just some of several perks to being part of the club, he said.
“With paddling you’re forced to get out, see the island and meet local people,” Rigoni said. “You really can enjoy the time you have here.”
This work, K-Bay personnel paddle from Molokai, by Christine Cabalo, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.