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Ron Mizutani

Taste Of Hawaiian In The Big Apple

Hawaiian Airlines team members (from left) Jennifer Polcer, Moea DeFries, Andrea Ignacio and David Doyle. Two of the teammates, Lisa from San Diego and Jeremy from the Big Island, are not pictured | Photo courtesy Huy Vo

Start spreading the news. New York City is gearing up for the largest outrigger canoe race on the East Coast and one of the most prestigious races in the world.

Hawaiian Airlines once again is serving as title sponsor of the 17th annual Liberty Challenge, and this year the carrier is taking it a step further. When crews line up June 22 to compete in the unique race in bustling New York City harbor, one of the canoes will be filled with company employees.

“We’re very excited,” says Moea DeFries, a flight attendant who brings more than 30 years of paddling experience to the crew. “I’ve heard much of this race, and people have told me that the conditions can be brutal. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

DeFries is currently a member of Healani Canoe Club and has competed in most of the major races and relays in Hawaii, including the Na Wahine o Ke Kai and the Pailolo Challenge.

“I want to make sure that we get through the rough areas of the race and think positive,” says DeFries, who also has paddled for Hui Nalu Canoe Club and Waikiki Surf Club, and has coached high school paddling at Mid-Pacific Institute and St. Andrew’s Priory. “Even though I’m the veteran of the crew, each paddler brings their own talent and level of experience. We have to remember to have fun and make the most of this opportunity.”

Crews not only have to gauge strong tidal currents, they also must maneuver past ferries, cruise ships, tour boats, barges and tankers in the harbor and the East and Hudson rivers. DeFries is looking forward to paddling past the Statute of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Ellis Island and Governor Island.

“I’m definitely going to take it all in and be in the moment,” says DeFries, who is expected to stroke the crew. “I want to appreciate what New York City has to offer. This race will give us a chance to see the city from a different perspective.”

The event is hosted by New York Outrigger and has become an extremely popular race for outrigger canoe paddlers from across the world, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, England, France, Germany, Italy, Panama, Singapore, Sweden and Tahiti.

Other members of the 2013 Hawaiian Airlines mixed team include David Doyle, senior manager, IT Security & Compliance and a member of Kailua Canoe Club; Andrea Ignacio, director of payroll and a veteran of dozens of long-distance paddling events; Jeremy Jaentsch, customer service chief agent at Kona International Airport and a former member of Tui Tonga, Keahou and Kai Opua canoe clubs; Lisa Kopacz, customer service agent in San Diego, who has more than 10 years of competitive experience; and Jennifer Polcer, corporate recruiter and a longtime member of Waikiki Beachboys Canoe Club. Polcer has competed in the Na Wahine o Ke Kai for the past eight years and was part of the 2011 winning crew. Before heading to New York, she’ll compete in the Ola Mau race, a grueling 100-mile paddle around Hawaii Island.

“We’re thankful for the opportunity to represent the company and the state while doing something that we’re passionate about,” says DeFries.

Besides sponsoring the races, Hawaiian Airlines also is hosting the Liberty Festival, which will feature food trucks, live Hawaiian entertainment, hula and lei making.

The carrier recently celebrated its one-year anniversary since launching direct flights to New York. The company is offering a 10 percent discount on flights for Hawaii residents flying to New York City for the race and festivities.

For more information, go to libertyoutrigger.org.

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