Reaching For Sydney And Beyond
A good canoe paddler will tell you it’s all about the reach.
It’s obvious that decision makers at Hawaiian Airlines understand the concept and see the benefits in expanding one’s reach.
For the second year, the local carrier is title sponsor of Hawaiian Airlines Sydney Harbour Challenge. The 15.5-mile race takes place Saturday and Sunday (Feb. 28 and March 1) at Manly Wharf.
In its inaugural year in 2014, the race drew 93 teams. This year, the number has grown more than 50 percent.
“We’re expecting 140 crews this year, which would make it the largest long-distance canoe race in the Southern Hemisphere and second-largest in the world,” says Kevin Yim, senior director of global marketing communications. “We are very happy to be a sponsor of this event and proud of our association with our state team sport of outrigger canoe paddling.”
This by no means will be a cruise down Sydney Harbour. Crews will have to deal with strong tidal currents while maneuvering among ferries, cruise ships and tour boats. It is a challenging but stunning course that also features a sprint by iconic Sydney Opera House.
“What an awesome course,” says flight attendant Celeste Paiaina, one of six paddlers representing the local carrier in the women’s race. “When we paddled past the Statue of Liberty in the Liberty Challenge last year, it was tempting to stop and take it all in. I assume we’re going to have that same feeling when we paddle past the opera house. We won’t stop, but it’s going to be very cool.”
Besides Paiaina, Hawaiian Airlines Team Kokua is comprised of flight attendants Moea DeFries and Allison Sokei, ramp agent Pauahi Ioane, customer-service agent Lisa Kopacz and corporate recruiter Jennifer Polcer. All six women bring extensive paddling experience to the race, having competed in dozens of world-class events, including the annual Na Wahine o Ke Kai.
“I’m super-stoked to have been selected for the prestigious race and to represent the company that I work for,” says Paiaina. “We’re going up against some tough crews from New Zealand and Australia, and we know there’ll be some tough crews from the Mainland, too. Last year they sent a men’s crew to Sydney and we competed in the Liberty Challenge in New York, so this will be the first time the women will be racing in Sydney and we’re excited. I hope we represent Hawaiian Airlines well.”
The race is attracting teams from all over the world, including United States, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore, Tahiti and Tonga.
Besides sponsoring the Sydney Harbour Challenge, Hawaiian Airlines is entering its fourth year as title sponsor of the Liberty Challenge in New York, and the second year as sponsor of the Molokai Hoe and Na Wahine O Ke Kai races in Hawaii.
“There are many different sports we could have supported, but it makes sense for us to step forward in supporting canoe-paddling events,” explains Yim. “We want the world to see the beauty and importance of canoe paddling. This is another good fit for our brand. The canoe we take today in the skies is an airplane.”
Organizers expect an estimated 12,000 people will watch the two-day event that also will feature hula, Hawaiian music, lei making, prize giveaways and live coverage of the race on the beach.
The women’s and men’s open champions will fly to Hawaii for free on Hawaiian Airlines to compete in the Molokai Hoe and Na Wahine O Ke Kai long-distance world championships.
“We have high hopes of doing well and maybe even winning, but what we want most is for all the paddlers, including our team, to have a real good time,” says Yim. “This is a fun race.”