Time To Celebrate The Hawaiian Canoe
Since 1963, the tiny town of Hilo has hosted the Merrie Monarch Festival, a weeklong celebration that features arts and crafts, a floral parade and an internationally acclaimed hula competition.
Thousands travel to Hawaii island to enjoy the festivities. It is without question one of Hawaii’s finest moments every year.
Scotty Reis-Moniz would like to see a similar celebration here on Oahu. But instead of honoring and highlighting the art of hula, he’d like to see a festival that pays tribute to the Hawaiian canoe.
“Our goal is to perpetuate the Hawaiian canoe culture and bring awareness of all the beautiful gifts we have given the world,” says Reis-Moniz. “We’d like to celebrate it on a state level just like the Waikiki Ho‘olaule‘a and Merrie Monarch Festival.”
It is a vision that started more than 14 years ago. Reis-Moniz and several other paddlers organized the first Hawaii Canoe Festival in 2001 at Hilton Hawaiian Village. The event was planned around Na Wahine o Ke Kai and Molokai Hoe long-distance canoe races and featured canoe-carving exhibits and entertainment.
“Canoe paddling is Hawaii’s official state team sport, and Na Wahine o Ke Kai and Molokai Hoe are the Super Bowls of long-distance outrigger canoe-paddling races,” says Reis-Moniz, a longtime paddler and coach at Waimanalo Canoe Club. “It’s part of our identity and we should celebrate it on that same scale as we do with hula or mele. We need to give the sport the proper tribute and honor it deserves.”
Although the 2001 event was an enormous success, Reis-Moniz says it was still considered a “pilot program.” Funding was an issue then and still is today. He and others believe this is the perfect time for it to become an annual event.
“There is no better time than now to do this because the worldwide voyage of Hokule‘a and Hikianalia has drawn so much international attention,” says Reis-Moniz. “It’s our responsibility to help perpetuate and celebrate the canoe culture of Hawaii. Hawaii Canoe Festival will attract more than just the paddler and enthusiast. It could draw interest from around the whole world. The festival will represent the past, the present and the future of Hawaiian canoe voyages and today’s modern-day racing like the Molokai to Oahu canoe races.”
This year’s festival is scheduled for Oct. 9-11 at Duke Kahanamoku Beach at Hilton Hawaiian Village. It will feature cultural exhibits, arts and crafts, language, music and food. Organizers also plan to showcase canoe carvers from Hawaii and Tahiti. A concert is planned for Sunday.
Reis-Moniz says organizers are still looking for sponsors for the festival and guidance from community members who are willing to help build long-lasting relationships.
“The entire state would benefit from the festival,” says Reis-Moniz. “It will drive visitors and locals to Oahu so they can experience and learn about one of Hawaii’s ancient sports. We believe this event presents an extraordinary opportunity for Hawaii from an educational, cultural and economic perspective.”
Reis-Moniz strongly believes the Hawaii Canoe Festival can one day become a weeklong celebration like the Merrie Monarch because, like hula, canoe paddling was born here and is home to its rich history.
“Hawaii is the piko or the center of outrigger canoe racing, and Na Wahine o Ke Kai and Molokai Hoe are the grand-daddies of them all,” says Reis-Moniz. “We should celebrate with everyone our beautiful gift. It doesn’t matter whether you’re 8 or 80, canoe paddling is a sport for all to enjoy. It’s our job to tell the world.”