Hawaiian Air Gets Behind Paddling

In these tough economic times, when marketing and advertising

dollars are often the first things slashed from a company’s budget, it’s encouraging to see local companies still willing to spend money to make a difference in their communities.

That’s what Hawaiian Airlines did earlier this summer when it announced it was becoming the title sponsor of the 2014 and 2015 Na Wahine O Ke Kai and Molokai Hoe long-distance outrigger-canoe races.

“We are honored to be the title sponsor of Hawaii’s leading women’s and men’s outrigger endurance races from Molokai to Oahu,” Kevin Yim, senior director of global marketing communications for Hawaiian Airlines, stated in June. “These are the crown jewels of the international outrigger racing circuit, bringing teams from around the world together in Hawaii to celebrate our Island culture in these two pinnacle races.”

On Sept. 21, the women crossed the unpredictable Kaiwi Channel in what’s often considered the world championship of long-distance outrigger-canoe racing. The annual 41-mile race from Hale O Lono Harbor on Molokai to Duke Kahanamoku Beach at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort on Oahu is a test of physical, mental and sometimes spiritual toughness.

Hannie Anderson, co-founder and race director of the 36th annual Na Wahine O Ke Kai, says having Hawaiian Airlines offset some of the costs to put on this world-class event was a huge boost and a strong statement for the future of canoe paddling.

“Hawaiian Airlines came in at the right time, and we’re just ecstatic about it,” says an excited Anderson. “This is big time because they didn’t just come in with money up front, they also donated flights for race officials, sponsored a video production, and they’re spending a ton more on the beach with a big tent to welcome the wahine and men.”

Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association produces Molokai Hoe and Na Wahine O Ke Kai every year, drawing nearly 2,000 paddlers from around the world to both races. This year, the men will hit the ocean Oct. 12.

While this isn’t a unique issue to canoe paddling, coaches and race officials across Hawaii will tell you, finding a sponsor that is willing to “cough up the cash” can be as difficult as finding a wave to catch in a flat Kaiwi Channel — they don’t miraculously surface. Marketing and advertising gurus will tell you there are many reasons a company will sponsor a sporting event. Most hope to create or develop a company’s credibility and build trust with loyal and potential new customers.

In this case, the audience is paddlers and their families, many of whom have to travel to get to the races. And they come from all across the globe, including New York, Japan, Australia, Tahiti and the Neighbor Islands, markets and routes the carrier currently serves. The result is the strong potential for new business.

Hawaiian Airlines also benefits from media exposure and brand awareness. The carrier’s logo is on fliers, T-shirts and signs — a powerful way to gain visibility, communicate its support and give back to the community.

The airline already is title sponsor of the Hawaiian Airlines Liberty Challenge race hosted by New York Outrigger on the Hudson River, and Hawaiian Airlines Sydney Harbour Challenge on Sydney Harbor, hosted by Australian Outrigger Canoe Racing Association.