Hawaii’s Keiki Paddlers Get A Lift

Na Opio Canoe Racing Association's new trailer PHOTO COURTESY LEI CUNNINGHAM

Na Opio Canoe Racing Association’s new trailer PHOTO COURTESY LEI CUNNINGHAM

Imagine being in the third grade and winning first place in your first canoe race. Now imagine stepping to the podium to proudly receive your gold medal, only to be told your medal would be delivered next week.

“Sadly, it has happened before,” says Lei Cunningham, volunteer treasurer for Na Opio Canoe Racing Association (NOCRA). “One day, one of our volunteers accidently forgot to bring the medals and ribbons to the race, and we had to tell the keiki their medals weren’t here and they’d have to wait until the next race.”

That scenario will not repeat itself, thanks to a newly purchased trailer to store the organization’s racing equipment and supplies — and to the generosity of Matson Navigation Company.

The nonprofit organization recently bought an enclosed trailer from California and received a grant from Matson to ship the trailer to Hawaii at the shipping company’s expense. Cunningham notes that the California company that sold Na Opio the trailer also lent a hand by agreeing to drive it to Long Beach in order to get it to the docks in time for shipping.

“We are so grateful for everyone’s help because we never thought we’d get enough money to get a trailer and, on top of that, pay for shipping,” says an excited Cunningham. “Na Opio is a small organization for students in third through 12th grades. Our registration fee is only $5 for young paddlers and their families. We don’t have deep pockets!”

Cunningham says board members recognized the need for a mobile storing facility several years ago but never imagined it would come to fruition. She says she learned about Matson Foundation, the company’s corporate giving program, online. The foundation contributes funds, material goods and services to assist in the development and operation of nonprofit, charitable and community organizations in the geographic locations Matson serves.

“It’s been talked about for three years, and we asked the question, ‘How do we get a trailer for the organization to house everything?'” she says with excitement. “Currently, our supplies are being held in people’s houses. This way we can have everything in one location.”

Matson says the decision to step up to the canoe was an easy one to make.

“Being a Hawaii-based maritime company, it was a natural fit to support a Native Hawaiian ocean sport,” says Ku‘uhaku Park, vice president of government and community relations at Matson. “We were also able to appreciate Na Opio’s holistic teaching philosophy regarding canoe racing, including its relation to our host culture, knowledge of the ocean and the importance of physical fitness.”

The Na Opio season runs annually from October through February and serves Hawaii’s youths with the opportunity to perpetuate the designated team sport of outrigger canoe paddling.

Cunningham says the organization spent $3,099 on the trailer.

“Matson saved us about $1,750 on shipping costs and, for a small organization, that’s a lot of money,” says a grateful Cunningham. “It’s going to help in so many ways. Now that we have everything in one place, the races are not going to be impacted in any way. Sometimes people forget things like generators and signs. That won’t happen anymore. The races will start and finish on time.”

Cunningham says the organization will have an “unveiling” of the new trailer in mid-January.

“Matson has been around for such a long time in Hawaii, and we’re just happy that they could help us,” says Cunningham. “I thought they’d give us a discount, not pay for the whole thing! We appreciate their help so much.”