Honoring Aunty Mary’s Dream

Pua, Aunty Mary and Kaui Serrao

Pua, Aunty Mary and Kaui Serrao. Photo courtesy Kehau Puou

The excitement at Keehi Lagoon was electrifying on the morning of June 2, 2002. The sun had just peeked over Diamond Head but the energy coming from a group of canoe paddlers was already blazing and their fire was intensifying.

They were the “new kids on the block” but their leader certainly was not new to the paddling community. After years of dreaming, Mary Serrao’s vision had come to fruition. Puuloa Outrigger Canoe Club of Ewa Beach was here to compete as the newest member of the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association.

I remember watching Aunty Mary beaming with pride as club members carried their koa canoe to the water for their first race at OHCRA’s season opening Clement D. Paiaina Regatta. It was as if the club’s president was watching her child take its first steps. Aunty Mary hasn’t stopped smiling since.

But the dream of starting a canoe club in Ewa Beach started well before 2002. After dedicating 15 years of her life serving as OHCRA’s race director, Aunty Mary saw the need to replace Kuakini, an area club that disbanded many years before. It was 1997, and the Ewa community was booming. The nearest canoe club was miles away in Leeward Oahu and some people would even drive to town just to paddle.

So Aunty Mary co-founded Puuloa Outrigger Canoe Club. Puuloa is the traditional Hawaiian name of the Ewa Beach district. For the next several years, she and her team fundraised and gathered donations to “build” their club. At the time they were an associate member of OHCRA and their members were using a borrowed canoe and trailer from Kuakini; even some of their paddles were donated.

Then, in 2001, Puuloa secured its first koa canoe. It was a beauty, once used by legendary waterman Duke Kahanamoku of Outrigger Canoe Club. A year later, the club was granted full-fledged OHCRA membership, and with its 40-plus paddlers entered five crews (men’s and women’s Novice B and Freshmen, and women’s Open 4) in their first regatta. It’s hard to believe that was 10 years ago.

On Saturday, April 7, Puuloa Outrigger Canoe Club will host its annual Iron Race at Keehi Lagoon where they will honor Aunt Mary.

“Aunty Mary has been involved and committed to our paddling community and continues to be active,” says paddler and board member Kehau Puou. “Her history encompasses in addition to race director of OHCRA, the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association, International Vaa Federation, Na Opio Canoe Racing Association and Oahu Interscholastic Association. I can only imagine what she was like serving these organizations during her time.”

Aunty Mary was born on Kauai and her family moved to Oahu after World War II. As a teenager she spent her summers working at Del Monte Pineapple Company. After graduating from McKinley High School and Cannon Business School, she started a career with the federal government. She retired in 1990 after 30 years of service.

Since then she has tirelessly served the Ewa community, even participating in beach cleanups at Oneula Beach Park. She is a member of the Ewa-Puuloa Hawaiian Civic Club and served as vice president of Hoakalei Cultural Foundation’s board of directors. To say she is respected is an understatement.

“I watch her visit the main stage during Na Opio (children), pre-season and regatta seasons and it’s always a joy to hear the humor she continues to bring to those around her,” says Puou. “She was just honored several weekends ago at the 2012 King Kalakaua Invitational and they read a brief bio about her. I watched Aunty Mary smile with tears. She was surrounded by friends and family who truly adore and love her. It was a moving moment, to say the least.”

Aunty Mary’s daughter Kaui now serves as president of Puuloa Outrigger Canoe Club, and her granddaughter Pua will serve her first season as head coach. Aunty Mary is still an ex-officio member of the club.

“Kaui and Pua understand the demands of running and keeping a canoe club together and pono,” says Puou. “They’re committed to one another and to perpetuating the Hawaiian culture through paddling.”