Le Jardin Canoe Team: Paddling Together From Start To Finish

Le Jardin Academy’s paddling teams can look back with pride for the third straight year. Each season, they’ve designed and built their own fiber-glass racing canoe and in the process have left a legacy for the younger paddlers to come.

“My daughter was so moved by the experience of paddling on the ocean, paddling as a team and building the canoe that she hopes to row in college,” said school parent Cynthia Manley, refering to daughter Alanna, a senior.


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Le Jardin Academy canoe builders prior to their inaugural race: (from left) Nick Whitcomb, Jordan Sadler, Luke Shaunessey, Danny Braun, David Uherek, master builder Jay Dowsett, Tanner Gillespie, Max Shelbourne, Logan Spencer, Alanna Manley, Haley Coffman and Zoe Coffman. Photo from Cynthia Manley.

Master canoe builder Jay Dowsett guided each project, starting with his own son Mike (class of 2011) and friend Taylor Hopkins. “They wanted to build it and present it to the school,” recalled Dowsett, who apparently owns the only existing Malia mold, based on the mother of the first fiber-glass models. “They built it in secrecy for the rest of the school, and Kathy Erwin (canoe coach) didn’t see it until the awards banquet.”

The 2012 canoe-building team had “movers and shakers” Logan Spencer and Tanner Gillespie taking the lead, he said, with enthusiastic parents manning the phones to raise funds – about $10,000 per boat. The third project this school year got off to a slow start, with only a four- to five-week window before the first race.

“Logan stepped up and said ‘I’ll do it, Uncle Jay.’ Each year it’s been, like, ‘Wow, it happened!,'” Dowsett explained. “But this year we didn’t have time for a chant – we just dropped it off the day before the race.” Normally, Dowsett likes to bring in the history of Hawaiian canoeing and share the rituals that keep it pono. “By osmosis,” he tells them, “you’re going to have Hawaiian blood.”

Rush or not, the kids got the feel of the project and a sense of purpose that comes with a focus on sanding, shellacking, painting designs, and putting their handprints on the seats, and butterfly patches inside the hull.

No cellphones, no iPods are allowed on the hallowed ground of Dowsett’s shop on Sand Island. It’s strictly work, and more work, and plenty of latex gloves to go around, as they work with hazardous materials. That’s why Dowsett had never allowed students to be hands-on before. He’d done several canoes for other private schools, but Le Jardin got the first do-it-yourself experience under his constant monitoring.

“The impact of this project goes far beyond one competition,” said head coach Erwin, noting that the Bulldogs performed well in preliminaries this winter and “narrowly missed” the state finals.

This senior class, she said, has been together all four years.

By designing and building canoes themselves, “they will be connected to every single paddler who competes for LJA in the future.”