Those Trailblazing Pacific Wahine

Pacific Wahine on a recent training run in Windward Oahu | Daphne Hougard photo

They are considered to be trailblazers in the sport of long-distance outrigger canoe paddling. Pacific Wahine is a team of Hawaii-based women paddlers who compete at an extremely high level who are focused on sustainability and positive social interaction.

“Living in Hawaii, a huge amount of plastics are shipped to the east for recycling, and it is important to consider our single-use plastic consumption habits,” says team member Anna Mathisen. “As ocean athletes, we want to be realistic, and even though it is sometimes less convenient, it is important to bring attention to the choices we make as a community and the positive effect that can have on our lives and future generations both through the quality of our ocean environment and our wallets.”

Pacific Wahine first assembled in 2010 under the name Team Hanaikamalama. The crew competed in the inaugural six-person iron crossing of the Kaiwi Channel between Molokai and Oahu.

In 2012, the crew was the only women’s team to compete in the inaugural Olamau Race. The three-day, 90-mile race took paddlers from Maliko to Napili on Maui, then across the Pailolo Channel to Molokai and then finally, the Kaiwi Channel to Oahu.

“Amazingly lonely,” says Mathisen. “Reflecting back a year later, it’s notable how committed every member of the team was to every stroke we took and how we didn’t back off even with no other women’s team in the field. As much as we would not change anything about our experience and enjoyed a tremendous amount of support from organizers, the community and the men, we are really excited to have other women’s teams to compete against this year.”

Besides the demands of training at a high level and maintaining full-time jobs, crew members also are involved actively in Na Kama Kai, an ocean-based program for Hawaii’s youths, and the Ocean Recovery Alliance. The alliance is a global nonprofit organization that is focused on finding solutions for pollution in our marine environment, including ways to manage plastic use and reducing our “plastic footprint.”

“We are hoping to meet with race organizers in the outrigger community to share ways to decrease plastic use when putting on and taking part in races,” says Mathisen.

Next month, the crew will compete in the 2013 Olamau Race. It will be the crew’s fifth race together. The event is billed as the ultimate unlimited outrigger canoe challenge in Hawaii. The 100-mile race will take place over three consecutive days, June 12, 13 and 14, and will be held entirely on Hawaii Island.

“It’s especially exciting and remarkable to see not only women who are used to paddling in Hawaii but women’s teams from California and overseas coming to take on this event,” says Mathisen. “We are very excited to see this type of event grow in Hawaii through more participation by women.”

On June 12, paddlers will start at Laupahoehoe and race 38 miles to Keokea. On day two, crews will start at Keokea and race 27 miles to Kawaihae, and on the third and final day, crews will start at Kawaihae and race 18 miles to Kukio, where they’ll make a change and race another 18 miles to Kamakahonu.

“Our mission is to not only take on the challenge of racing 100 miles over three days with 12 women, but also spread the message of protecting our ocean environment through our goal of racing and training single-use plastic-free,” says Mathisen. “We want to bring out the best performance we are capable of in every mile of the race and to support each of our teammates along the training and racing path of getting there. We want to inspire women and girls to make their dreams reality. And we always aim to have fun!”

For more information on the Pacific Wahine crew, visit its website at or visit the crew’s Facebook page at