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Working To Refurbish The E Ala

E Ala sails along the coast of Makaha with Waianae High School Marine Science Program students (class of 1996- 1997) | Photo coutesy Susan Lum and Dana Hoppe

Members of the Waianae Hawaiian Civic Club (WHCC) had a vision for the future: Build an ancient Hawaiian-style double-hull canoe for the children of the Leeward Coast. The vessel would carry a message of hope for the keiki. It would be used to teach navigation, canoe building, marine science and other skills.

Construction of the E Ala (to awaken, awakening) started in 1981 and almost immediately the canoe began touching lives. For more than a decade, Polynesian Voyaging Society leased her for educational purposes to students in the public school system.

“E Ala was built for the Waianae coast community to learn the Hawaiian art of navigation,” says longtime supporter Kawika Ayau. “In the 1990s, Waianae High School’s marine science program used her a lot to educate students about Hawaiian culture, navigation and proper protocol while sailing around Oahu. It was something we were very proud of.”

Besides benefiting the marine science program, the vessel also taught entrepreneurism and teamwork. Ayau says many former students are now business owners and outstanding community members.

But several years ago, the voyaging canoe was leased to a tour company on Maui to be used for further education. Unfortunately, the tour company unexpectedly went bankrupt, and E Ala’s condition deteriorated.

The late Gege Kawelo, a longtime WHCC member, led the charge to bring E Ala back home to Waianae. Lawmakers recognized her efforts and the Legislature appropriated $500,000 to construct a halau wa’a (canoe storage facility) for the E Ala at Waianae Boat Harbor. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources hopes the project will be completed in one year.

“State Sen. Maile Shimabukuro was able to assist with state funds to build a canoe hale,” says fundraising committee chairman Ayau. “We’ll need to raise an estimated $100,000 to restore E Ala. We’re looking at building an approximately four-story halau at the Waianae Boat Harbor so it can accommodate the E Ala with her mast raised.”

Leaders hope to complete phase one of the project by next June. For the second phase, Ayau says they’ll need to raise approximately $400,000 in additional funding for site work, perimeter fencing, electrical and other work. More funds will be needed for related costs such as insurance, maintenance and security.

In an effort to raise money for restoration materials, the E Ala Voyaging Canoe Educational Program is hosting its inaugural fundraising golf tournament Friday, Nov. 15, at Makaha Valley Country Club.

“The golf tournament is the tee-off for our fundraising efforts,” says Ayau. “Our main goal for this event is to let the community know about the E Ala Voyage Canoe Educational Program while starting a new tradition on the West Side.”

Ayau says they are currently seeking a venue that can accommodate the program on weekends and assist in producing simple and affordable breakfast for keiki to minimize the cost for maximum participation.

“We want to serve students of all ages along the Leeward Oahu coast,” says Ayau. “Educational programs, integrating Hawaiian cultural navigation, team building, decision-making skills and other experiences make the E Ala a perfect learning vessel for children from preschool to college students. Eventually, we want to provide an adult program as well.”

Tournament officials are dedicating the inaugural event to Gege Kawelo, who died last year. As if by fate, the tournament falls on the anniversary of her death.

“She was a special woman, and we welcome more teams to sign up and help us continue our mission,” says Ayau. “We want to build confidence of community members on the Waianae Coast. The E Ala program will help instill even more pride in Waianae.”

For more information, visit the tournament website at manawaleaproject.com/eala.html.