The George “Dad” Center Memorial Canoe Race was the first women’s long distance outrigger canoe race in the world. It has been sponsored by the Outrigger Canoe Club since 1974. The race is usually held on the fourth Sunday of August each year as part of the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association Long Distance season.
The race is named for George “Dad” Center, Outrigger’s long-time swimming coach, Club Captain, paddler and steersman, who was a strong proponent of women athletes and coached the first women’s crew in the 1933 Kona races. He was considered by most to be the “father of local canoe racing.” There had been few formal canoe races in Hawaii during the 1920s and early 1930s and the 1933 Kona races were an attempt to revitalize racing again.
The “Dad” Center race was started by Outrigger Canoe Club coaches Tom Conner, Mark Buck and Archie Kaaua who believed their girl’s crew was capable of races longer than the one-mile they were currently racing during the regatta season. While men had been crossing the Kaiwi Channel for 20 years, many felt women wouldn’t be able to make water changes or wouldn’t be strong enough to paddle such a long race.
The ladies proved the naysayers wrong and have since gone on to conquer the Kaiwi Channel, and other long-distance races.
The first “Dad” Center race was 10 miles long from Hawaii Kai’s Maunalua Bay to the Outrigger’s Beach at Diamond Head. Six nine-woman crews entered that first year and the Outrigger women easily completed the course in 1 hour 21 minutes and 6 seconds, just ahead of Healani Canoe Club, Waikiki Surf Club, Kailua Canoe Club, Lanikai Canoe Club and Hui Nalu Canoe Club.
The early races were in koa canoes, with a fiberglass division added in 1982. In 1989 a Masters Division was added. In 1999, the crew size was changed from nine to ten paddlers as all other long distance races leading up to the Molokai race had ten member crews. In 2001, to reflect the changing demographic of paddling, the Masters Division was changed to Masters 35 and Masters 45 divisions. In 2004 a Youth 18 & Under Division was added. In 2005, the Masters Divisions were changed to Masters 40 and Masters 50, and the Masters 50 were allowed a crew size of 12 paddlers. In 2014, a Masters 55 Division was added and allowed a crew size of 12 paddlers.
An average of 50 crews enter the race each year from Hawaii, as well as California.
The race has been held every year since 1974, except 1994, when the race officials opted to cancel the race for safety reasons due to 8-12-foot surf and winds of 25-30 knots. The course has been lengthened several times to its current distance of 25 miles from Kailua Beach Park to the OCC Beach.
There are four perpetual trophies for the race: one for the first crew to finish; one for the first koa canoe to finish; one for the first junior crew to finish, and one for the winning masters crews.