Every 4th of July canoe paddlers from around Oahu join thousands of tourists at Waikiki Beach for the Outrigger Canoe Club’s annual Walter J. Macfarlane Memorial Canoe Regatta. The Macfarlane Regatta is the only wave race on the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association schedule and is the oldest annual outrigger canoe race in the world, getting its start in 1943.
The regatta is named after Walter J. Macfarlane, a part-Hawaiian Territorial Legislator, avid waterman, businessman and president of the Outrigger Canoe Club at the time of his death in June 1943.
The Club had held canoe races periodically on the 4th of July since its founding in 1908, and was planning its 1943 regatta when Macfarlane passed away. The Club’s Board of Directors decided to honor its president by naming the races for him.
Canoe racing is Hawaii’s state sport and more than 2,000 paddlers compete in the Macfarlane Regatta in races from 1/4 mile to 1 1/2 miles. A total of 45 events range from Boys and Girls 12 and under to Masters Men and Women 70.
The race course has seven lanes. Quarter-mile races start at a flag located a quarter-mile from shore and finish at the flag at the beach. Half-mile and longer races begin at the flag closest to the beach. Canoes turn on the quarter-mile flag. The number of laps depends on the length of the race.
A special race was added in 2010 to honor the nation’s military. Service members from the island’s five branches Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard compete against each other on a 1/2 mile course to win bragging rights and get their name on the USS Arizona Memorial Trophy. This race starts off the day at 8:30 a.m. right after the opening ceremony on the beach in front of the Outrigger Hotel. The hotel now covers the original footprint of the Outrigger Canoe Club (1908-1963).
The USS Arizona Memorial Trophy and other perpetual trophies are displayed near the official’s tent across from Duke’s Restaurant. The awards are presented at a ceremony at Duke’s Restaurant after the last race, usually between 5 and 6 p.m. Members of the winning Senior Men’s and Women’s races drink champagne from the silver trophies at the ceremony and share sips with the second place crews.
Souvenir T-shirts, hats, and other Macfarlane merchandise is sold on the beach lanai in front of Duke’s Restaurant beginning at 8 a.m. Proceeds benefit the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation.
The race course is clearly delineated by buoys and flags. Swimmers and other ocean users are advised to stay off the race course as canoes are 40-feet long and weigh 400 pounds or more. Because of their size they are not able to turn quickly to avoid swimmers or anything in their way. By long tradition, canoes always have the right of way over swimmers and any other craft in the water. Be safe and stay outside the flagged area.