The Moloka’i to Oahu Canoe Race, started in 1952 by Outrigger Canoe Club’s Albert “Toots” Minvielle, was the first long-distance outrigger canoe race in the world and today is considered the most prestigious.
Many, including Outrigger’s Board of Directors, felt the race was too dangerous and as a result Outrigger did not officially participate in the Moloka’i Race until the third race in 1954 with Minvielle serving as the coach.
Minvielle first proposed the race to the Outrigger Board of Directors in 1949, asking “Why can’t we revive inter-island canoeing by holding the most unique race in the world: An outrigger canoe race starting at Moloka’i, across the channel, following the route of the old Alii and warriors and ending on the beach at Waikiki?”
A meeting was held at the Club on April 26, 1949, chaired by Bob Fischer of the OCC Board of Directors. Among those attending were representatives of the University of Hawaii, Waikiki Surf Club, McCabe, Hamilton & Renny, the Trans Pacific Yacht Races, the Hawaii Visitors Bureau, and others. Funding and logistics were discussed. “Dad” Center agreed that the race could be carried out but suggested that all the islands be asked to participate in furnishing canoes and contestants.
The biggest obstacle seemed to be the landing of canoes at Moloka’i, and the idea was abandoned. Minvielle didn’t give up and without Outrigger as a sponsor, put on the race in 1952 under the auspices of the Aloha Week Committee with the blessing of the Hawaii Visitors Bureau.
Today the race is known as the Moloka’i Hoe and is sponsored by the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association and has more than 100 entrants from around the globe. It is held on the second Sunday of October, a time thought to have the best ocean conditions and weather.
Although the Outrigger Board of Directors had declined to enter a crew in the Molokai race, in 1953 an unofficial crew of Club members and beach boys from the Beach Patrol entered in the Ka Mo`i as the Waikiki Beach Services. That initial crew was Phillip Kaaihue, Tommy O’Brien, Sam Steamboat Mokuahi Jr., Curly Cornwall, Bob Bush and Sam Steamboat Mokuahi Sr. The alternate was “Ducky” Auld. Bush was the coach and they finished fourth.
In 1954 the Club entered its first official crew and finished in fifth place.
Outrigger won its first Moloka’i race in 1956 and has won the Moloka’i to Oahu race a total of 16 times, the most of any club.
The Outrigger set course records in 1956, 1968, 1975, and 1988. Hundreds of paddlers from the OCC have participated in the open, masters, koa and junior divisions of the Moloka’i Race. Each one has a story to tell about the Kaiwi Channel, the waves, currents and winds, the water changes, and how they were affected by the sight of Diamond Head on their way to the finish line.
Outrigger Canoe Club crews have crossed the channel in the koa division with its famed canoes Hanakeoki, Leilani, Kakina and Kaoloa, as well as in the open division in newer fiberglass racing canoes.
Six decades since the first Moloka’i crossing, the race is still about man against the sea.