The George “Dad” Center Memorial Canoe Race was the first women’s distance outrigger canoe race in the world. It has been sponsored by the Outrigger Canoe Club since 1974. The race is held each August 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 1935 Kona races. There had been few formal canoe races in Hawaii during the 1920s and early 1930s and the 1935 Kona races were an attempt to revitalize canoe racing.
The “Dad” Center race was started by Outrigger canoe racing 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, the Kona races from Kailua Town to Kealakekua, Catalina and many others!
The first “Dad” Center race was 10 miles long from Hawaii Kai’s Maunalua Bay to the Outrigger’s Beach at Diamond Head. Six crews entered that first year and the Outrigger girls 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.
Since then an average of 50 crews enter the race each year from Hawaii, as well as out of state.
The race has been held every year since 1974, except 1994, when the Coast Guard issued warnings for rough surf and strong winds and race officials opted to cancel the race for safety reasons. The course has been lengthened several times to its current distance of 27 miles from Kailua Beach Park to the OCC Channel.
There are two perpetual trophies for the race: one for the first crew to finish and one for the first koa canoe to finish.