The women’s Molokai to Oahu Canoe Race, which is organized and conducted by race director Hannie Anderson and the Na Wahine O Ke Kai Association – Shelly Gilman, Haunani Campos-Olds, Carleen Ornellas, Sig Tannehill and Rosie Lum – was founded in February of 1979. At the ’79 election meeting, Puna Dawson christened this event Na Wahine O Ke Kai (Women of the Sea) which took on a new meaning on October 15, 1979, the date of the first women’s Molokai to Oahu Canoe Race.
The dream of so many women, who had worked so hard, had finally become a reality. On October 15, 1979, Outrigger Canoe Club led an amazing 17-crew field and finished in six hours, 35 minutes, 14 seconds. Since 1979 Outrigger Canoe Club has won four times: 1981, 1984, 1985 and again in 1992. Hui Nalu Canoe Club won the event in 1982 and 1983. OffShore Canoe Club has paddled its way to victory from 1986 thru 1991 and again from 1993 to 96, setting a new course record of five hours, 24 minutes, 32 seconds in 1995. The race was cancelled in 1980 due to 30-foot surf and strong winds.
The dream began in 1954, two years after the first men’s Molokai-to-Oahu Canoe Race took place. Waikiki Surf Club’s Senior Women’s crew proposed for consideration a race for the women also. Coaches and officials insisted the women couldn’t handle the treacherous channel. It took years of patience and persistence to convince everyone that it was possible for women to paddle across the Kaiwi Channel. In October of 1975, the first unofficial crossing was made by two crews of 18 women each. One crew was incorporated from four canoe clubs: Kailua, Outrigger, Lanikai and Waikiki Surf Club and was spearheaded by Donna Coelho-Woffe. They named themselves “Onipaa”. The other was from Healani Canoe Club, coached by Babe Bell. They proved that women could paddle across the Kaiwi Channel. Part of the dream had come true. Hannie Anderson and the late Leinani Faria, another colleague who shared the dream, officiated this first crossing.
The canoe race has flourished through the years – attracting crews from all over the world because of the tireless efforts of race supporters, volunteers, and of course, the paddlers. Through their endurance, devotion and sportsmanship they have helped to perpetuate Hawaii’s cultural heritage.