Story by Pam Woolway
Charging into the breaking surf astride 23-pound crafts made of carbon fiber and armed with paddles of equally light materials, watermen and women seek Kaua`i’s perilously beautiful waves daily for excitement, rejuvenation and competition.
On the last weekend in April, beach goers from east to west can witness for themselves, the mad love that drives these saltwater warriors to compete in Kaua`i’s only Internationally recognized paddling competition.
Well over 100 paddlers are expected to be swarming the beaches on canoes, kayaks and surfboards April 27. The 11th Annual Kaua`i World Challenge is a 34-mile relay race along the always rugged, sometimes picturesque and guaranteed unpredictable offshore waters of the State’s most northern island. Teams of two or four athletes paddle one or two of the four legs of the race.
“This race is most unique because it brings all the paddlers together as one big family,” said Margie Goodno, board president of YMCA/Kaua`i Hoe Wa`a, the outrigger association organizing the race.
Athletes from around the world join Kaua`i paddlers for what has promised in the past to be an adventurous romp and entertaining show for spectators, not to mention profitable, with $10,000 in cash prizes given for the elite division, according to a press release.
The first leg of the relay is from Kapa`a Beach Park to Hanamaulu Beach Park. Teams switch riders for the next leg to Kalapaki Bay; followed by the final exchange at Waiohai Bay in Po`ipu, to finish at Salt Pond Beach Park.
Last year first Kaua`i finishers and tenth overall were Tyrus Siale and Aaron Labuguen of Team Moke Action. Siale will race again this year with Christian Marston as Team Tahiti Nui. The YMCA Kaua`i World Challenge race director and Haena lifeguard considers safety above all else.
“You be safe, you have fun and everything falls into place,” Siale said.
This native Kaua`i boy learned a lesson in caution while doing a run from Kalapaki Bay to Po`ipu, in a region referred to as Carter’s Point.
“I paddled too close to shore,” he recalls. “A wave caught me. It broke the boat into three pieces and I was trapped under the reef.”
Siale pauses, then nods in recollection – the gravity of the situation clouding his previously smiling face.
“I had a Jesus moment, you know what I mean? I saw everything I’ve done in my life in front of my eyes.”
Luckily the next surge freed him from his trap and he was tossed back to the surface suffering only a black eye and abrasions.
“I was changed after that,” he said. “Slowly by slowly I’ve worked my way back in. For years I paddled way outside.”
As the race director, Siale repeats the same warning to paddlers competing prior to a race.
“I really drill these guys about safety. They have to hear it every time, especially for the new guys. I feel responsible for every paddler out there.”
The Kaua`i World Challenge includes one and two-person outrigger canoe paddlers, surfski kayakers, stand-up paddlers and prone. Last year 72 teams competed with athletes traveling from Canada, Singapore, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil. Often the competitors are over-flow from a solo Molokai race the week prior.
Siale said the World Challenge was the impetus for him to start paddling. His first was in 2008 as one of four paddlers, each doing a leg.
“After that I knew I wanted to do it with just one partner,” he said.
He’s paddled every year since.
“Paddling for me is a cultural thing. I’m a Pacific Islander; besides surfing, I paddle. It’s one or the other. On the ocean is where I find freedom.”