Outrigger canoe teams from Hawai`i swept first place in all divisions of the annual Hawaiian Airlines Liberty Challenge hosted by the New York Outriggers Club recently.
From Kaua`i, the Pu`uwai Outrigger’s Makauahine O Puuwai of Wailua took First Place Women’s Senior Masters Division in a 15-mile course with a 2:32:39 time, while a handful of paddlers from here also won a first place in the Mixed Division as members of a crew calling themselves Mixed Nuts. Mixed races are 11 miles; the Mixed Nuts time was 1:32:49.
Crew members for the Puuwai team included: Cynthia Osborn, Margaret Steinhardt, Joanne Woltmon, Nancy Graf, Mary Pixler and Judy Byfield.
Team member Byfield, raised on O`ahu before settling on Kaua`i 42 years ago, said she’d never been to New York City.
“It was quite the cultural shock, but the people were friendly and the food great,” she said. “I was impressed with how clean it is.
“The day we raced, it was 80 degrees. You get hot when you’re racing, but the water was cool — you could jump in it and not freeze.”
Byfield continued, “There was lots of traffic, a little scary in there. We had to stop for a barge. I’d much rather paddle in the ocean.”
Another team member, Margaret Steinhardt, originally from New York, said that for a few days prior to the race, the weather was hot, but the day the raced, she says, “It was fantastic, and the water was way clearer than I had expected. The whole experience was positive — I had a great time and love being in the city.”
One unusual thing, she said, was that “It was a little frustrating that we had to halt the race because of traffic — in Hawai`i, we never stop paddling.”
Team member Joanne Woltman had done the challenge about 10 years ago — when, she says, the race was run in reverse.
“It was nicer this time, there were only a couple of places where we were fighting the tide,” said Woltman.
Though it had been hot and sticky the days prior, Woltman said it cooled down nicely, “and we paddled up the New York side of the Hudson, in the shadow of the buildings.”
Said Woltman, “Being able to pass Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge — it’s phenomenal, just absolutely fabulous.”
Also from Kaua`i, members of Mixed Nuts included: Luke Evslin and `Ilima Sanchez. Beth Kauwe was slated to be on that team but took ill.
And paddler Chris Kauwe from Kaua`i was part of another mixed crew calling themselves the H2O Ninjas, and as well, Luke Evslin paddled.
This annual challenge is the largest outrigger regatta on the East Coast. Over the past 16 years, the Liberty Challenge has grown to become one of the most prestigious outrigger canoe races in the world. The race is unique among world outrigger regattas as it takes place in a bustling urban harbor.
Each summer, crews from across the country, Europe and the Pacific travel to New York City to compete in its kinetic waters. According to race director Ed Acker, as seen on the race website, [http://libertyoutrigger.org/racers/] “The 15-mile race race begins under the Manhattan Bridge in the treacherous East River, passes around the Battery by the World Trade Center site and heads north up the Hudson on the Manhattan side, then crosses over to the New Jersey side by the Empire State Building and proceeds south passing directly in front of the Statue of Liberty.
“After passing the Statue, the course veers east across New York Harbor and around Governors Island and finishes directly in front of the Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn.”
Elsewhere, gleanings from the website state “Crews not only have to gauge the strong tidal currents with their dramatic and sudden shifts, but they must also negotiate the vast number of ferries, cruise ships, tour boats, barges, tankers and pleasure craft that fill New York Harbor, the East River and the Hudson River.
“Men, women, and co-ed crews race along a challenging and visually-stunning course, which includes landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and Ellis Island. The regatta is comprised of three races run in heats over the course of the day.”
New York Outrigger has hosted the annual event since its inception in 1996. Since then, the Liberty World Outrigger Competition has welcomed participants from all over the world including Tahiti, Australia, Costa Rica, England, Sweden, France, Germany, Italy, Singapore and Canada along with clubs from all over the United States including the West Coast, Arizona, Florida and Hawai`i.