Keauhou Canoe Club inspires students with Hawaiian culture and paddling fun: Big Island Now

A program born of a partnership between the Keauhou Canoe Club and West Hawai’i Explorations Academy challenges the school’s eighth graders to learn and grow in ways they never could while living in a classroom setting sit.

Na Mea Kupaianaha, meaning “discovery of wondrous or amazing things,” is a monthly program offered by the Canoe Club that shares fitness, fun, and Hawaiian culture with students through the sport of outrigger canoe paddling. The intention of the program is to bridge the generation gap by increasing the knowledge, awareness and appreciation of the participating students and their adult mentors of the cultural richness of paddling and heritage on offer in the Keauhou Bay area , according to Bill Armer, member secretary of the Keauhou Canoe Club.

Keauhou Canoe Club stroker Richard Shouse demonstrates paddling techniques for Izaya Edmonds, Tobias Davis, Rowan Paoli and Sam Anderson-Moxley while helmsman BC Cellello keeps an eye on stroke timing. Photos courtesy of Keauhou Canoe Club.

“The question is, which generation teaches and learns more with the other generation?” Armer, the organizer of the program, said in a press release.

Each monthly session, hosted at the club’s Keauhou Canoe Hālau, begins with the recitation of a Hawaiian oli and a cultural presentation led by Noelani Campbell, the Keauhou Canoe Club’s cultural liaison. Keiki learns the cultural significance of paddling and the key Hawaiian words used in the state’s official team sport.

Students also visit Keauhou’s historical attractions such as the birthplace of King Kamehameha III and the Kuamo’o Battlefield with its Lekeleke Tombs. In addition, from a visual math perspective, eighth graders will build a Mo’okauhau, or family tree.

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The paddling activities are led by 20 club volunteers who act as strokers and helmsmen to support 40 students and teaching staff. Program participants are taught a variety of skills – paddle handling, stroke posture and techniques, timing, canoe etiquette, and boat safety. Six- and twelve-person canoes are used for paddling, and the students help launch and return the canoes to the beach. Competitive sprints at Keauhou Bay are also part of the fun.

After the last canoe is safely stowed away, the 2.5-hour sessions conclude with participants gathered around a canoe for a moment of silence and a brief Hawaiian-language applause.

The program started in September and will last until February.

“I like paddling; It’s fun and definitely a workout,” said Sola Laliberte, an eighth grader at West Hawai’i Explorations Academy, in the press release. Sola’s classmate Leo Lenta added, “It’s good how everyone is collaborating, syncing and stuff.”

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Student Kira Matsuoka said the program “connects you with yourself, the ocean, this place and Hawaiian culture.”

Sam Anderson-Moxley of West Hawai’i Explorations Academy’s Bridge Year Program — a high school transition initiative that provides real-world challenges to inspire and empower the school’s eighth graders — approached the Culture Committee of the Hawai’i about the opportunity Keauhou Canoe Club and board member Jessie Chambers to form a partnership. Na Mea Kupaianaha is the result of this request.

West Hawai’i Explorations Academy students and Keauhou Canoe Club participants gather to end a paddling session with a moment of silence while all hands are on the canoe.

“The bridging year is about getting students to learn in the real world, experience and engage with their ‘aina, and participate in outdoor adventures,” Anderson-Moxley said in the press release, adding, the goal is to get students to learn in an environment that isn’t sitting behind a desk. “Paddle with [Keauhou Canoe Club] gives students the opportunity to have a hands-on learning experience learning about history, culture, language, physical education and math while practicing teamwork, collaboration and timing.”

Anderson-Moxley emphasized that the partnership between the canoe club and the school allows eighth graders to learn from and connect with mentors in the community, not just their teachers, which is invaluable.

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West Hawai’i Explorations Academy pays for students and staff to participate in the program and also grants them full club membership for the duration. The school also provides student transport to the canoe hālau. The Keauhou Canoe Club offers paddles, life jackets and canoes. Many of the participating canoe club members, aged between 40 and 80, have teaching and coaching experience.

Keiki arrive prepared to get wet, bringing their own towels and lunch to enjoy afterwards.

Chambers, who envisions Na Mea Kupaianaha as a recurring educational opportunity for school groups, hopes the program will encourage Keiki to participate in the canoe club’s youth program, which includes participation in the Moku O Hawai’i regatta season in the summer.

“Our [West Hawai‘i Explorations Academy] The partnership allows us to broaden the base of our ongoing youth work by expanding our cultural, educational and sporting activities,” Chambers said in the press release. “Na Mea Kupaianaha enriches and ultimately strengthens the student experience [Keauhou Canoe Club’s] Commitment to our youth by continuing culture-based outrigger paddling.”

Established in 1980, the Keauhou Canoe Club’s mission is to educate youth, its members, and the community at large about Hawaiian culture, values, and traditions. The association offers paddling opportunities for people of all ages. Visit the club’s website for more information.

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