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Race organizers and residents talk future of Molokaʻi Hoe in its 3rd year on pause

FILE - Team Special Operations Forces Molokai Hoe 2012 haul past Diamond Head. (Oct. 7, 2012)
Courtesy Photo/U.S. Marines
FILE - Team Special Operations Forces Molokai Hoe 2012 haul past Diamond Head. (Oct. 7, 2012)

The second weekend in October is traditionally when close to 1,000 people descend on the friendly isle for the Molokaʻi Hoe, an annual long-distance outrigger canoe race.

This year would have been the 70th anniversary of the roughly 38-mile channel crossing between Molokaʻi and Oʻahu.

But much has changed during the pandemic: Hawaiian Airlines no longer flies to Molokaʻi, Maui County vacation rental rules have changed, and some Molokaʻi residents want the race scaled back in size.

The Oʻahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association, which organizes the race across the Kaiwi Channel, has been engaged in talks with the Molokaʻi community about a possible reset.

"We think, as OHCRA Board, that it's more important to allow the residents of Molokaʻi to be able to get back and forth to their island, to Oʻahu to get medical treatment done. We don't think it's right just now for us to be able to host the race there," said veteran paddler and former OHCRA board member Ikaika Rogerson.

Molokaʻi resident and paddler Kawika Crivello says the community felt heard and considered when the race was canceled.

"It's pono that it was done because one, of course, the infrastructure, and there's also a time to let the island heal in a spiritual sense," Crivello told The Conversation. "When you speak of the spiritual sense, you speak of culture, and when you speak of culture, of course, Molokaʻi, you know, it's a lifestyle."

As COVID continued in February 2022, the OHCRA Board decided not to hold the race. There was even some talk of a smaller, invitational event.

"With Omicron being the way it was at that time and the unsurety of things and Molokaʻi having the minimum amount of outbreaks that they were having already, we didn't think it was pono for us to go over there," Rogerson said. "But having to make the decision as early as February or even for next year, like we need to start looking at stuff now."

Crivello says Molokaʻi residents are not protesting the race. Many have participated over the years. He says they are asking for more protection and education surrounding the use of the island.

"When Molokaʻi Hoe first started, it was a part of a celebration, an event, the Aloha Week... and it kind of steered away from that a little bit from the island's perspective, where it became just the race itself," Crivello said. "I think it got bigger, no fault to the organizers. Competition is competition. It grows."

Rogerson says it takes a minimum of 85 crews for the race to break even financially. The conversation continues as to what will happen in 2023.

"By no means is Molokaʻi wanting to just say 'shut it down, we don't want it.' We just want to do it the right way. And, as you said, scale it back, take a look at it — to what's the very importance, the very core of what waʻa is about, and more communication, and just putting everything on the table and being transparent," Crivello added.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Oct. 10, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
Sophia McCullough is a digital news producer. Contact her at news@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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