The water splashes and froths as paddles make contact with the waves, propelling the outrigger canoes forward in Kaneohe Bay during the John D. Kupiko Regatta just off the pier of the Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, July 14, 2019.
The Regatta race is an annual event that brings various canoe teams around the island of Oahu together, and this year, it’s hosted in the waters under the tenure of MCAS Kaneohe Bay.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to have the military host this, especially since it’s such a huge cultural thing,” said Pua Seeao, the vice president of Ewa Pu’uloa Outrigger Canoe Club. “The Wa`a, an outrigger canoe, is a very significant thing for us as Polynesians and Hawaiians. It is how we made our living and how we got to where we are.”
The participants use a boat that weighs 400 lbs and is certified by the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association,
“We believe that our elders are the Wa`a; because they carry us like they carried us through life,” said Seeao.
Each canoe holds six paddlers hand-picked by their coach on race day.
“When you’re on that boat you really don’t remember anything,” said U.S. Marine Corps Major Husein N. Yaghnam, an expeditionary operations officer with Marine Corps Forces, Pacific. “It’s, a blur but it gets you fired up and gives you an adrenaline rush.”
“The people I paddle with are always striving to get better which in return makes me get better as well,” he said.
“We maintain that Marine esprit de Corps that gives us the competitiveness when we paddle, that’s why we love it,” said Yaghnam.
The Marines that paddle have a healthy relationship with the locals and it makes everyone feel like a big family, he said.
Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH) has hosted events like this to strengthen relationships with the local communities, said U.S. Marine Corps Col. Raul Lianez, commanding officer, MCBH.
“We’ve hosted canoe races since the 1990s,” Lianez said. “It has helped to cement the relationships and bring understanding to the local communities of who we are and what we do as Marines.”
Seeao echoed Lianez’s sentiment.
“It doesn’t matter if you are Hawaiian or not, when you step into that Wa`a you are part of the family,” said Seeao.
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