Teams share a common bond at the annual Pailolo Challenge in Maui
In the rear of the plane, however, a team of San Diego women ignored the verdant volcanic ridges, focusing instead on the whitecaps frosting impossibly deep blue Pacific Ocean swells. They compared predictions about the strength of the tsunami expected to hit Maui 36 hours later; just in time for the ninth annual Pailolo Challenge, a 28-mile outrigger canoe race from Maui to Molokai across the Pailolo channel.
The SoCal Wahines came to race, joining teams from New Zealand, American Samoa, Singapore, several Hawaiian Islands, Canada, Hong Kong and Australia.
Traveling to host locations for outrigger races is a ticket to some of the most beautiful water on the planet. Marathons and triathlons have long been popular rationale for travel. Meanwhile, major water sport competitions have seen a rise in popularity. Veteran paddler Wendy DeWitt, a San Diegan with more than 30 years’ experience, has competed in Bora Bora, Tahiti, the Samoan Islands, New Zealand, the Cook Islands and Brazil.
While the magnificence of tropical islands is a rich reward, she said, it’s the camaraderie of the global paddling ohana (family in Hawaiian) and simply being on the ocean that appeals to DeWitt.
“It’s organic,” she said. “You are barefoot in a boat with a paddle and that’s it. When I get out on the water, I go knowing I’m going to learn something from the ocean that day, and that’s what I look forward to.”
Tony Serafin, a second-grade teacher at Torrey Pines Elementary School, began paddling at age 10, growing up on the island of Hawaii. Besides the physical workout, he, too, relishes the teamwork that goes into training.