Canoe paddling: Hilo sprints into preparations for world championships

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Area canoe clubs paddle Thursday at Hilo Bayfront.

It’s on.

The countdown for the IVF World Sprint Championships on Hilo Bay, Aug. 13-23, received its official ready, set, go confirmation Friday morning in a meeting at the Hawaii County Building opened by a message of support from Mayor Harry Kim.


“We are all excited and looking forward to this great event,” Kim said, “it’s (Hilo Bay) our beach and we’ll do everything we can with the committee and all the volunteers to make it as good an experience as it can be.

“Let us know how we can help with any contingencies,” he said, “whether it’s where to park, how to get around, we are expecting between 5,000 and 7,000 people, so anything we can do, we want to jump in.

“We all know, for example, that it never rains in Hilo, but if something unusual like that occurs, we want to be prepared.”

A roomful of organizations members giggled at the pun and set about to get things in order.

Sue Lee Loy, Hilo County Council member, sent that message in a different way.

“Hilo rallies, whether it’s Merrie Monarch or whatever the case may be, we come together to help, it’s our culture,” she said. “We rally, we puke, we get back up and rally some more.”

She said her family experience is a busy one, with keiki doing volleyball, basketball, soccer, paddling, whatever it may be.

“Please don’t make it sound like we’re really throwing up, really puking,” she said, “it was just meant to say a lot of us stay on the run in our families, and we’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

In that respect, there’s plenty to do with 187 days remaining, as of Friday, said race director Samantha Moikeha.

“There’s so much to do, we want to get the word out to the community that we need volunteers in so many different areas, transportation, concessions, the list is long,” she said. “Paddlers know about this event, they’ve known since 2016 and they’ve been training for this ever since, and that, obviously includes our own people here on the Big Island and throughout the state, our time to qualify is right around the corner.”

That was a reference to the state championships, to be held on Hilo Bay Feb. 29-March 1, with the winners receiving a berth in the World Championships.

Whoever survives and competes for the state, it will be unlike any competition they’ve been a part of, certainly on the Big Island, where the numbers of people headed this way in August keep growing.

“You’re looking at people interested in renting homes at $5,000 a month, in that range” said Moikeha, “and there are a lot of them coming. The New Zealand contingent said it will bring about 500 people, and when you add Australia and Tahiti, we have about 1,800 paddlers and others coming just from those three places. Teams are coming for 7-to-10 days of competition, and they expect to win, but not everyone can win, so what if you lose and you have several days before you go back home?

“What will they do with all that time? This is where we need help, this is what we need to prepare for, where will they go on their days off? What to they want to do? Where do they want to eat, how do they get around?”

There’s so much to do that the group is seeking volunteers right now to begin to prepare for the onslaught.

“We all think of it as canoe racing,” said Mike Atwood, president of the 2020 Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association, the hosting organization for the event. “From the opening ceremonies to the closing ceremonies, there will be lots of canoe racing, yes, but that’s not the best way for us to think about because there will be so much going on.


“People will be here about a month,” he said. “We need to think of it in terms of weeks of a community festival, with canoe races involved, instead of the other way around.”

To get involved, contact Samantha Moikeha or her daughter Ka’ili Moikeha on Facebook (Hilo Va’a World Sprints 2020) or at

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