Hawaii Island canoe club lands spot in world’s largest paddling event

A team of 6 boys and 6 girls qualified for the 2022 International Vaa Federation's World Sprint Championship.
Published: Jun. 16, 2022 at 5:13 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 16, 2022 at 7:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Five days a week, a small group of teenagers paddle a canoe around Hilo Bay, gliding across the water to a beat that blares from a loudspeaker an escort boat.

The music is an eclectic mix of tunes.

“There’s reggae, hip hop, country, whatever,” said 15-year-old paddler Alii Youderian.

He’s part of the Hawaii island team that paddles for Keaukaha One Youth Development, a Native Hawaiian non-profit that works with underprivileged kids.

The canoe is more than a vessel.

“The canoe is a great foundation to establish solid values, values of commitment, courage, compatibility, competence,” nonprofit Executive Director Keahi Warfield said.

Paddling holds their attention and enables Keaukaha One teachers to steer the youth in the right direction. The method has worked for hundreds of teens.

Youderian sees the benefits.

“I get to train with others. It pushes myself and I help push others,” he said.

A team of six boys and six girls from KOYD qualified for the 2022 International Vaa Federation’s World Sprint Championship, known as the Olympics of outrigger canoe paddling that’s set for August at Dorney Lake in England.

“I read that it was a man-made lake, and it’s this long rectangle. It doesn’t look like a lake to me, but that’s what they call it,” said paddler Cother McKeague-Laa, a 17-year-old member of the girl’s team.

But qualifying for the World Sprints is just one step.

The teens are facing another big hurdle. The non-profit needs to about $70,000 to cover travel costs and accommodations for the paddlers and four chaperones. So KOYD is making a plea to the public.

“We are just asking for the community support to help us raise the funds that we need to get there,” Warfield said.

The team wanted to try out for the World Sprints two years ago, but the pandemic canceled the event that was set for Hilo. Their hearts are set on competing this year.

“Yes, definitely! That’s all we can talk about,” McKeague-Laa said.

They’re putting in a lot of practice time to prepare.

“On a scale of one to ten? It’s an eleven!” Youderian said

Warfield says a trip to the United Kingdom would be a opportunity for the youth to broaden their horizons.

“We would like to see what London is about given our time constraints,” he said.

The teenagers believe they can hold their own against the best canoe paddlers in their age group.

They want a chance to prove it.

To learn more about their fundraising efforts go to their Instagram page @koyd.hi or their GoFundMe campaign.

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