Keeping Culture Afloat

Maui's winningest canoe club is borrowing lessons from the past to surge ahead.

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kids canoe club maui
Head keiki coach Kauhane Lu’uwai gathers his young paddlers during a practice at Kahului Harbor.

Head coach Diane Ho says the club didn’t have a proper home and was being run out of the back of a car parked along the shore of Kahului Harbor when she turned to an upbeat nineteen-year-old named Kauhane Luʻuwai and told him he was the new head keiki coach. Thirty-five years later, Luʻuwai runs a program that sets the standard in Hawaiʻi.

“I love our canoe club and what we stand for, the morals we try to teach our kids,” says Luʻuwai. “We’re not perfect, but we give it our best effort.”

Ho says there isn’t a keiki coach in the state who can match Luʻuwai’s knowledge, commitment and heart. And now that the car trunk has been replaced by a modern, two-story hale [building] and an adjacent, traditional Hawaiian structure, the coach has a place for his flock to gather.

“He’s creating a family down there, a safe place to grow up,” Ho says. “Instead of hanging out at the mall, they would rather be at the club. He’s strict with them. If they want to hang out at the club, they better behave. It is a testament to [Kauhane].”

As the 1980s gave way to the ’90s and the junior paddling program continued to grow, the club saw more and more kids hanging around, waiting for practice to start.

“We had all these kids,” Ho recalls. “We said, ‘What are we going to do?’”

The question led to a collaborative effort by coaches, grant writers and other behind-the-scenes workers to develop a summer program. In 1992, seven years before the club would win its first state championship, it held its first Kamaliʻi Program. Luʻuwai was program director that year and has been in the thick of the action ever since.

“It was kind of the Wild West out there,” Luʻuwai recalls. “We weren’t the greatest paddlers and we didn’t have the greatest coaching, but the passion was there. As time went on we got better. It started with the kids; we started building, and all of a sudden the kids won the county championship on their own. We started getting more serious and we kept getting better.”

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