18th Annual Bankoh Na Wahine O Ke Kai

For Women of the Sea - A Dream Come True
Female paddlers from Australia, Canada, Hawai`i, New Zealand and the mainland United States will challenge each other on September 29, 1996, in the 18th annual Bankoh Na Wahine O Ke Kai - "Women of the Sea" - 41 mile, six-person outrigger canoe race across the Kaiwi Channel from Moloka`i to O`ahu.

How It All Began:
The event, now acknowledged as the championship of women's long-distance canoe paddling, began as a dream in 1954 two years after the first men's outrigger canoe race across the channel. Coaches and officials considered it impossible for women to handle the large, six-person outrigger canoes and unsafe to make the open ocean changes necessary during the crossing. A core group of female paddlers patiently waited for 21 years until finally, in 1975 two female crews made an unofficial crossing from Hale O Lono Harbor on Moloka`i to Waikiki, on O`ahu. Still, the men weren't convinced so the group waited, undeterred, until a more opportune moment arose.

On October 15, 1979 the dream that began 25 years earlier became a reality with the first women's crossing. Dedicating themselves to promoting, organizing and producing the women's channel race, the first committee members were: Hannie Anderson, Mary Winchester, Donna Wolf, Lita Blankenfield, Connie McGuire, Mary Fern, Charlene Machado, Amy Best, Puna Dawson, and Carleen Ornellas.

In the early years, it was a struggle. The paddlers financed the event themselves, with fund raisers, until 1990 when Bank of Hawaii became the official corporate title sponsor.

About The First Women's Crossing:
Conceived first as a solo effort by Healani Canoe Club, they were later challenged by a team headed by Donna Wolf. Wolf and her crew called themselves Onipa`a and paddlers from four canoe clubs--Kailua, Outrigger, Lanikai and Waikiki Surf--joined together. It was the first time paddlers from rival clubs were permitted to paddle together. The Hawaiian word onipa`a means steadfast and was the personal and official motto of Queen Liliu`okalani, the last Hawaiian monarch.

Team members were: Anona Napoleon, Georgia Adams, C. Waterman, Donna Coelho, J. Rudscrom, Sandy Kalahiki, Puna Dawson, H. Keono, Rosie Lum, K. Parker, G. Kalo, T. Tannihill, N. Cids, G. Moniz, C. Froiseth, Anne Nichol, T. Chun, Carleen Ornellas, and C. Morishigi. Each crew consisted of 18 women.

Healani Canoe Club was coached by Richard Babe Bell. Their crew members were: Uilani Bell, Queenie Niguchi, A. Puna, Nani Spencer, Shay Bintliff, Marsha Kreosky, Elsa Wright, Male Tufele, J. Price, Florence Apa, Ellen Pabliano, Bernie Alu, Robin Reed, J. Williams, E. Liby, Evelyn Arakaki, R. Kealupuluole, M. Shishido, Mary Komp and Georgia Campbell.

Anderson and the late Leinani Faria, another colleague who shared the dream, officiated that first race. The two crews and officials set out from Moloka`i in 6 am darkness, prompting Healani steers person Marsha Kreosky to yell, Am I going the right way?

It was a close contest but Healani won, with a time of seven hours 19 minutes 20 seconds, when they took a more southerly route to O`ahu. Onipa`a finished approximately 15 minutes later. Channel conditions were termed average, meaning 5-8-foot swells with crosswinds. Coach Bell said the Moloka`i Channel was not as rough as his 20-member women's crew expected it to be but enthusiastic members of his crew, the first women's team to ever cross the channel, were a bit more emphatic.

We never thought of quitting. I could go on to Barbers Point, said Georgia Campbell.

The Women Proved They Could Do It:
On October 15, 1979, the dream came to life. Instrumental in organizing and conducting the races, Faria, who inspired others and helped make the race a reality, passed away in March 1979 and did not live to see the dream come true. In honor of her many years of support and effort, the inaugural Na Wahine O Ke Kai was dedicated to her memory.

California's Offshore Has Taken The Title 9 Times:
Seventeen races have been held since 1979. The 1980 race was canceled due to high winds and 25-to 30-foot seas. Offshore Canoe Club, from Newport Beach, Calif., has won the race nine times. From l986 to 1991 they were first overall. In 1992 they relinquished the title to Outrigger Canoe Ciub, but regained it in 1993 and kept it through '94 and '95. In 1995 they broke their own record with five hour, 24 minute, 42 second crossing. The club has participated in every race since 1979 and so has crew member JoJo Toeppner.

Outrigger Canoe Club won the first race in 1979 and again in 1981. Hui Nalu won it in 1982 and '83. In 1984 and '85 Outrigger won. Tired of being beaten in their own home town, in 1992 Outrigger proved their channel experience finally claiming victory over their California competitors in 1992. But 1993 and '94 and '95 belonged to Offshore. In 1995 Offshore broke its own record and so did the next six finishers. With Olympic paddlers among its ranks Offshore has placed second or third in the races it didn't win. Will they make it ten in 1996?

The races grow larger each year and the women's crews continue to get faster, often posting finish times ahead of the teams competing in the companion men's championship -- The Bankoh Molokai Hoe. On September 29, an estimated 40-plus crews will be at the start, challenging one another to see who's number one in endurance. The race begins at 7:30am at Hale O Lono Harbor on Moioka`i and the first finisher is expected to cross the line at Duke Kahanamoku Beach fronting the Hilton Hawaiian Viiiage in Waikiki at approximately 1pm.

Bankoh Supports Hawaiian Canoe Paddling:
As part of its ongoing commitment to support community activities and Hawaiian canoe paddling, Bank of Hawaii is the title sponsor for Na Wahine O Ke Kai, officially known as the Bankoh Na Wahine O Ke Kai. For many years Bank of Hawaii has actively sponsored the men's Bankoh Molokai Hoe and other Hawaiian sports and cultural events. As a Hawai`i-based corporation, Bank of Hawaii realizes the importance of supporting culturally oriented activities and sees its sponsorship as a positive avenue to perpetuate the Hawaiian Culture.

Hilton Hawaiian Village Sets The Stage:
The Hilton Hawaiian Village furnishes the stage set-up and sound system for the finish of Bankoh Na Wahine O Ke Kai on Duke Kahanamoku Beach fronting the hotel property. The hotel also provides a hospitality room with sandwiches and fruit punch for the press, officials. judges and the volunteers.

Race Aired On KHON TV 2:
FOX TV-2 annually creates a one-hour documentary of the women's Bankoh Na Wahine O Ke Kai. It is broadcast locally two weeks after the race. This hour- long program covers all the exciting highlights from various clubs training on neighbor islands to preparation on Moioka`i, the start and finish and highlights of the crossing.

Hele On Back

Last Modified: Wednesday - 09-25-96
Copyright 1996, HoloHolo Internet Publishing, all rights reserved