King Kalakaua Regatta Has Old-time Flavor

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (11/08/97)
By Ray Pendleton

In one of my favorite books, Tommy Holmes' definitive work, "The Hawaiian Canoe," there are the following passages:

"In 1875, King Kalakaua, who was deeply interested in water sports, set aside his birthday, November 16th, as the date for an annual regatta. One report stated that ...'The King's anniversary regattas were gotten up on a large scale. They included races for sailing craft, large and small; canoe races, both paddling and sailing; tugs-of-war; swimming races; diving contests; tub races;as well as many rowing races for boats of various classes from two-oared shore boats to 14-oared cutters, including whale-boats and other ship's boats.

"Also included were two-, six-, eight-, 10-, and 14-man barges, ... Canadian canoes, Japanese sampans, sea wrens and even tiny skipjacks that carry but a man apiece and look like children's toy barges.'

"In 1891 Kalakaua died and interest in water sports slumped. After the king's death, it was proposed to commemorate his birthday as a national holiday devoted to boat racing, but interest was waning and the idea was dropped."

Over the intervening century, interest in holding regattas involving such a wide spectrum of water craft has remained virtually nonexistent.

To be sure, boat races of one sort or another have continued to be a part of Hawaii's offshore activities, but they have generally followed the fads, fancies, or social dictates of the times.

Again according to Holmes, due to the influence of the colonial culture during the greater part of on the 19th century and the first third of the 20th, traditional canoe racing came to be viewed as crude, unsophisticated and primitive, and was replaced with more "progressive" barge, gig and and rowing shell racing.

A bill was passed in 1896 that established the third Saturday of September as "Regatta Day," and races with such craft were held annually - barring the war years - in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu Harbor, and finally in the Ala Wai Canal. In 1949, for reasons unexplained, Regatta Day was undone by the Territorial Legislature and "wiped off the books."

In 1995 ALTRES, a company that provides human resource alternatives for businesses, reestablished King Kalakaua's birthday celebration races of 100 years ago by sponsoring the first ALTRES King Kalakaua Regatta. This year it will hold its third annual regatta on Sunday, November 16.

Much in the tradition of its predecessors, the regatta will feature competitions for a variety of water craft currently popular with island paddlers, rather than attempting to recreate the regattas of the past. This year's racing categories will be for: four- and six-person sailing canoes, six-person paddling canoes, one-person outriggers, paddle boards and surf skis.

With the start at 11:30 a.m. at Ala Moana Beach Park's Magic Island, these assorted water craft will take differing length race courses to a finish line at the Aloha Tower Marketplace in Honolulu Harbor.

For race fans and the general public, the Aloha Tower Marketplace will feature Hawaiian cultural activities and performances for both adults and children, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Scheduled events will include arts and crafts demonstrations, music and hula performances, an appearance by Miss Aloha Tower, photo opportunities of the exciting race finish and the King Kalakaua Regatta awards ceremony.

For information on how you can participate in the third annual ALTRES King Kalakaua Regatta, call race chairman Walter Guild at 682-5233.

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