Rowing Regatta Has Survived and
Thrived at the Ala Wai

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (12/26/98)
By Ray Pendleton


That has to be anyone's reaction to the fact that next week the Royal Hawaiian Rowing Challenge will mark it's fifth annual competition on the somewhat tainted waters of the Ala Wai Canal.

If you think not, consider how the race all began.

In a Water Ways column in 1994, I wrote about a relative newcomer to Hawai`i named Robyn Johl, who had previously organized the very successful International Victoria Boat Race in Canada, and was then trying to promote a similar rowing regatta in Honolulu.

It seems that Johl had taken one look at our straight, wide, Ala Wai Canal and had instantly seen "a perfect flat-water venue for rowing."

My concern at the time was that she didn't see some of the sandbars and shoals - both literal and political - hidden beneath the canal's shining surface. But, with a combination of confidence, persuasiveness and resiliency, Johl has managed to deal with all obstacles to achieve her goal.

In an effort to attract funding and general community support, Johl began with an educational campaign regarding the history of rowing in Hawai`i.

This was not the first time 60-foot-long rowing shells, called "eights," for their eight rowers, were to be raced in Hawai`i, she explained. Up to the late 1960s, schools such as Punahou, Farrington, McKinley, Iolani and the University of Hawaii had strong rowing programs.

Even earlier, Johl said, none other than King David Kalakaua was a great patron of the sport of rowing. In the early 1800s, every September 15 was designated "Regatta Day" and six-oared "barges" were raced in Honolulu Harbor.

Soon, Johl was the recipient of funds from the state and the Duke Kahanamoku Foundation, and had the support of, among others, Senators Les Ihara, Jr. and Carol Fukunaga.

Turning to the realities of the race course, Johl had to quickly concede that her dream of creating a full, Olympic-style 2,000-meter rowing course would have to be postponed until such time as the canal had been dredged.

Even then, the dredging was seven years overdue, and the alluvial runoff from the Manoa and Palolo streams had created sandbars, making the water too shallow to row across. There was just 1,000 meters open for racing between the Kapahulu end and the McCully Street bridge, so Johl created a short course.

Since that first regatta in 1994, Johl has managed to overcome the obstacles every year. This year is no exception.

Although the Ala Wai is now even less navigable than in previous years (the state promises dredging will commence in the fall of '99), the 1998 Royal Hawaiian Rowing Challenge is scheduled from December 29 through January 3, 1999, between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m.

This year's entries will represent Japan's Hitotsubashi University, Australia's Anglican Church Grammar School, Stanford University, the University of Southern California, Princeton, the Oregon Rowing Club and the Honolulu Rowing Club.

As a special treat for spectators, there will also be rowing clinics for those who would like to give this sport a try for the first time, or perhaps, renew old skills.

For more information regarding the regatta and related activities, call Robyn Johl at 923-0157.

Last week's Column -|- More Water Ways

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