Matt Chebatoris February 2, 2017
Why Paddler Events Like Hanohano Are the BestStand up paddling is fun and has opened the world of watersports to new audiences around the world. I can remember the first time I saw a stand up paddler back in 2008. The individual was moving along on a what was approximately an 11 ft all around board in Marina del Rey. I had recently moved back to the U.S. after spending nine of the previous 10 years overseas and was a newcomer to the Los Angeles area. My wife and I were renting a very small studio apartment on the ninth floor of a high-rise building in nearby Venice at the time. We saw the guy on the board during a walk one evening and weren’t sure what it was. Not being from the area, we just figured it was some sort of crazy California thing that they do out here.
My wife and I rented a pair of boards not long afterwards. Pre-paddling instruction back then was essentially non-existent. After a minor marital discussion on the topic of who knew more about a sport neither of us knew anything about we agreed it was most effective to stand with our feet shoulder width apart and paddle the giant “surf boards” like canoes.
I took to stand up paddling with a bit more eagerness than my wife and soon began learning as much as I could about the new sport. I found the event scene, later joined a local outrigger canoe club (OC-6), and have been training regularly on an OC-1 since last fall.
After attending a variety of events over the years I’ve developed a short list of my favorites, as well as the ones which contribute the most to the sustainable growth of not just stand up paddling, but paddle sports across the board. Yes, not just SUP, but paddling as a whole. Stand up paddling, unique as it may be, is part of a broader paddling community and the events which recognize this and welcome the discipline into the fold have historically, and will continue for the foreseeable future, to be the true grassroots events responsible for ensuring the future of stand up paddling as a recreational sport.
Happy Paddlers! Photo: OnIt Pro
The Hanohano Ocean Challenge is one of such events. I’m not a metrics guy, but based on observation alone, Hanohano is probably the largest multi-discipline paddling event on the West Coast and one of the largest anywhere in the United States. Registration in 2017 topped 400 and while stand up paddling contributed a sizeable portion of the total participants, it is the 21-year-old event’s focus on maximum inclusion that has been its key to success over the years.
Stand up paddling doesn’t need manufacturer’s challenges, rows of exclusionary corporate tents, and a disproportionate emphasis on “professionals” while needlessly relegating recreational paddlers to a circus-like sideshow separate from the “main event”. Hopefully the organizers of the Pacific Paddle Games had a few scouts at Hanohano this past weekend and they learned a thing or two.
Hanohano’s mission is to spread the spirit of Aloha while growing the community of all paddlers. What started as a grassroots surfski event in the late 1980’s has grown to become one of the country’s largest multi discipline paddling events. This spirit of inclusion is readily on display throughout the day from the moment you arrive to check in. For a mere $25 participants can race along an endless number of great paddlers, young and old, in all paddling disciplines from outrigger canoes to SUPs and everything in between. Yes, the event costs only $25 to enter and for that one low price everyone receives the same well-designed T Shirt, a great pre-race breakfast, and the opportunity to paddle in a great destination – San Diego, California.
Hanohano has quite possibly the best raffle of any paddling event on the planet (the top prize is a brand new OC-1) and the inclusive format not only allows paddlers to compete against many of the best in all of paddling, but provides the opportunity to race or try out multiple paddle craft. Danny Ching and Jade Howson each won the overall title in their respective SUP divisions and then after a short rest took to the water once more in OC-1’s for a repeat performance in the day long event’s long course. Infinity’s Dave Boehne set another great example when after finishing third overall in the 14’ SUP division he hung out on the water near the finish line and cheered on the remaining competitors. What made their actions great was that they did so alongside the rest of us, on the same courses, at the same time, in the same conditions allowing everyone to share the glory.
Several stand up paddlers competed in more than one discipline, racing the long course in an OC-2 proved to be a popular option, while others, including this writer, traded their SUP paddle for that of an outrigger canoe and tested their skills in a new craft on the short course. Stand up paddling is great fun, but the grand ambitions SUP conjures up in the minds of some are not an absolute and we need more events like Hanohano to nurture the sport’s full potential.
The Hanohano Outrigger Canoe Club is a 501c3 that has been contributing to the growth of paddle sports since the early 1980’s. The annual Hanohano Huki Ocean Challenge funds the club’s junior development program and Wounded Warrior Program. The event is staffed by volunteers and treats every participant like family. Special thanks to the sponsors of the 2017 Hanohano Ocean Challenge: Huki Outrigger/Surfski, Paddle Planet, Dirty Birds and Carbo Pro as well as all the vendors, product sponsors, and paddlers who helped us make it a great day.