The design of the canoe evolved with time, experimentation, materials, and needs — upon the discovery of koa wood on the island of Hawaiʻi, entire hulls were built with a single tree trunk. The building of canoes involved the strength of many people, along with the kahuna to direct the process and offer prayers at each step. With a deep respect for the natural world, animals like pigs and birds were included in ceremonies blessing newly built canoes.
Today, Hawaiian culture endures through the use of outrigger canoes for fishing, traveling, and recreation. Canoe clubs operate not only to train racers for competition, but as opportunities to pass on the local traditions. In these clubs, many members start as a keiki (child), learning the Hawaiian language, mele (song), and oli (chant) and embarking on cultural excursions. Being part of a canoe club is being part of an ʻohana (family) — weekly regattas bring hundreds of people together on the beach to root for their clubs and give them an opportunity for cultural practices.
You don’t need to be part of a canoe club to get an authentic taste of what it’s like out on the water, though: the Fairmont Kea Lani offers a Hawaiian Canoe Experience designed to immerse visitors in the rich cultural significance and tradition of outrigger canoes. Guides first offer a little history lesson and what to expect on the water, and after learning basic commands in Hawaiian such as imua (forward) and lawa (stop), each person is assigned a seat on the canoe. In preparation, the guide will sing a chant to ask permission from ancestors to enter the water.