August 31st 2013. By Jessica Muffett.

Boats of Hawaii: Becoming One With the Sea

Most of these boats will get you very close to the water.

Since it was first inhabited by Polynesian sailors, paddling and sailing have been a part of every day life in Hawaii. Canoes and boards were used for transportation, fishing, and exploring, and the building and journey preparation were accompanied by ceremony and prayer.

Today that reverence for the sea is still observed, though sometimes in the excitement to get a paddle in the water, one only remembers to give thanks underway.


Here I am with my friend Ron Winegar, the Kauai Epic dealer (, out for a morning paddle on Hanalei Bay. Photo by Joel Guy of

Surf Ski: I moved to Kauai, saw these sexy sleek things gliding through the water, and had to have two. Surf skis have been around for years, spun off from lifesaving clubs in Australia and South Africa, and had long been exclusive to elite athletes due to their tippy nature. Then Epic Kayaks came along three years ago and realized they were neglecting a huge market – the recreational boater, like me. With the more stable V8, Epic has opened the doors to everyone. The modified design is 18’ long, 22” wide, weighs 26 lbs, and it has a rudder, directional foot pedals, and a self-bailing cockpit. Made out of Kevlar and carbon fiber, I can carry it with a rigged sling from the car racks to the beach, and I paddle it as effortlessly as a dolphin glides through the water. It is a perfect toy, I might add, to carry on a large yacht.


My neighbor Steve Long flies along in his Hawaiian Sailing Canoe. Photo by Tor Johnson,

Hawaiian Sailing Canoe: Ask anyone on Kauai’s North Shore who to see about a Hawaiian Outrigger Sailing Canoe and they say Nick Beck, who has explored and sailed the Hawaiian Islands extensively. I was already a fan, having been invited on a sail with my neighbor Steve Long. We flew along in his Hawaiian Sailing Canoe at 12 knots, then caught a wave and sped up to 18+ knots, right next to five spouting whales. This is a 30’ 3 man “Holopuni” outrigger sailing canoe, designed and built by Nick. Remove the sails and you have room for three to paddle, which is why it is known as an OC3 Paddling or Sailing Canoe.

On our sail, Steve steered with his paddle in the back seat and his guests sprawled and hung on the nets between the outriggers on either side, while tending the sails. I asked Nick how he came up with the design. He said after sailing the big heavy six man canoes, he wanted one he could either paddle or sail himself that was still seaworthy enough to explore the islands. So he added a daggerboard to the traditional Hawaiian outrigger canoe, which improved the sailing efficiency so it goes to weather a lot better. Nick sells his Holopuni around the world. .


Photo by John Russell Photography

One Man Outrigger Canoe aka OC1: On Kauai there is just one degree of separation from anyone you might want to meet. I asked Nick Beck whom I might speak with about one man outrigger canoes, and he directed me to builder Maui Kjeldsen. I caught up with Maui camping with his family at Waipa. Maui, originally from New Zealand and a fireman on Kauai, builds OC1s in his spare time. He said that Hawaii never really had an OC1 culture, but people here wanted a one man that fit the Hawaiian culture. The New Zealand and Tahitian one man rudderless canoes evolved to ruddered in Hawaii, making it very easy for anyone to get on and paddle and surf downwind – with a very quick learning curve. The speed is 15 mph plus the wave speed, and many paddlers use them off-season to train for 6man. Because of its stability, it is also great for fishing. It is probably the most popular single man canoe in Hawaii, and I can’t wait to try it. For more info, visit Kiakaha Canoes and Paddles.


Photo by Pete Orelup, Here paddlers are preparing for a race in Kona.

Six Man Outrigger Canoe: Outrigger Canoes were originally developed in Southeast Asia for sea travel and fishing, eventually making their way to Hawaii via Polynesian watermen. The first recognized, purpose-built, racing canoe was commissioned in Hawaii by Prince Kuhio in the early 1900s, leading to the Malia racing canoe, which to this day provides the blueprint for all racing outrigger canoes. Streamlined and refined to 40 feet and 400 pounds, they are now raced around the world. The traditional hand-carved koa wood canoes costs about $20K for the log and $60K to turn it into a canoe. Fiberglass is more affordable and available.

Lucky for me, one doesn’t need to be a competitive racer to get out on a six man. Recreational paddling is a favorite activity in Hawaii – as a member of the Namolokama Canoe Club, I paddle almost year round either on the river or on beautiful Hanalei Bay, with many other seniors. The only requirement is to show up on time with my paddle, pay attention, time my strokes to the others, and keep my paddle in the water.


Hokule’a is a replica of a double-hulled Hawaiian voyaging canoe. Photo from and

This summer, a refurbished Hokule’a set out on a 36-month voyage of 46,000 nautical miles, visiting 26 countries and docking in 65 ports to exchange ideas and practices linked to environmental sustainability.  In 1975, Hokule’a, a replica of a double-hulled Hawaiian voyaging canoe, was launched from the shores of Oahu for a historic journey to Tahiti, proving the probability of intentional long-distance travel and settlement in the Pacific by Polynesians thousands of years ago. She was designed by artist and historian Herb Kawainui Kane, one of the founders of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Her six voyages over 25 years inspired a revival of canoe building and voyages throughout Polynesia. Watch a video of the worldwide voyage.


Terry Chung standup paddlesurfing on Hanalei Bay, Kauai, and taking orders from around the world at Photo by Joel Guy,

Stand up Paddleboards aka SUPs:  Can anything be written about watercraft in Hawaii without including stand up paddleboards? SUPs are a surfboard designed to stand up on and paddle, great for catching waves. People paddle them for fun, for core cross training, or just to get from one area to another. They also are becoming a popular toy on cruising boats. Joel, the photographer for the Surf Skis, led me to Terry Chung, a classic Hawaiian Waterman, who is also featured in the new indie video, A Deeper Shade of Blue, an awesome film.

Although one must be fairly fit to be able to paddle in a standing position, you can kneel or paddle from a prone position. As one of Kauai’s most respected shapers and exporters of SUPs, Terry custom builds his boards in Kauai on his property where his mini factory is located, testing most of the designs out, and taking orders from around the world.

Here are some articles about SUP on our sister site,


Owners Don and Sharry Stabbert are returning to Seattle from Japan, and anchored in Hanalei Bay, Kauai, with their daughter and son in law and grandbaby, when Ron Winegar brought me over. Photo: Joel Guy,

Long Distance Cruisers: Starr is a 75’, Northern Marine Long Distance Cruiser from Seattle. What a delight to find I know these world cruisers. Don and Sharry were hosting a superyacht show in the Seattle area about the time we started YachtWorld, and for the past thirteen years they have been cruising the world on and off. For more information on their adventures, visit  the Starr Voyage website.

Hawaii has welcomed visiting boats since the Polynesians navigated their way across the Pacific in 1000 AD, and the first recorded European explorer (Captain James Cook) planted the British flag in 1778. So we say aloha, knowing we’ll see new visitors again soon when they pass through the islands. And meanwhile, we’ll go back to becoming one with the sea.

Jessica Muffett
Jessica Muffett is the founder of YachtWorld. Today she splits her time between Seattle and Kauai, where she contributes to YachtWorld as the Hawaii Correspondent. A former yacht and charter broker and offshore cruiser, she paddles recreationally on Hanalei Bay with her surf ski kayak and six man canoe clubs, and promotes ocean advocacy through her non-profit