Issue 18.5: October/November 2015
Native Intelligence: O`ahu

Canoe Clinic

Story by David Thompson. Photos by Dana Edmunds.

As a dedicated outrigger canoe paddler, Cindy Scopes, a 51-year-old school psychologist from
Connecticut, is more familiar with lighthouses and rocky shores than palm trees and sandy beaches. She trains in the cold, murky waters of Long Island Sound and races on the Potomac and Hudson rivers, both too polluted for swimming. When she got the chance to sharpen her skills at an outrigger paddling camp in Kailua, O‘ahu, she signed up. Paddling on Kailua Bay was, she recalls, dreamlike. “It was more beautiful than pictures could ever show,” she says. “You can see the bottom. You can see what you’re paddling around. Where I’m from, you don’t know there’s an obstacle until you hit it.”

The week-long paddling camps are headed by Jim Foti, a champion paddler with five first-place finishes in the famous Moloka‘i Hoe canoe race under his belt. The camps are limited to about a half-dozen participants with paddling experience. Foti’s sixteen-hour curriculum mixes classroom talks with time on the water, in both OC1s (one-man canoes) and OC6s (six-man canoes). Foti tailors each camp to the skill level of the group, but he always covers the history of the sport and its cultural significance in Hawai‘i. He also does a video-taped stroke analysis for each paddler and emphasizes how to read water conditions and use them to one’s advantage. And he takes everybody canoe surfing. While he’s known as a fierce competitor himself, Foti emphasizes fun over glory. “Your motivation should be enjoyment, health and wellness,” he says. “In a canoe race there’s just one winner. Most people don’t win. But if you go out with the right attitude, everybody wins.”

Kailua is ideal for paddling. Outside reefs keep the inner bay calm most of the time, and two inland waterways offer smooth conditions all the time. Miles of sandy beaches make for easy launches and landings. There are five little islands to explore, and a mile offshore there’s blue water for those who want a taste of the open ocean. There’s also Kailua’s magnificent range of weather. “Sometimes there’s no wind and it’s just beautiful and awe-striking,” says Foti. “Other times the wind’s honking and the waves are up and we’re canoe surfing, and it’s just the thrill of a lifetime. It stokes people out.”

Outrigger canoe paddlers from around the world come to Kailua Bay on O‘ahu for a week of intensive training by champion paddler Jim Foti.

Story by David Thompson. Photos by Dana Edmunds