Wa'akaulua is the Hawaiian word for double canoe. It is pronounced wah-ah-kow-loo-uh.

Canoe sailing with Kiko

Story by Hanne Moeller
Photos by Ross LewAllen

We met in Punalu’u in the district of Ka’u on the Southeast coast of the Big Island, Hawaii. I was excited to go out with captain Kiko in his double hulled sailing canoe, which he rebuilt from two 1953 single outrigger paddling surfing canoes in the traditional Polynesian style. The 1953 canoes were molded from a 1926 dugout canoe carved at Honaunau, south Kona.

The morning had been calm and sunny, but now the wind was getting stronger. Hawaii is a little like Denmark where I come from, even though Denmark is a Scandinavian country and not tropical at all. But both Hawaii and Denmark are basically a lot of islands with oceans all around them and constantly changing weather.

I have to tell you that even though I have my roots in an old Viking country I am not particularly “søstærk” as we say…literarily meaning sea strong. Especially I am not fond of the swells. So I looked out at the beach of Punalu’u with some anxiety. A Swiss woman from our sailing group couldn’t wait to get out there: “I like it wild!” she stated. I knew my morning ginger tea was not enough to cope with the rows of rolling white caps. “If you are going out there I am not going!” I said.

Luckily Captain Kiko decided that we should drive up along the coast to Hilo where there is breakwater. And off we went in a convoy after Kiko and his double sailing canoe on a trailer.

We waded out to the canoe and climbed down into the holes just big enough to contain one person, but my long legs had plenty of room underneath. We sat on seats in hatch openings that could be closed to keep the sea out in rough weather. Including captain Kiko and his crew we were 8 people on board from 5 different countries: Switzerland, Germany, Nepal, USA and Denmark.

It was great fun paddling the canoe and getting the feeling of the wind in the sail. Under the experienced and kind guidance of our captain we did a dance with the ocean for the next hours. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes elegantly turning around.

When we left the breakwater and went out into the open sea the swells started to come. Yikes! Kiko checked in on me regularly to see how I was doing. I felt in good and responsible hands.

And actually I was doing amazingly well. I did have to keep my full concentration on the movements of that big Pacific as the swells came rolling. The canoe was so close to the water that I could dip my hand in it. It would have been very easy to throw up. But I didn't. In fact I felt the closeness to the water and its movements easier to deal with than being on the 30 foot Catalina sailboat my American man Ross keeps in San Diego, California.

Suddenly Kiko pointed way out in the distance and said there was a whale. Actually he was able to predict the spot where the whale would come up next time and blow its fountain of water in the air. And he was right! All those years of experience had taught him how to read the water and life in it. It was wonderful that the whales decided to surface and we watched these playful giants at a respectful distance. Kiko maneuvered away from them to give them their space.

Sometimes paddling, sometimes just enjoying the sail and listening to Kiko’s stories about Hawaiian traditions and history we went back inside the breakwater for a trip around the bay.

I felt greatly rewarded for having overcome my trouble with seasickness. And I can highly recommend going out with Kiko and his beautiful vessel to connect with the traditional Hawaiian seafaring stories.