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This year’s 32-mile Chattajack race down the Tennessee River Gorge is just days away. For many paddlers, the idea of standing on a sup board or sitting in an outrigger canoe for that many miles may seem overwhelming or even impossible.  But, consider the fact that Polynesian paddlers have been voyaging distances much greater than that for hundreds of years.

Rooted in Tradition and History

That tradition lives on through storied six-man outrigger canoe races like the Queen Lili’uokalani, Na Wahine O Ke Kai, and Molokai Hoe. In those events, canoes paddle anywhere from 18 to more than 40 miles in the open ocean and across treacherous channels. These voyages perpetuate Hawai’i’s heritage and honor the importance of paddling to its culture.

According to Chattajack’s race registration site, 154 out of  767 registered paddlers are signed up in the OC-6 categories this year. 

Keep your Cool

This is an image of 17 outrigger canoes lined up to paddle 10 miles to Molkini atoll near Maui, Hawaii.
17 outrigger canoes line up to voyage from Wailea, Maui to Molokini and back at the 2023 Gathering of the Voyagers

‘Anela Gutierrez is the executive director of the Maui-based Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Voyaging Society and is an accomplished Hawaiian canoe voyager.  She says the key to completing an event like Chattajack is mental.

“A race like that (Chattajack) where you are not ‘ironing,’ you really just need to stay calm,” she explained when we caught up with her at the recent “Gathering of the Voyagers” festival hosted by HOCVS and held in Wailea, Maui. “Ironing” refers to a race or voyage where the same crew completes the entire course together without ever switching out with other paddlers who are following on a support boat.

“You want to stay calm and watch your technique,” she said. “Sometimes we think we need to go hard to go faster, but actually, it’s just about finding the right power and having a nice glide.”

This is an image of 'Anela Gutierrez explaining about outrigger paddling long distance techniques.
HOCVS' 'Anela Gutierrez aboard the support boat during the Gathering of the Voyagers paddle to Molokini, in the Au'au Channel.

Save your Energy

Gutierrez said staying calm and focusing on good technique results in conservation, which pays off in the long run.

“You don’t want to waste all your energy on a 30-mile paddle.  You want to be able to breathe normally and just put the power in at the (paddle) entry. And just glide.”

When you think about it, her advice is applicable to whatever craft you paddle in Chattajack. Or anytime, really.

The Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Voyaging Society is dedicated to perpetuating Hawaiian cultural values through canoe voyaging and protocol.  The Gathering of the Voyagers is an annual event that includes presentations on all facets of canoe voyaging and a 10-mile paddle from Polo Beach and around Molokini, the small, crescent-shaped atoll between the islands of Maui and Kaho’olawe. If you have any interest at all in paddling and its history, this is a must-attend event! A visitor paddle with HOCVS offered year-round should also be a part of any trip to Maui.

This is a picture of several Hawaiian outrigger canoes paddling across the Au'au Channel to Molokini,Hawaii.

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