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Early one March morning, low on the horizon, Ka Makau Nui O, or the Big Fish Hook of Maui (also known as Scorpius), dominates the southern sky above the island of Maui. A fish-shaped shadow or cloud appears on the tip of the hook. At the canoe hale on Kihei's Sugar Beach, a group of paddlers stands in the soft sand, staring up at the massive constellation.

"See what looks like the outline of a fish? That's not a cloud," Anela Gutierrez, executive director of the Hawaiian Outrigger Voyaging Society (HOCVS), explains. "That's the Milky Way!" Me'e, or Corvus, is setting to the southwest, and almost directly above the paddlers and their canoe is Hokule'a, Hawaii's zenith star—the very star the early Hawaiian navigators used to find their way home because it is located in the sky right above Hawaii.

On this particular morning, the paddlers on the beach are up early to voyage around the crescent-shaped island called Molokini, which sits between Maui and the island of Kaho'olawe. The roughly 15-mile paddle is the culmination of a camp hosted by HOCVS, a Kihei, Maui-based organization dedicated to the preservation, education, and perpetuation of the Hawaiian culture through the protocol, voyaging, and the way of life of the canoe. Voyaging is the term used in Hawaii for long-distance paddling. Ho'omoana, or camp, is held annually and focuses on the six-man outrigger skills needed for long-distance paddling. The circumnavigation of Molokini is the penultimate activity of a week of hands-on classes in stroke technique, steering, paddle making, canoe protocol (chants), and Hawaiian star navigation. It also includes a community giveback session - which this year focused on maintaining the Kalepolepo Fish Pond, estimated to have been built between 1400 and 1500 AD. There also is an opportunity to learn Hawaiian crafts such as weaving and lei-making.

Ho'omoana is a week of intensive study that extends beyond learning how to paddle faster. In fact, that's not really the point. HOCVS's emphasis is not on racing, especially the short regatta-style competitions popular in Hawaii and elsewhere. Rather, the focus is on the culture of paddling and the connection we all have through water. During the camp, paddlers are in the canoe every day, learning how to read water, clouds and wind in order to become more comfortable on the ocean - in particular in the channels and bays around South Maui.

This year, the longest paddle of the week was set to be the Molokini circumnavigation. The group of 15 camp participants, plus experienced steersmen and women, gathered on the beach before dawn. They shuttled their drybags and other gear out to the support boat, which was waiting just offshore, and the first crew settled in and prepared to cross Ma'alaea Bay. The plan was to do a crew change every 45 minutes. Even before sunrise, the wind was already starting to pick up, and by the time the first boat change was done, it became clear the course would need to be altered. While the outbound trip to Molokini would have been manageable, the offshore winds would make paddling back to the Kihei launch site difficult. Instead, the canoe turned Southeast toward Makena Beach for a downwind run. Ultimately, the canoe voyage would end at Chang's Beach in Wailea because of the epic conditions and for safety. So, the voyage also provided a lesson in risk management.

For most of the campers, the Makena paddle was one of the most challenging situations they had ever paddled in. The experience taught them that they could get out of their comfort zone and push themselves. For others, it was a reminder that "training" isn't necessarily something a paddler does because they are racing or want to race. Training can be about learning how to do something new or about putting yourself into new situations on the water, not always about crossing a finish line faster. Or, it can be about learning how to paddle in different kinds of water, in different craft. What makes the HOCVS Ho'omoana unique is that participants not only have the chance to improve their paddle skills but to learn the traditional values that are at the core of Hawaiian outrigger canoeing, values that sometimes are forgotten when too much focus is placed on competition.

Paddle camps and clinics are one of the most valuable things a paddler can do, no matter what their on-the-water goals, for any number of reasons, as Coach Cain explains here. But if you are looking for a way to make a deep, lasting connection to the culture of paddle sports, the immersive experience of HOCVS' Ho'omoana will provide you with knowledge and experience that could very well change your perspective on paddling and your place on the water.

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