Oahu racing association Kanaka Ikaika - Hawaiian Canoes and Stand Up Paddle & Surfski

Oahu’s Kanaka Ikaika: Stronger Than Ever


There has been a lot of changes and growth around the world from new canoes to new races and events.
We asked Jim Foti from Kanaka Ikaika to share some of his experience.

The beginning of the first small craft outrigger canoe racing association

first small boat races in oahuKanaka Ikaika Racing Association (KIRA) started in 1976 with a solo crossing of the Kaiwi channel by Doc. Dale Adams in a surfski kayak.  The racing series sprung up after that, with the Molokai crossing as the pinnacle event every year.  Personally, I have been racing KIRA since 1989, and since 1996 have been close to the organizing committee, always helping with finding sponsors and being available.

Set backs and challenges as a race organizer

Volunteer organizations are hard to keep going because people need to earn a living, and running a race association is as consuming as a full time job. KIRA has gone up and down through the years. There have been periods when the organization was just hanging on. At one point, KIRA gave away all but two weekends a year, from a fourteen race series to only two events.  This opened up holes, and other organizations sprung up and put on races. KIRA also gave away the crown jewel  – Molokai to Oahu.

Changes and new leadership

Jim Foti Race Organizer and Paddling LeaderI came back on the scene in 2010 to help revitalize KIRA.  Creating interesting courses, serving good food and making the events fun is bringing people back and making a difference.  Once we took full control, we went all out to increase sponsor support, which enables us to put on quality events. We recently converted to a 501©3 and can now accept tax deductible donations, grants and sponsorships.

This process has as been a real challenge, but we are looking towards the future and are here to take the torch for the next generation of paddlers. We believe we have set KIRA on a course that will keep it vital for years to come.

Working the gears of life and sport

With three young boys involved in numerous activities and a business to manage, there’s a lot going on. I get to paddle at 6:00 am twice per week and maybe on the weekend if I’m lucky. In the spring I run the Pogue OC camps and I do private coaching throughout the year as well as coaching at Lanikai Canoe Club. We hope to be able to staff KIRA so we can keep things running smoothly and be able to manage life and work. Anyone interested in supporting or volunteering please reach out, we could really use your help.

For the love of the game

Some of the most memorable moments as paddlers are when the wind is kicking and the ocean is moving. I recall going around Makapu’u with a big east swell and gale force winds with my brother John on a training run. We got in the thick of it and miraculously  made it through alive. As a racer, we always want to go in no matter what.  As an organizer, it is frightening because we don’t want to lose anyone out there.  There are times when the water is so big that it is difficult to track all the participants, and you fret until everyone is back safely. Luckily we have some of the most experienced watermen in the world here in Hawaii and always put safety first.

New paddlers, where to start?

Jim Foti Charging Hard on A HurricaneFirst time racers just need to get in it and get the experience.  All the races have a short course for novice paddlers. You meet new people, gain experience and pick up tips along the way.  You can also accelerate your learning by hiring a coach who can support you along your path and help you understand the mechanics and strategies of technique, fitness and training programs. Recognizing the need I have been supporting novice and veteran paddlers in Hawaii and from all over the world through my coaching programs. If you are out of state and interested in taking your paddling to new levels, you can coordinate your training with a goal of competing in one of our events at KIRA.

If you’re coming to Hawaii and would like to race

Any race on our schedule is a great race, if you are from out of state and a date works for you, just do it.  The biggest is the Scott Hawaii State Championship.  Also the Hinano-Kialoa Oahu Coastal Relay is a super event. Coming up is the Outrigger Zone & Kai Wa’a Kualoa Challenge which is going to be a blast. Molokai is on everyones bucket list and now that we offer relay divisions, it can make it a little more economically feasible and easier to conquer if you are not trained up for a long solo.

Note: Alaska Airlines is partnering with KIRA and offering discounts on flights to and from Hawaii. See kanakaikaika.com for dates and discount codes.

Kanaka Ikaika Race Series in Oahu hawaii - Outrigger Canoes, Stand Up Paddle Boards, Surfski

The future of outrigger canoe racing

Canoe racing evolves slowly.  It is currently not much of a spectator sport because we are so bullheaded on leaving one spot and ending up in another.  Nobody can really watch a race, but the paddlers prefer this so…. it is.

Stand Up has helped outrigger because it introduces people to paddling, and some of them realize that they can go faster on a canoe.  It has helped put paddling on the map, and many of the best SUP paddlers come from outrigger.  There is a shift happening that hopefully will take the sport into a new light.  We are trying to help with this transition through KIRA by taking steps to increase exposure and credibility in the industry and the water sports community. We offer prize money for the first time ever, TV coverage, etc…  And as time goes on, there will have to be sprint formats that are spectator friendly so people can watch.


In Closing

Jim’s vision and passion is infectious and we are stoked for the contributions he has made to the sport through his talents & leadership. If you are interested in starting a racing series or organization in your community please reach out to our global family of coaches and dealers who are willing to help you get going. Stay tuned for more information coming soon from Ozone with where to find a coach and mentor in your area.

Kanaka Outrigger Racing Series Sponsors 2015 KIRA Sponsors – Kanaka Ikaika Racing Association Series Sponsors 2015

Article Authored by Jim Fotti and edited by Naim Ferguson