Paddler’s Hawaiian lineage goes back to the 1500s and 1600s.
Solomon Pali, 55, is the outrigger canoe instructor at the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel on the island of Maui, Hawaii.
Q: How long have you been paddling?
A: Since I was a child — a keiki, in the Hawaiian language — of about 7. Basically as soon as my father thought I could hold a paddle.
Q: Is it hard to learn?
A: The key is to keep the paddle facing forward with the flat side facing toward the rear. This pushes the water under the canoe, which raises it to help you glide faster. Then there’s getting the feel of the ocean — the ebb and flow, currents and waves — which you can learn simply by floating flat on your back on the water’s surface. It still amazes me how many guests we have who’ve never been in the ocean.
Q: How far back does your family heritage go in Hawaii?
A: Back to before the kingdom of Hawaii and time of King Kamehameha, who united the Hawaiian Islands in the early 1800s. Our lineage here goes back to the 1500s and 1600s.
Q: What are the different kinds and uses of Hawaiian canoes?
A: All our canoes were built for livelihood and transportation. The single-hulled canoe, which we call wa’a kaukahi, is 45 feet long and weighs about 400 pounds, and can be manned by six people.
The double-hulled sailing canoe, called wa’a kaulua, are 65 to 75 feet long with a sail in the middle. Those babies weigh more than 2,000 pounds and take 20 people to handle them. There’s also a one-person canoe. The one we use for resort guests is a six-person outrigger. We have two lateral support floats called “amas” fastened to both sides of the main hull. Traditionally these canoes only have one ama, but ours at Fairmont Kea Lani have two to provide extra safety and stability for guests.
Q: Is there a ritual you conduct before you paddle?
A: Yes, we do a chant, an oli, to ask permission to enter a world that’s been here long before us. We ask for blessings for safe passages and guidance on the water. We ask only that — except that, with open heart, hopefully we may learn something.
Q: What have you learned from the ocean?
A: It’s taught me how to be calm, how to sit still, look around, be grateful for things I have, not for the things I want. As long as I can wake up every morning and see my reflection on the water and enjoy one more beautiful day, I am happy.
Q: Do you paddle outside of work?
A: Definitely, I paddle with some of the Maui clubs that have been around since the 1960s, including Lahaina Canoe Club. We participate in local and inter-island races. There are cash prizes, but they are really hard to win, because they attract the top professional paddlers from around the world — from Tahiti, Samoa, China, Japan, Germany, Australia, even a group from Chicago, Illinois.
I am not one of world’s top paddlers — just a guy who loves to paddle.