Queen Liliuokalani Race postponed until 2021; Kai Opua hopes to hold smaller event in Sept. to honor monarch, sport

  • Team Red Bull competes in the 2016 Queen Liliuokalani Long Distance Canoe Race. (J.R. De Groote/West Hawaii Today File Photo)

  • The 2020 Queen Liliuokalani Long Distance Canoe Race will not take place due to the coronavirus pandemic. Race officials are hoping a smaller event can be held in September. (Kai Opua Canoe Club/Courtesy Photo)

Kai Opua Canoe Club announced Wednesday the annual Queen Liliuokalani Long Distance Canoe Race has been postponed until 2021 and will not take place during the first week of September this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Race director Mike Atwood said Hawaii’s stay-at-home order, government regulations regarding travel during the pandemic, and economic issues were all factors in deciding the outrigger canoe race’s fate.


“The main factor is obviously health issues, with the uncertainty of the virus,” Atwood said. “Economics was a factor — people who would normally be paddling and working, their jobs may be temporarily taken away from them and they’re definitely not going to be able to afford to travel to other places or pay entry fees. And with the worldwide situation, people from foreign countries are not able to travel because of government or airline restrictions.”

The race is normally a five-day event, Thursday through Monday, during Labor Day weekend to honor Queen Liliuokalani’s birthday which is Sept. 2. Queen Liliuokalani was the last sovereign monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

The main event is the single hull canoe race, 18 miles for both women and men six-man paddling crews. The women crews start first Saturday in Kailua Bay and race to Honaunau Bay, with the men’s outrigger canoes following for the 18-mile race back to Kailua Bay.

Atwood said paddlers not being able to train properly for the long distance race also led to the postponement.

“They can train individually, but as a team sport, with the stay-in-place order and some of the other access issues that are going on, it doesn’t allow us to get together as a team activity,” Atwood said. “So people aren’t physically able to get ready and be in a race of that length at this point in their canoes. They just have not been able to do enough training.”

In last year’s race, paddling crews from Australia, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, French Polynesia and the U.S. competed. More than 75 Hawaii crews were also represented.

Atwood said that although the five-day event and main race will not take place, Kai Opua hopes it can still celebrate Queen Liliuokalani’s birthday this year with a smaller, modified one-day race.

“The postponement is also for us to try to put on some other type of event to recognize Queen Liliuokalani that week, and hopefully if that can happen we can also get some canoes in the water,” Atwood said. “And when it comes down to it, the real bottom line is people’s health — the paddlers’ health and the community’s health”

The Queen Liliuokalani race is not the first paddling event to be canceled in Hawaii. The International Va’a Federation World Sprint Championships, which were scheduled to be held in Hilo in August, were canceled in March. The 2020 Hawaii Canoe Racing Association State Championship race on Oahu, also scheduled for August, was canceled in April.


The 68th annual Molokai Hoe is still scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 11.

“With the Queen Liliuokalani race, because it does recognize the last reigning Hawaiian monarch, there’s always the sport and competitive atmosphere that we have with the race, but there’s also a very strong cultural value and cultural strength that over the years we’ve been able to let people become aware of, appreciate and respect,” Atwood said. “And that’s something we definitely want to continue to do, so if there’s any way that we can do something in 2020 that still commemorates Queen Liliuokalani and commemorates the competition and the sport, we will try to do that.”

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