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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 5, 2006

Clubs staying out of Ala Wai for rest of year

Advertiser Staff

The Ala Wai Canal will remain a no-paddle zone for canoe paddlers this year.

Canoe clubs that normally practice on the Ala Wai have already relocated to new practice sites because of contaminated water in the canal. Those clubs decided this week to remain at their new locations for the entire season.

"We have to be safe," Healani coach Kea Pa'iaina said. "We lost so many paddlers already because of the move, but it's too risky to go back right now."

The Ala Wai Canal was closed by the state in late March after 48 million gallons of untreated sewage was diverted into it because of a broken sewer main in Waikiki.

The summer regatta season begins at the end of this month and will conclude in August. The long-distance paddling season then begins in August and ends in October.

There are no actual competitions on the Ala Wai, but paddlers have long considered it an ideal practice site because of its calm conditions.

"For ease of coaching and access to different conditions, the Ala Wai is the best place," Waikiki Beach Boys coach Sean Monahan said. "You can stay in the flat (water), or get easy access to the ocean just by paddling out. But for safety reasons, we have to stay away for now."

The displaced canoe clubs said they will not return to the Ala Wai this year, even if the state gives clearance for a return of recreational activities there.

"It might be safe to go back at some point, but I don't think it'll ever be clean," Monahan said. "Once you get another big rain, it's going to stir up all the dirty stuff that's on the bottom right now."

Around 1,000 paddlers from 10 clubs based at, or near, the Ala Wai have been relocated.

Most of the displaced clubs are going through a decline in membership because of the move.

"We lost maybe 50 percent of the kids, just because of transportation problems," Pa'iaina said. "It was so much easier for them to get to practice when we were at the Ala Wai."

Healani Canoe Club first moved from the Ala Wai to Maunalua Bay, but then moved again to Sand Island because too many of its paddlers could not attend practices at Maunalua Bay.

"It's been a hassle, but we have no choice," Pa'iaina said.

Tambry Young, president of the Na 'Ohana O Na Hui Wa'a organization, said paddlers "need to get as much information as possible" about the water conditions.

"A lot of people are going off emotions right now," she said. "But we need to look at the numbers, listen to what the state has to say, and look at a lot of different things before we decide if we want to go back. We have to do what's best for the paddlers, and right now, that means staying out of the Ala Wai."

Other clubs around O'ahu are now sharing sites with the displaced clubs. In particular, the Ala Wai clubs moved to Maunalua Bay, Ke'ehi Lagoon, Sand Island and Kaimana Beach.

Pa'iaina said he would like Healani Canoe Club to return to the Ala Wai next year. The club is even organizing a "clean-up day" for its Ala Wai site this weekend.

"That's our home grounds, so it would make sense to go back," he said. "I just hope we can."