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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 8:57 a.m., Friday, May 18, 2007

A 'Hawaiian connection' for canoe club in Connecticut

Connecticut Post


Manu'iwa Outrigger Canoe Club members, from left, Darlene Elterman, Janine Braider, Anne Peterson and Gigi Trefzger practice in Long Island Sound off Milford, Conn., on April 23. The club’s priorities are fitness, followed by camaraderie and finishing well.

Whitney Kidder-Alvarez | Connecticut Post, via Associated Press

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Manu'iwa Outrigger Canoe Club members, from left, Gigi Trefzger, Darlene Elterman, Anne Peterson and Janine Braider wheel their 6-person canoe into the Sound off the shore in Milford, Conn.

Whitney Kidder-Alvarez | Connecticut Post, via Associated Press

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MILFORD, Conn. — At Bittersweet Avenue and Broadway, a small slice of Wildermere Beach has become a thriving outpost of the Hawaiian spirit. A sign on a tree next to a long, gray tent storing three 45-foot outrigger canoes reminds motorists, "Parking for paddlers only, all others will huli."


In Hawaiian, the term means "to turn over" and is generally used as an all-encompassing word to describe "bad luck" or "looking silly."

Likewise, other Hawaiian phrases are bandied about as members of the Manu'iwa Outrigger Canoe Club lug the six-seat, ocean-going boats to the water. They speak of "minding the ama," or outrigger float, and "don't strain the 'iako," the boom connecting the outrigger to the canoe.

Blake Conant, a Native Hawaiian who founded the club 12 years ago to race on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, assures the parking sign is a joke.

"It's a goof, a joke," said Conant, a veteran marathon paddler of both kayaks and outrigger canoes, still trim and fit at age 53. "When you paddle, you don't want to huli," he said with a smile.

A computer programmer and father of a son and daughter, ages 16 and 14, Conant said he tries to tie in the ethnicity to the sport.

"This may be a regular fiberglass boat," he said, pointing to one of the outrigger canoes, "but since it's Hawaiian, it's a little more special.


This boat used to be all-purpose, carrying freight and people between islands around the Pacific. "Now it's the embodiment of history and teamwork," he said. "There's no chance for a person to shine in a six-man outrigger, not like in basketball where you might have one star. Here it's all pulling together, no stars."

The club has about 40 active members. Its priorities are fitness, followed by camaraderie and finishing well. The male members come from all over the East Coast, comprising the crew Conant has gathered during outrigger canoe races over the years. Most of his female members are from Fairfield and New Haven counties.

At the club's launch spot at the end of tiny Bittersweet Avenue, Conant regaled prospective male and female members on outrigger lore while two boatloads of female members paddled offshore.


Both newcomers and veterans spoke of their interest in outrigger paddling on a recent bright Saturday morning.

Patrick Smeraldi, 47, came up from Stamford to check it out for the first time.

"I heard about this from a mutual friend," said the information technologist. "I've been wanting to get on the water in some way, but I wasn't sure how to do it. It seems like a nice way to commune with nature with a nice workout and social experience."

Darlene Elterman, 44, a seven-year club veteran from Milford, said she grew up in Hawai'i where she saw outrigger canoes but never thought much about them.

"I moved to Milford with my husband's job transfer, and I met Blake through Cub Scouts where we both had sons involved," said the interior designer. "I've been in 10 races, gone as far away as Hawai'i. Each year, we do the Liberty Challenge" a 12-mile race around New York Harbor on the Fourth of July.

"There's a nice Hawaiian connection here," Elterman added. "There's a spirit that stays with you that's hard to describe. It's nice to be able to spread that."