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Olympic Canoe and Kayak in Hawai'i

The first kayaks were introduced to Hawai'i’s athletes over 40 years ago at the Ala Wai Boat House. John Bustard, heading the Amateur Athletic Union, envisioned the great potential for finding Olympic talent in our 50th State. In 1959, he said “ With our natural interest and ability in water sports and a vast field of outrigger canoe paddlers to draw from, kayaking racing could be a natural for Hawaii.”

The first boats were imported from Europe and Canada. George Downing of the Outrigger Canoe Club was one of the first to master the craft, and handled most of the coaching. Then, Miklos Tottossy, a Former Olympic Hungarian Team member was brought to Hawai'i by the A.A.U. to coach Hawaiian paddlers.

Two Island girls were the first to represent Hawai'i in the Olympic trails. Coached by Tottossy, Karen Knudsen (17), and Anna Naone (18), were selected to attend the Olympic Trials. The pair finished second, missing a berth on the 1960 team by one spot.

It was an inspiring feat, encouraging further development of the sport in the islands. In 1962 the A.A.U. received 3 four-man kayaks to be used to train high school athletes. I'olani High School was the first U.S. school to start a kayaking program. UH, Lanikai Canoe Club and Hawaii Kayak Club also started a program in 1962.  1963 was the year of the first kayak regatta in Hawai'i featuring singles, doubles and fours.  By 1964, four Hawai'i paddlers were selected to attend the Olympic Trials, Knudsen and Naone along with Tom Schroeder and Bernard McKeague. However, it was not until 1968 that the first Hawai'i paddler made it on to the Olympic Team.  Hawaii Kayak Club coach Bob Schroeder, a former U.S. Olympian, “discovered” Virginia Moore at a surf meet in Makaha.  He encouraged her to try a kayak and within four months she was producing times capable of winning the National Championships.  In 1967 she became a gold medalist in the Pan American Games, and in 1968 became the first Hawaiian kayaker to make the U.S. Olympic Team.

For the next ten years, kayaking took a downturn in the islands, because of a lack of organization and the difficulty of the initial learning stage of the sport.  In the early ‘80’s the introduction of the “surf-ski” kayak breathed back life into competitive kayaking in Hawai'i. Once again Hawai'i kayakers were competing in mainland competitions and earning spots on U.S. national teams.  In 1988, Tracy Phillips became the second Hawaii woman kayaker to make the Olympic team and Mike Harbold became the first male kayaker to make the U.S. Olympic Team.

A one time, one-year grant from the United States Olympic Committee in 1988 provided the initial catalyst to launch a long-term development effort designed for junior athletes in Hawai'i. The Hawaii Canoe & Kayak Team was this program.  Founded by Billy Whitford, long time Offshore Canoe Club Coach from Newport Beach, Ca. Billy enlisted many of his friends in the paddling world to make the program a success from the start.

The first team to go to nationals in 1988 consisted of 18 paddlers.  The group won a total of 76 medals including several National Championships.  For the next five years HCKT was untouchable at Nationals winning every year by large margins.  Not only was HCKT dominating at Nationals, but HCKT paddlers were dominating the Jr. World Championship and Pan American Games Teams.  In 1992, Peter Newton and Wyatt Jones became the first HCKT paddlers to make the Olympic Team joining Harbold and Philips for their second Olympics.  Wyatt Jones became the first Hawai'i paddler to represent the United States in the Olympic Canoe.  The 1996 Olympic team once again include Newton, Harbold and Philips.  The 2000 Olympic Team added Kathy Collin, a Punahou Graduate who started kayaking in the Private High School (ILH) Surf Ski Competitions.  HCKT paddlers have now competed for the United States in countries all over the world including Asia, South America, all over Europe, Australia and throughout the United States.

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