MILOLIʻI, Hawaii – The Hawaiian fishing village of Miloliʻi celebrated the return of the storied Malolo (flying fish) and Nai’a (dolphin) koa racing canoes on Saturday.
Once paddled to prestige in the mid-20th century by legendary Hawaiian watermen like Duke Kahanamoku and Rabbit Kekai, the sister wa’a – created from the same koa tree in the 1920’s – fell into disrepair as canoe racing turned to fiberglass. They were given up for lost in the decades that followed. It was by happenstance that the two deteriorating canoes were reunited in Panaewa in 2012. That is when Hilo State Senator Gil Kahele (a Miloliʻi native) and Ira Kekaualua decided to restore the two wa’a simultaneously and return them to Miloliʻi, where the long defunct canoe club was returning to life.
Kahele and Kekaualua turned to Bill Rosehill, a Kona-based kahuna kukulu wa’a, to restore the legendary canoes. A fundraising campaign received support from the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, the Hawaiʻi Canoe Racing Association, and others. The Pa’a Pono Miloliʻi Malolo Project became a learning opportunity for island school children to see history brought to life.
Saturday’s ceremony marked the return of the Malolo and Nai’a. The sons of Ira Kekaualua and the late Gil Kahele, Ira Kekaualua, Jr. and Kaiali’i Kehele, helped paddle the wa’a to the shore of Miloliʻi.
The Malolo will be the Miloliʻi Canoe Clubs’ koa canoe for the 2017 Moku O Hawaiʻi canoe racing season.
In the video above, Kai Kahele and Bill Rosehill share their part of the puzzle that makes up the story of the Malolo and Nai’a.