Marina del Rey Outrigger Canoe Club keeps tradition alive with this weekend’s Kahanamoku Klassic Outrigger Race

By Michael Aushenker and Joe Piasecki

Marina del Rey Outrigger Canoe Club paddlers finish a race in style Photo by Cody Sylvester

Marina del Rey Outrigger Canoe Club paddlers finish a race in style Photo by Cody Sylvester

Watch as canoes slice like knives through the water on Saturday as the Marina del Rey Outrigger Canoe Club hosts and competes in its annual Kahanamoku Klassic Outrigger Race.

A style of watercraft that originated in Hawaii and other parts of Polynesia, an outrigger canoe is defined by counterbalance that extends from the side of the canoe. Today’s outriggers generally stretch about 40 feet in length and seat six people.

The Kahanamoku Klassic draws more than 25 clubs from up and down the coast to participate in a series of races, including a quarter-mile keiki race for teens that takes place in the channel leading to Mother’s Beach, a four-mile novice run between Mother’s Beach and the Venice Pier, and for skilled teams an 11-mile open water race from the marina break wall to Santa Monica and back.

Those who prefer to stay dry can catch a glimpse of the action for free alongside the harbor and swing by Mother’s Beach to visit stands featuring traditional Hawaiian foods, sporting gear and a silent auction and raffle to benefit the nonprofit club. Attendees can also witness race action out on the water on the deck of a Hornblower cruise ship.

A staple of the marina for 40 years and based just off of Palawan Way, the Marina del Rey Outrigger Club is one of two founding clubs of the Kalifornia Outrigger Assoc., which later became the Southern California Outrigger Racing Organization.

The Kahanamoku Klassic, formerly called the Marina to Malibu Race, is the third race of the Southern California Outrigger season. The event is named for Sandy Kahanamoku, who 40 years ago co-founded the club with Steve Kekuewa after the two native Hawaiians moved to California.

“It’s very important for us to carry on their [cultural] traditions and love for this sport,” said Nancy Dopp, a club member for 35 years and its race chairperson.

Kahanamoku was Dopp’s brother-in-law, and Dopp will compete in the women’s open.

“It’s so enjoyable to be out on the water with the waves and the wind, competing with people you’ve known for years. It’s just the best day ever,” she said of the race.

K’era Morgan, a second-year member of the Marina del Rey Outrigger Canoe Club, competes for her first time on Saturday. The former marina resident used to see canoes go by all the time when she lived locally but until recently hadn’t considered becoming part of a crew.

Morgan said she had been looking to participate in a team sport and hadn’t realized that teamwork is make-or-break when it comes to outrigger canoe racing.

“I was craving something that had that camaraderie. I was missing that [aspect of the sport] as well as the whole history and culture behind it,” she said.

Upon joining the club, Morgan was designated a novice paddler and assigned to a trainer. Now she and her teammates will command one of five six-woman boats during the 11-mile women’s open on Saturday.

“If you’re not doing it together, the boat does not move,” she said.

The teen keiki races begin at 8 a.m. Novice and short-course races begin at 8:30 a.m.  The women’s open starts at 10:30 a.m., and the men’s open begins at 12:30 p.m. Mother’s Beach is at 4101 Admiralty Way. For more information, visit