For many, outrigger canoe paddling is more than a hobby or a competitive pastime—it’s a passion. That’s something Erica Anderson knows firsthand. “I really love the community of people and how we band together to support each other and participate in activities that promote a healthy and active lifestyle,” she said.

The Wailea Realty Corp. Realtor®-Salesperson started paddling eight years ago when she joined the Lae‘ula O Kai Canoe Club, a culturally based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization headquartered at Kanaha Beach Park. In the Hawaiian language, “Lae‘ula O Kai” means “well-trained experts of the seas and lowlands,” and the club’s mission is to “perpetuate the sport and culture of Hawaiian canoe paddling in an atmosphere of respect and aloha…and strive to be Lae‘ula O Kai, well-trained and wise in the ways of the lowlands and seas.”

Anderson quickly fell in love with the sport, and three years ago, signed up to serve on Lae‘ula O Kai’s board of directors. Apart from wanting to become more involved in the club, she says her coach, Sharon Balidoy, inspired her to join the board. “She inspires me every day, from the way she helps children and the community to the way she carries herself,” Anderson explained. “She teaches others selflessly and is the ultimate in encouraging us to be the best we can possibly be. It’s like she makes us see—and become—our best selves. She holds us accountable and pushes us to do better, and in turn, we do the same amongst each other. My life is better because of it.”

Lae‘ula O Kai club members do more than skim along the water’s surface during recreational and regatta seasons. “We are also involved in many community programs to support others,” Anderson said. “We get to know others, and together, we help to make Maui a better place.”

Over the years, the club has, among other things, assisted with a number of roadside, beach and ocean clean-ups; cleared invasive species; and planted Koa trees and Polynesian-introduced and native plants. In addition, Anderson said, “We share our culture as wa‘a (canoe) people with various groups, such as school kids, visitors and sports teams. Our canoe hale is a place for gathering to teach and learn and enjoy the company of others, as well as a place for community celebrations.”

On and off the water, Lae‘ula O Kai club members find fulfillment in helping others and giving back. And they find something else, too: A sense of community. Anderson says that’s what she relishes most about her role as a Lae‘ula O Kai board member. “I love getting to know the people,” she said. “We spend our summer mornings with the sunrise on crystal clear water. We promote a healthy lifestyle, teamwork and accountability. We spend time with our keiki and learn about Hawaiian history and crafts. It is our way of learning about ourselves and our home, as well as sharing and perpetuating the Hawaiian culture.”

Paddling is a sport that melds tradition, tenacity and teamwork, and if you think it is solely reserved for natural-born athletes—think again. “This activity is for everyone, not just the sporty or athletic types,” Anderson said. “It’s an excellent way to get involved and to learn about our culture, our community, ourselves as individuals, and others.”

In fact, Lae‘ula O Kai is looking for new members ages 5 to 75 (first-timers and seasoned paddlers alike) to join its practices the first week of April. “Come and check it out without commitment,” Anderson said. “We’re always looking for new members and we promise that you will be amongst others at your skill level.”

Anderson says she hopes everyone will consider giving outrigger canoe paddling a try for its myriad benefits. “Some of my most fruitful relationships have developed over these experiences,” she said. “Accountability and giving back strengthens us as individuals and as a community…I highly encourage you to try for yourself.”

To learn more about Lae‘ula O Kai Canoe Club, to view a practice schedule or to donate to the club’s Koa Canoe Fund, visit www.luok.org. For registration information, visit www.luok.org/registration.php or contact Coach Sharon Balidoy at 385-3016 or sibalidoy@gmail.com.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
Published in The Maui News – March 17, 2018

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