Crossing the Molokai Channel

Ash Tsuji
October 23, 2017

By day, Karen Cheatham works as a finance business analyst for HMSA. But in her free time, she enjoys staying in shape, building relationships, and connecting to nature by paddling long distances with the New Hope Canoe Club Sr. Master Women 50+ crew. Together they’ve paddled all over the world. And on September 24, the paddled in the 39th Annual Na Wahine O Ke Kai

“New Hope Canoe Club is a ministry and a competitive canoe club, so we try to give novice paddlers the best experience whenever possible,” says Cheatham. “Two miles from the finish line, my six-man crew pulled ahead and we were able to do a water change to let six novice paddlers finish the race.”

Known as the Super Bowl of outrigger canoe paddling, the event is a 42-mile race that starts at Hale O Lono on Molokai and ends at the Hilton Hawaiian Lagoon on Oahu. Paddlers come from the Mainland, Japan, Australia, and all over the world to compete in this annual event. 

Preparing to cross the Molokai Chanel is no small task. In the months leading up to the race, Cheatham woke up every morning and did 100 high knees and jumping jacks and walked up 25 flights of stairs in her condo. She also made use of her HMSA’s fitness center, where she cross-trains with planks, yoga poses, and group exercise classes. 

The team’s training paid off when they took fourth place on the day of the crossing. “It was so close! We watched from our escort boat as our girls prevailed to the finish line, beating our competitor by two minutes, “ says Cheatham. “We named our group The 50-Licious Sunshine Crew and officials played ‘You are my Sunshine’ as our novices crossed the finish line.”

This was Cheatham’s sixth time competing in the Molokai crossing, and it’s her spirituality and passion for the sport that  keeps her going back for more. She says her love and respect for God's ocean and His sun, the camaraderie of like-minded paddlers, and the competitive push that keeps her going. 

“It’s exhilarating,” she says. “Hana ho in 2018 for the 40th Annual Na Wahine O Ke Kai, my seventh crossing!”

The Molokai crossing started in 1952 and only kane (men) were allowed to race because the channel was considered too treacherous for wahine (women) paddlers. Then in 1979, after years of petitioning, wahine were finally allowed to compete. The race was named Na Wahine O Ke Kai, or The Women of the Sea, and is now the most prestigious and celebrated long-distance race for women in outrigger canoe paddling. 

Cheatham is proud of her crew for crossing the channel, especially since they’re made up of both beginner and experienced paddlers. That’s because her club welcomes anyone who wants to participate, regardless of background or former experience. They offer free recreational paddling every Saturday from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. at Sand Island. You can bring your families and friends and join them for a relaxing paddling ride and and introduction to Hawai`i’s state sport. Visit their website for more information. 

Pictured above, starting in front: Bernie Moniz, Alberta Ho, Charmaine Vergara, Marcia Grozen-Smith, Kathy Takashige, Sandy Chai. Pictured in back: Maile Lee, Kris Fiala, Cindy Laverdure, Donna Kanahele, Karen Cheatham, Marsha Kaleikau, Coach Alani Kahoali`i.

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