Lucky Hookano: An Outrigger Insider

As coach, canoe builder and racing member of the Newport Outrigger Canoe Club, Lucky Hookano keeps a schedule that would exhaust the most avid--and athletic--paddler.

Eight times a week--twice at 5:30 a.m. and six times at 6 p.m.--he coaches the canoe team, paddling along with his teammates. Most weekends, he paddles as part of a six-man crew in outrigger races. And during his spare moments, he is refurbishing one of the club’s 44-foot outriggers, a boat he built from scratch 8 years ago in his back yard.

But that’s not all. Hookano, who serves as race chairman for the California Outrigger Assn., has been busy this week planning one of the biggest outrigger canoe races in the state. The event, sponsored by Hookano’s Newport Outrigger Canoe Club, will be held today in Newport Beach and attract nearly 800 paddlers competing in 130 boats.

As race chairman, Hookano, 36, is responsible for logistics, including tabulating the results and overseeing the awards ceremony. As coach, he is responsible for coaching the Newport Outrigger team. And as a racer, he will help paddle a boat that he built in today’s 14-mile men’s division race.


“It is a hectic schedule,” says the Hawaii native who has been racing outriggers since he was 15. “I don’t know what the attraction is. No one gets paid. It’s all out of our hearts,” says Hookano, who runs a shirt silk-screening business with his brother, Kauhi, also an outrigger racer. Hookano’s wife, Ellen, and son, Keola, 14, also race. “It would be awfully hard on the family if we weren’t all in the same sport,” he says.

The outrigger racing season runs from April through September and includes races up and down the coast from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Six-person teams compete in Hawaiian-style outrigger canoes about 40 feet long and weighing 400 pounds. Although popular in Tahiti and Hawaii, outrigger canoeing is not well-known in the United States, according to Hookano.

“Racing outriggers is Hawaii’s national sport . . . but worldwide, it’s at its infant stage,” says Hookano, who began paddling while living on the island of Kauai. “Yet there is so much potential. We hope in years to come to get it in the Olympics.”

About 20 countries are involved in the sport, he says.


Paddling an outrigger is an endurance sport, says Vic Kingsland, president of the Newport Outrigger Canoe Club. “And it is one of the few endurance sports involving a team. It is completely up to each individual as to how much you want to put into it.”

The Newport Outrigger Club, which traces its roots back to 1959 when it was part of the now defunct Balboa Outrigger Club, is believed to be the oldest such club in California, according to Hookano, who has been a member since 1971. Hookano has watched the sport grow in California after reaching a low point in the 1970s, when there were only four members in the Newport group. Today, there are 40 active racing members and an 30 non-racing members.

The number of outrigger clubs also has grown. There are now 18 clubs in Southern California, including six in Orange County--two in the Dana Point area, three in Newport Beach and one in Seal Beach.

Teams from all 18 clubs are expected to compete in today’s race, which includes four different events, all beginning at the 18th Street beach on Balboa Peninsula. Activities start at 8 a.m. with the men’s and women’s novice races around Lido Isle. At 8:45 a.m., the women’s division will race from 18th Street to the Balboa Pier and back. The men’s division race, which begins at 11 a.m., goes to the Newport Pier and back, past 18th Street, and finishes in front of the Cannery restaurant.

Recommended viewing locations for today’s race are at the 18th Street beach, the Lido Isle bridge, Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, the jetty and the Cannery restaurant. Awards ceremonies will be held at 2:20 p.m. at the Cannery and are open to the public. For more information call (714) 675-7952.

WATER RAKE--An unusual boat, designed to become the harbor’s equivalent of a city street sweeper, will be unveiled during ceremonies Wednesday at a breakfast meeting of the Marine Division of the Newport Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce.

Called the Hamilton Water Rake, the 18-foot boat, designed by former Chamber of Commerce Chairman Bill Hamilton, will be used to pick up trash from the water.

Hamilton, who owns the Cannery restaurant, has a background in manufacturing and engineering and thought there must be a more efficient way of collecting trash than with the scoop nets currently used.


So in December, he developed a prototype of the Water Rake, using an old Hobie Cat hull. After proving that his rake--which collects solid trash and deposits it into a bin aboard the boat--really works, he set about having a boat built. Although he refuses to allow photos of the craft before its unveiling, he says: “It looks like a spaceship. I have applied for patents on it and I have been getting a lot of encouragement and interest from other areas, including Marina del Rey.”

Hamilton says he plans to allow the city to use the Water Rake for a year at no charge in order to clean up Newport Harbor.

The Marine Division meeting will begin at 7:30 a.m. at the Balboa Bay Club, 1221 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach. The meeting is open to the public, but reservations are required. Call (714) 644-8211.