Wayne Joseph’s Blog

Running with the Big Dog

Blyth Takes on Pa’a Kaiwi

Steve Blyth with his one-man canoe
Steve Blyth with his one-man canoe

In what was described as the most difficult race in its 15 year history, the Pa’a Kaiwi Solo World Championships saw only one Big Island finisher, Steve Blyth, cross the finish line.

    “This was my ninth crossing at this race, but I thought about quitting several times,” Blyth said. 

    The race, which starts on Molokai and finishes at Hawaii Kai on Oahu, 32-miles across the relatively calm Kaiwi channel, saw winds change from southeast to the southwest direction during the crossing.

    “We were facing strong head winds on a calm ocean which made the channel crossing extremely difficult this year,” Blyth said.  “There were several times that I thought about quitting.  This race tried to break you and there were 10 people that dropped out.”

    Out of the 84 athletes that started the race only 74 made it to the finish line in what was described as the most difficult race in its history.  Four of those not making it to the finish were Big Island residents who decided to pack it in while facing stiff headwinds throughout the day.

    The Kaiwi Solo is considered the world championship for long distance paddling in a one-person canoe and was held on Sunday, April 19.

   Kai Bartlett won the race for a fourth time and his wife, Lauren, won the women’s division for an unprecedented sixth time.  The Bartlett’s live on Maui.

   The Bartlett’s also found the race difficult and eventual winner, Kai, had to dig deep in the later portion of the race to win in a time of 5 hours 12 minutes and 22 seconds, the slowest winning time in the new course crossing.

   For Steve Blyth, age 49, this was his 9th solo channel crossing with six coming in a one-man canoe and three being done on a surf ski.

   “The race fully tested your commitment to finish.  It tested you fully physically, mentally and spiritually,” Blyth said.

   “The conditions were horrible!  The conditions tried to break you down and make you tap out.  It felt like I crawled in,” he said.

   Blyth, who is a fixture in Hilo canoe paddling for the past 30 years, with the Kamehameha and Puna Canoe Clubs is currently with Keaukaha Canoe Club.

   “I love the sport and if I can help to promote paddling, that’s great.  Paddling parallels life, I think, in that you have to learn team work and be unselfish.  There’s no better team sport out there,” Blyth said.

   “It (paddling) is also great exercise and can help the young ones get on the ocean.  We live in Hawaii and we should be known for our watermen,” he said.  “Men like Kala Kukea that positively affect their community.”

   Blyth finished the Pa’a Kaiwi Channel crossing in 5:50:14 and placed 22nd overall in what was his slowest time during the hot and windy conditions.  “I’ve had a third place, two eighth place, 9th, 10th and 15th place finishes prior to this year,” he said.

   To prepare for the Kaiwi Channel crossing Blyth spent the last six months training.  “It’s a huge commitment and something that I train hard for,” he said.  “All the other races leading up to Kaiwi is just training.”

   Blyth also designed his own canoe which is made up of a carbon fiber form core and it was built by Pineula Va’a.

   “Pineula Va’a named my canoe “Ma’afi” which means stone of fire and he built it and helped sponsor my trip,” Blyth said.  “The hull weighs 22 pounds and altogether it weighs about 28 pounds, which isn’t that light.”

   Blyth’s love for paddling shows in his weekly mileage which peaks at 13 and half hours in the solo canoe per week, three weeks prior to race day.  “This year was more challenging than most that I’ve done, but it is all worth the many hours of sacrifice.”

  “Paddling is a sport well known for being a ‘summer time, good time’ sport,” Blyth said.  “But it’s way more than that.  When you are on the ocean getting aerobic exercise, you can get super powerful endorphin highs, like runners high, but stronger.  You are making a connection with your creator.”

    The cost of the trip to Molokai for Blyth to compete in the Solo World Championships was made possible by a variety of sponsors.  “I’d like to thank Yamas Roofing, Hilo Bay Paddler, Hoekahi Paddle Company, 808 Empire, and IHE Paddles that helped sponsor my weekend on Molokai and Oahu,” he said.

    “In my opinion you are making a connection with your creator through the ocean. I have read that the ocean is the feminine side of creation,” Blyth said. “You must be of strong faith to paddle for hours by yourself out there.  But the freedom and empowerment you get is awesome!  I just love it.”

    “People should get out and surf, paddle, swim and fish,” he said.  “That is life in Hawaii.”



May 1, 2009 Posted by | Canoe Racing, Events, Health and Fitness | , , , | Leave a comment