Maui News

Paddle for Life: Cancer Community Embarks on Spiritual Journey

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He wa’a he mokuhe moku he wa’a.” (The canoe is our island, the island is our canoe)
–ʻōlelo noʻeau (traditional saying)

Hundreds of cancer patients, survivors and supporters will band together this weekend for a meaningful journey aboard dozens of canoes from Maui to Lānaʻi, intended to raise funds and awareness for Maui’s cancer community.

“In the canoe we learn to work with one another and take care of each other during our voyages.  When we are on land, the island becomes our canoe.  We work together and we support each other.  And so this becomes our symbolism for Paddle for Life.  It is a reminder that we are all in the same canoe.  Whether we are there as a survivor or as a supporter; we are in this together,” said Nancy La Joy, executive director of the Pacific Cancer Foundation.


The canoe Mihimoananui II, which bears the Maui Now name, is among the nearly 30 canoes that will make the 36-mile round-trip transit.  As a sponsor of Paddle for Life and Pacific Cancer Foundation’s exclusive media partner, the canoe was designated and blessed by event founder and paddling icon Kimokeo Kapahulehua, in a ceremony on August 10th.

“For us, the canoe is our vessel to transport us across to Lānaʻi; but for the Polynesians, the waʻa is a living, spiritual entity.  It was once a tree in the forest that may have lived for hundreds of years,” said La Joy.


She explained the ceremonial aspect upheld in traditional circles in which permission is sought to cut down a tree to make it into the canoe.  The transformation that embodies the tree as it begins the next phase of its life in the ocean as a canoe is also symbolic in that it provides protection, enables transportation and provides a means to find food through fishing.

“The canoe is a very central component and very meaningful… All of that is really symbolic and a lot of that translates into what we do for Paddle for Life,” said La Joy.

According to the Kimokeo Foundation, a canoe’s importance is three-fold: “Physically, it embodies elements of the land and sea.  Spiritually, it bridges our present realm with that of our ancestors and the voyages that they have taken to place us where we are today and guide us on our future paths.  Socially, it requires all paddlers to work together to reach a common goal.”

“When you’re diagnosed with cancer, a lot of the things in your life that you thought were big–maybe your job or your exercise regime–things that are sometimes important to you in one aspect, a lot of it gets broken down to your core in terms of facing a life or death diagnosis,” said La Joy.


“Whether you’re a survivor or even a supporter, the symbolism can shed some light and provide a moment to reflect on what’s really important and how we are giving back to the community,” said La Joy.

Representatives with the Pacific Cancer Foundation say, “There is a remarkable parallel between an ocean paddling voyage and the journey experienced by cancer patients and survivors. Both involve tremendous physical, mental and emotional strength. Both require patience and perseverance. And, ultimately, it takes a team to make the journey successful.”

Hundreds of paddlers and supporters are expected to make journey across the ʻAuʻau channel from Lahaina to Lānaʻi to benefit the foundation.  Many will have images of people that they are paddling for or in memory of.

On the Maui Now Canoe, designer, Matthew Murasko explained the choice of design.  He said the niho manō or sharks teeth triangle designs were selected “to represent protection, guidance and strength as well as ferocity; however, they are also symbols of adaptability in many cultures.”


A total of five canoes were blessed as part of the ceremony including: Maui Now, SGS Landscape/Equity One Real Estate, Nalu’s South Shore Grill, Kealia Canoe Club, and the Pacific Cancer Foundation.

The purpose was to “bring each canoe into the family of the waʻa,”  said La Joy.  “As all these groups are not just sponsors of the events but a part of the ʻohana of the Pacific Cancer Foundation. Carrying on the mission of the Foundation in supporting Maui’s Cancer Community.”

All proceeds from this weekend’s event will benefit Maui’s cancer community.  Those wishing to contribute can do so at the following direct link.

Maui Now canoe. PC: Gaylord Garcia.

Maui Now canoe. PC: Gaylord Garcia.

Maui Now canoe. PC: Gaylord Garcia.

Maui Now canoe. PC: Gaylord Garcia.

Maui Now canoe. PC: Gaylord Garcia.

Kimokeo Kapahulehua. Maui Now canoe. PC: Gaylord Garcia.

Maui Now canoe blessing. PC: Gaylord Garcia.

Maui Now canoe blessing ceremony. PC: Gaylord Garcia.

Maui Now canoe blessing event and launch. PC: Gaylord Garcia.

Maui Now canoe blessing event and launch. PC: Gaylord Garcia.

Maui Now canoe blessing event and launch. PC: Gaylord Garcia.

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