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Paddlers race for hunger, one canoe at a time

This year’s effort nets $2,500 in donations, 500 pounds of food

Teresa Reiss (foreground) helps Bonney Esbensen take her one-man canoe to shore after completing the Paddle for Hunger course Thanksgiving morning near Kihei Canoe Club. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photos

KIHEI — After a break last year due to the pandemic, Paddle For Hunger returned to the south shore, with paddlers taking to the ocean in smaller groups Thanksgiving morning to raise donations for the Maui Food Bank.

“It’s a good cause,” said Teresa Reiss, who has paddled in the event since 2012. “We look forward to it every year. For some reason, we always have perfect weather.”

She and fellow Kihei Canoe Club member Bonney Esbensen paddled their one-man canoes from the ocean fronting the club to a buoy positioned at the river mouth near the Kealia Pond parking lot and back.

Compared with years past, when a couple hundred paddlers would gather Thanksgiving morning to race through the course, this year’s fundraiser was held over the course of two days. The buoy was set up at 7 a.m. Wednesday and remained in place until 11 a.m. Thanksgiving Day for paddlers to navigate on their own time and speed.

“Traditionally, everybody goes at once,” said Timothy Lara, owner of Hawaiian Paddle Sports, which has run the fundraiser for the past several years. “This year, we encouraged people to grab a couple of friends or run the course on your own.

Kihei Canoe Club member Bonney Esbensen raises her paddle as she nears shore after completing the Paddle for Hunger course off Kihei on Thursday morning.

“We were trying to minimize people being there together at the same time.”

He said the county wouldn’t issue a permit for a traditional race, but he and others wanted to continue the event, now in its 20th year, that has been the biggest fundraiser for the food bank.

On Thanksgiving morning, people who donated $25 or more could stop at Kihei Canoe Club to pick up a T-shirt and drop off donations for the food bank. A couple from Washington donated $1,000, Lara said. A vacationer from Fort Collins, Colo., stopped to make a donation for a T-shirt.

This year’s effort netted $2,500 in donations and 500 pounds of food, which will provide 10,385 meals, Lara said.

He said the 150 people who paddled the course included 60 to 80 Kihei Canoe Club members who were in the water early Thursday as part of a scheduled club practice.

Hawaiian Paddle Sports employees Rachel Holden (from left), Chelsea Pickles, Greg Masessa, Matt Barnes and Jen Schuler and Becky Egli of Kraken Coffee prepare to launch a canoe for the Paddle for Hunger course Thursday morning in Kihei. “We’re working our calories off,” Holden said.

While the donations were down from the $8,000 and 1,200 pounds of food collected in 2019, Kihei Canoe Club member Kimokeo Kapahulehua said he was thankful that the tradition was continuing.

“All of us paddling for support our other family,” he said. “It reminds us that some of our family needs our help. Some guys can do it and some cannot.

“It doesn’t have to be on Thanksgiving Day. They can do it all year-round because all year-round Maui Food Bank needs our help.”

Early Thursday, Kihei residents Reiss and Esbensen were waiting in their one-man canoes for someone to announce the start before being told that paddlers could go whenever they wanted.

They completed the roughly 3.5-mile course in a little less than an hour after stopping to talk in the water along the way.

Kihei Canoe Club member Kimokeo Kapahulehua (right) and Hawaiian Paddle Sports owner Timothy Lara stand by a bin overflowing with food donations for the Maui Food Bank on Thanksgiving morning.

“This was just a fun thing today,” Esbensen said.

“Today was different from years past. Today, it was more leisure,” Reiss said. “Today was just one of those beautiful days to enjoy and be out here with your family and friends, just be happy we live on Maui.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

Hawaiian Paddle Sports employees Rachel Holden (from right), Chelsea Pickles, Greg Masessa, Matt Barnes and Jen Schuler and Becky Egli of Kraken Coffee prepare to launch a canoe for the Paddle for Hunger course at Kihei Canoe Club on Thursday morning. “We’re earning our dinner,” Barnes said.

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