By Jim Neuman, Navy Region Hawaii Historian
Hundreds of Waikiki visitors and local residents were on hand to cheer on dozens of canoe paddlers in the oldest canoe race in the world, the Walter J. Macfarlane Memorial Canoe Regatta, held July 4 and sponsored by the Outrigger Canoe Club (OCC).
The annual Independence Day regatta, which started in 1943, is named after Walter J. Macfarlane, a part-Hawaiian territorial legislator, avid waterman, businessman and former president of the Outrigger Canoe Club.
In 2010 the club added the Military Invitational Race to honor the nation’s military. Service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard were invited to compete against each other on a half-mile course for the bragging rights and the satisfaction of proudly representing the nation’s armed forces. Winning entries from the past five years included teams from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marines, U.S. Coast Guard and the Navy SEALS.
This year’s race added another incentive; the winning team would now have the honor of having their names enshrined on the inaugural USS Arizona Award.
Following the construction of the USS Arizona Memorial in 1961, a section of the iconic ship’s superstructure was placed in a remote area of Pearl Harbor to be kept in storage. Since 1996, Navy Region Hawaii has been designated by the Naval History and Heritage Command as their agent to provide pieces of the superstructure, known as Arizona Relics, to qualified veterans groups, educational and historical organizations to be used for display where members of the public may see it.
To date, more than 90 pieces of the relics have been sent to museums and educational sites around the United States. In February of this year, the Outrigger Canoe Club requested and was presented with a piece for use in the perpetual trophy.
“Outrigger Canoe Club and the paddlers of the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association are appreciative of all that the military does to keep our island home safe,” said Jon Whittington, OCC president.
“It is a privilege for us to host the Military Invitational Race at the Walter J. Macfarlane Regatta on the Fourth of July and to share this special day with our troops. We thank the Navy for entrusting us with a relic from the USS Arizona to use as a perpetual trophy for the race,” he said.
Saturday’s 73rd annual race consisted of seven military teams. Three teams from the U.S. Navy and one each from the U.S. Army, U.S. Marines, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Air Force. In the end, it was the canoe from the USS Port Royal that prevailed, winning first place and becoming the first team to be named on the trophy.
Whittington said that the USS Arizona Award was on display at the regatta in Waikiki on the 4th of July and will reside permanently in the trophy display case in the lobby of the Outrigger Canoe Club.
“The names of this year’s winners from the USS Port Royal will be engraved on the trophy, as well as the winners from past and future races. We look forward to hosting troops from all branches of the military at our 74th Annual Regatta next July 4,” he said.