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Jun. 23—Outrigger canoe paddling, a favorite recreation for Honolulu resident Catharine Creadick since she took up the sport at age 11, became a crucial outlet during the pandemic when “the world kinda came to a standstill, ” she said.

“Oahu is a very dense and crowded place, and sometimes, being out on the open ocean is the only time you can get space to yourself and feel you can really breathe, ” said the 23-year-old Aiea resident and member of the Waikiki Beachboys Canoe Club, which last year resumed paddling practices on a limited basis, at times with crews of five, rather than the regulation six, in keeping with Oahu’s COVID restrictions.

“All of us felt cooped up in the shutdown, and it was a huge step forward with everybody’s mental health to get back on the water, ” Creadick said.

But in normal times, teams practice to win, and following the islands’ first pandemic shutdown in March 2020, Oahu saw no paddling competitions for more than a year—until Saturday, when 17 crews from seven clubs mustered at Maunalua Bay for a race hosted by Na Ohana o na Hui Waa canoe racing association.

“Racing is an even better step forward, ” said Crea ­dick, noting that “with different clubs and teams pushing us, it brings a whole new energy, super invigorating and rejuvenating.”

As participants in one of the last sports to be allowed to return to competition, paddlers waited patiently through the evolving reopening rules to finally get the green light to race, said Eli Nakahara, the association’s president, noting, “Hui Waa’s race director had this season’s dates posted and permitted, and as soon as we entered Tier 4, we told the leaders of each canoe club the Maunalua race was on.”

Lokahi, Waikiki Beachboys, Lahui o Koolauloa, Ka Mamalahoe, Manu o ke Kai, Windward Kai and Alapa Hoe canoe clubs launched teams in “this first race of what the canoe community hopes is the start of returning to regatta-style races and longer open-ocean racing, ” Nakahara said.

Events normally organized by Hui Waa and the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association for the regatta season of June through August have been canceled this year, along with the men’s Molokai-to-Oahu race, which usually draws more than 1, 000 paddlers.

Meanwhile, Hui Waa plans to continue the series of conditioning races, 5-12 miles in length, that kicked off with the Maunalua event.

“I’m so happy, ” said Hector Wong, a member of the Waikiki Beachboys men’s age-50 team who paddled in the race and described the safeguards the canoe club had put in place to comply with COVID restrictions.

“We paddled in pods, ” Wong said, “and when new members joined they had to isolate, paddling in a one-man canoe for two weeks.”

The restrictions were “actually very wonderful, ” he said, benefiting team solidarity because the coaches planned set rosters and paddlers couldn’t switch canoes on a whim.

“Normally, when one person is missing from the canoe, the others grumble because it’s more work, ” Wong added, “but when the law said only five were allowed, everyone was just so happy to be paddling, nobody complained and they paddled great.”

He said the club conducted contact tracing and had two positive cases, neither of which spread to other members.

“Being able to do what we love, and do it safely, added an extra layer of closeness with crewmates, ” Creadick said. “In the boat you have each other’s back, pulling your own weight, but now we’re also taking care of each other’s health because you don’t want to put anybody in your pod at risk.”

The next race will be hosted by Alapa Hoe Canoe Club at Sand Island on July 10. For details, visit.