A storied athletic career spanning nearly 45 years began for Donna Kahiwaokawailani Kahakui at age 13, when she won the prestigious Castle Swim race. Kahakui also took quickly to canoe paddling at the Outrigger Canoe Club (OCC), under the direction of her coach, Connie McGuire, and later distance paddling under coach and Hawai’i Waterman Hall of Famer, the late Tommy Connor.
A valuable member of numerous OCC senior women’s state championship regatta crews from the 1980s to present day, Kahakui was also part of numerous winning OCC crews in literally every long distance race. Kahakui and her OCC teammates also captured the Nā Wāhine O Ke Kai Moloka’i to O’ahu world championships in 1981 and 1992.
Kahakui continued to represent her culture and share the Aloha spirit on several championship teams abroad at the U.S. Outrigger Canoe Racing Championships in California, Hamilton Cup Races in Australia, Takapuna, New Zealand/Aotearoa and she recently won her third Hawaiki Nui Va’a race in Tahiti. She was also a member of the Champion World Sprints outrigger six-man team representing Hawai’i in Fiji, Australia, Tahiti, Aotearoa, and Hawai‘i.
Beyond the success Kahakui has shared with her teammates in the six-man canoe, she has won numerous OC-1 races spanning decades, including winning multiple Moloka’i to O’ahu OC-1 solo championships in 1998 and 1999, as well as two Ka’iwi Coast Relay titles in 1998 and 2000. She continued her winning ways by capturing the overall OC-1 point series for the 2022 racing season.
When she isn’t paddling herself, Kahakui has coached several women’s division teams at several canoe clubs including Lanikai Canoe Club, Kailua, Hui Nalu and Outrigger Canoe Club; she is always giving of her time and knowledge.
Her deep love and respect for the ocean has also called on her to protect it. In 1997, Kahakui founded Kai Makana, a volunteer-run nonprofit dedicated to promoting ocean education and preservation. As part of her efforts to draw attention to the need to care for this vital resource, she has paddled her OC-1 great distances; including throughout the entire Hawaiian Island chain, New York, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Rapa Nui. Her focus has always been to bring recognition to her cause, but also to involve the community and to educate others about water quality. She also restored, with the help of many others, Mokauea Island in Ke’ehi/Sand Island, considered to be one of the last fishing villages in Hawai’i.
Kahakui has inspired many throughout the state of Hawai‘i and worldwide with her athleticism and unwavering commitment to protecting our world’s oceans, always conveying the Aloha spirit wherever she shares her mana’o.