The Hawaiian canoe is the perfect vehicle for rehabilitation.
Hawaii native Aka Hemmings believes the iconic outrigger canoe was ideal for disabled veterans taking part in the 25th National Veterans Golden Age Games in Honolulu.
A steersman with more than 50 years on the water, Hemmings guided the outrigger canoe exhibition at the Games. His team of paddlers helped bring Hawaii’s ancient sport to the disabled veterans who were among the more than 200 vets taking part in the event. Hemmings sees the outrigger canoe as an excellent way to help veterans dealing with physical challenges.
“I believe the Hawaiian canoe is the perfect vehicle for rehabilitation,” he says. “What we know is there’s a calmness, there’s a healing that comes from the natural elements.”
Hemmings’s fleet is outfitted with adaptive seats, and the team is trained to deal with the physical challenges faced by paraplegics. His crew is the only one he knows of that works with physically disabled individuals. They have trained with medical personnel and therapists, and learned a great deal through experience.
“There are very specific things we do to ensure their safety,” Hemmings explains. “If you have paraplegics who don’t have core muscle strength, for example, you put a second outrigger on the canoe to make sure it can’t tip over. My duty as a steersman is to bring the crew out and back to shore safe and sound.”
The team of six is interdependent just like the ancient Polynesians who sailed double-hulled canoes. Everyone aboard has a specific job—fishing, steering, paddling, medicine—and each takes care of the others to ensure a safe journey.
“The canoe is the perfect vehicle for life lessons,” Hemmings says. “The reality is we all do need each other.”