PAOPAO – The Beginnings
Everything has to start somewhere – right? Before Paopao, there was not an outrigger club in Oceanside in spite of the beautiful white sand beaches and a perfect recreational harbor with easy access to the open ocean. Back in 1970s, Noah Kalama had visited the area and saw the potential. He tried to start a club, but cities, being the bureaucratic creatures they are, stymied his efforts and he never got it off the ground.
So along comes Dan Avina. He’s not Hawaiian, he’s Mexican. His dad stayed in Oceanside after WWII like so many other veterans, and that’s where he was born. He had just left the plummeting computer industry in 1992 to start a small kayak shop in Oceanside Harbor.
That year, the Harbor Days committee asked him if he could put together a small paddling event for the benefit of all the tourists. Being a surfer and having briefly lived in Hawaii, he had paddled for Haliewa Canoe Club. He thought it was such a blast, why not try to do something like that for Harbor Days.
He bought an old Keone canoe from Peter Wilson at Kumulani in San Diego and started restoring it below his shop in the harbor. He was absolutely amazed at the number of people that would stop and ask…”are you starting an outrigger club? I used to paddle and those were some of the happiest days of my life!”
Well then, why not start an outrigger canoe club? What to name it? Since he had grown up and gone to school with many Samoans, why not choose a prominent family name to respect that Polynesian heritage. With the permission of the family matriarch, the name Paopao was chosen. As it turns out, Paopao means “little canoe” in Samoan.
With many ties to the local community, he was able to engender much support for the venture and of course, many paddlers. The aunties of Hui O’ Hawaii in San Diego guided the group through the rituals of the first canoe blessing to the extent of coming up to Oceanside to help “correctly” prepare the Kalu pig, lomi lomi, and sticky rice.
There were 200-300 people at the first blessing of the “Obediah.” (affectionately called the “oh-we-be-dying” because it weighed 500lbs) Father Ben from Mission San Luis Rey and Kapuna Dave from San Diego blessed the canoe at Harbor Beach. To christen the canoe, the first crew paddled it into the surf and promptly hulied it! Back on the beach, Dan admitted he had no experience steering especially in the surf. This immediately called down the ire of the girls who now looked like wet puppies after their inadvertent swim.
After a beautiful luau, with lots of food, Te Tahita O Tea dancers, fire dancers, speeches by the mayor and council members, Paopao Outrigger was off to a good start. Since no one was familiar with the California Outrigger Association, the club used the one canoe for recreational paddles from the fishing pier dock in Oceanside Harbor. Everyone would bring food, the kids, and lots of aloha. They would take turns in the canoe paddling it around the harbor and to the outer jetty. Now, those have become the “good old days of outrigger paddling in Oceanside.”
Dan would like to thank these people for helping him start Paopao Canoe Club.