Paddling Language

This is a guide to Hawaiian words often heard while participating in outrigger canoeing, as compiled by Sandy Chock-Eng.


  • It is traditional to bless the canoe and its crew before departing - E malama i keia wa'a. E malama i ke ihu eka uma i keia wa'a. E malama na hoe wa'a a hiki no e hele mai ke kahakai - Protect/Bless this wa'a. Bless the bow and stern of this wa'a.   Bless/protect the paddlers until they return to shore.
  • Chant for beginning the paddling session is a call-and-response chant.  The Kahea (caller) will call out the first part of the canoe's name, and the crew responds with the second. This is repeated, and then the whole crew chants I Mua (go forward, advance).
  • Chant for ending the paddling session is similar, but at the end, insted of the crew chanting I Mua, they chant Mahalo a me ke aloha (a thank you to the wa'a for service and safe return).

Paddle Commands

  • Will come from the Kapena (steersperson)
  • Ho'omakaokao - Is everybody ready?  Upon hearing Ae (yes), they will call I Mua, or go
  • Hoe Pa'a - a command to have paddles in ready position.  Seats 1, 3, and 5 are ready with paddles to the left, and seats 2, 4 and 6 are ready with paddles to the right.
  • Hut Ho! - Every 12-20 strokes (it varies by the crew), a Hut Ho! is called to signal that it is time to change sides.  This is called on the down stroke, with Hut being the warning that the change is coming, and the Ho signalling to take the stroke and then change sides.
  • Pau - stop paddling

Parts of a wa'a

  • Ihu - the bow of the wa'a
  • Uma - the stern of the wa'a
  • Ama - the float outside the wa'a that provides extra stability to the hull.
  • Na Iaku - the perpendicular spars that connect the canoe to the ama. 
  • Pu'upu'u - the top edge of the sides of the wa'a, commonly called the gunwale or gunnel on other boats
  • Na hoe wa'a - the paddlers
  • Lau - the blade of your paddle

Other terms you may hear

  • Ohana - family
  • Kupuna - elder
  • Huli - when the wa'a capsizes