How to Pronounce Words in Hawaiian (‘Ōlelo Hawai’i)

A“ah” like “Car”
E“eh” like “Met”
I“ee” like “Feet”
O“oh” like “Hole”
U“oo” like “Boot”
AE“ah-eh” like “Wyatt”
AI“ah-ee” like “Bike”
AO“ah-oh” like “Cow”
AU“ah-oo” like “Out”
EI“eh-ee” like “Babe”
IU“ee-oo” like “Few”
OI“oh-ee” like “Toy”
OU“oh-oo” like “Row”
In general…
If a word begins with “W” or if it follows “U” or “O”, it is frequently, but not always, pronounced as in “Water” (e.g. Wailuku – Wahyee-loo-koo).

If “W” follows “I” or “E”, it is usually pronounced as “V” as in “Valor”.
(e.g. Ewa Beach — Eh-vah)

If “W” follows “A”, it might be pronounced as “V” or “W”.
(e.g. Lawa — Lah-vah;
Makawao — Mah-kah-wow)
The ‘okina, which is often written with an apostrophe (‘), signifies a glottal stop. The ‘okina breaks-up vowels, so they don’t become diphthongs. It is almost like there are semicolons in the middle of words which separate syllables. The ‘okina can totally change the meaning of a word.
(e.g. Lānaʻi — Lah-nah-ee = Name of Island off the coast of Maui;
Lānai — Lah-naee = Porch or balcony;
Ka’i –Kah-ee = To coach, train, march;
Kai = Kaee = Saltwater, ocean water)
The kahako is a macron which is written as a line above certain vowels that indicates a vowel that is held creating a stress in the pronunciation of a word. (e.g. Haleakalā – Ha-le-a-ka-LA)

Roles of Paddlers in the Canoe

Seat #1Stroker (Mua) who sets the pace for the rest of the paddlers
Seat #2Second Stroker who follows the pace set by Seat #1 and is followed by Seat #4
Seat #3Part of the Engine Room and is usually also the Caller who does the kāhea (i.e. calls the changes)
Seat #4Part of the Engine Room who helps to move the canoe
Seat #5Part of the Engine Room and backup Steersperson
Seat #6Steersperson (Ho’okele)

Practice Drills

Put more pressure on each stroke; paddle at 90-95% power. A normal or regular paddling power is around 80-85%.

During practices, this drill is usually followed by a number which indicates for how many changes you are to paddle at 90-95% power.

For example, “Power Two” means paddle at 90-95% power for the next 2 changes. “Power 4” means you put increased pressure on each stroke for the next 4 changes.

2 Power, 1 Eighty
Paddle at 90-95% power for 2 changes, then paddle at 80% power for 1 change. Repeat.

Power on the Changes (Hit the Changes)
The first 3 strokes of each change are done at 90-95% power.

5 by 5
The first 5 strokes on the next 5 changes are at 90-95% power.

Hit Drills
All paddlers start with paddles positioned above the water (i.e. Paddles Up position). When the Steersperson says, “Hit,” take one stroke, return to the Paddles Up position, and hold.

A variation of this drill is starting towards the back as if you have just completed a stroke and have taken the paddle out of the water at the start of the Recovery.

Another variation is starting with your paddle in the water up front at the start of the Catch.

Silent Changes
Since only one paddler is switching sides at a time, this drill helps you become more aware that sometimes the canoe slows down after a change because the time or pressure are off. Since immediately after a change you will be paddling briefly on the same side as the person behind you (possibly, except for Seat #5), you have to focus on maintaining your timing.

– The Stroker in Seat #1 counts to 13 silently then changes sides after the 13th stroke.
– The paddler in Seat #2 takes a couple strokes on the same side as the Stroker then switches sides.
– Seat #3 takes a couple strokes on the same side as Seat #2 then switches sides.
– Seat #4 takes a couple strokes on the same side as Seat #3 then switches sides.
– Seat #5 takes a couple strokes on the same side as Seat #4 then switches sides.

3 Stroke, 3 Stroke
Take 3 strokes, then switch sides immediately. The intent of this drill is to help you maintain your power and pace after a change.

– 3 strokes, change
– 3 strokes, change
– 3 strokes, change, etc.

Sprint Turn

Please review the list of paddling commands. During sprint races (regattas), canoes must make at least 1 left turn around a flag (e.g. 500 meter race; 3 turns in a 1,000 meter race; 7 turns in a 2,000 meter race).

  • As the canoe approaches the flag, the Steersperson may say, “Coming in!
    • The Caller makes sure that Seat #1 is on the right and Seat #2 is on the left before the turn is initiated.
  • Once the turn begins, the Steersperson says, “Une!
    • Seat #1 pokes to the right, that is, he or she places the paddle against the right side of the canoe with the blade parallel to the gunwale in a steering position.
    • Seats #3, #4, #5 reduce their power to about 50-60%.
  • As the canoe’s ama approaches the flag, the Steersperson says, “Kahi!
    • Seat #1 switches sides and joins Seat #2 in drawing under the left side of the canoe.
    • Seat #2 begins to draw left under the canoe.
  • As the canoe rounds the flag, the Steersperson will say, “Huki!” The canoe’s momentum will help complete the turn. The Steersperson does not want to over turn.
    • Seat #1 switches sides again, so he or she is back on the right side, and paddles forward.
    • Seat #2 paddles forward on the left side.
    • All paddlers power up to get the canoe moving.
  • After about 7-9 strokes, the Caller makes the kahea to initiate a change.

Here is a video from the 2016 World Sprints which show crews doing sprint turns around a flag. However, please note that in our club, the paddlers in Seat #5 and Seat #6 do not usually draw right while Seat #1 and Seat #2 kahi (i.e. draw left).

Race Start

This technique was introduced by former BOCC coach, Dee Lowe, who adapted it from a dragon boat race start. The intent is to get the canoe up and running quickly in the beginning, and then settle into a strong, smooth, long stroke. This particular start helps paddlers who may be anxious or unfocused at the start of a race to confidently work and think together.


  • 5 long, deep, powerful strokes to get the canoe up on the water. These first give strokes will be inevitably slow because the canoe is starting from a stopped position.
  • 10 fast and shorter strokes at 100% power on the same side for a total of 15 strokes from the start.
  • The Caller says “Hut” on stroke 14. Everyone changes sides after the 15th stroke.
  • 10 fast and short strokes on the other side at 100% power.
  • The Caller says “Hut” on stroke 9. Everyone changes sides after the 10th stroke. These first two changes are sometimes referred to as 5-10-10.
  • Follow the Stroker who should lengthen the stroke and settle into a long, smooth stroke at race pace (80-90% power), or you can push yourself and go for 95-100% power.
  • The Caller says “Hut” on the 12th stroke. Everyone changes sides.
  • Maintain race pace for the next three changes (6 changes in total for each Race Start Drill usually done several times at the end of practice on Saturdays).

Paddling Commands

Walk the canoe forward/
Walk it back
While seated in the canoe at the boat launch ramp, use your hand to move the canoe forward or back along the dock. Don’t let go of the dock.
on the
Rest your paddle on the gunwale of the canoe. Almost immediately followed by Mākaukau/Paddles up. Place your paddle with the blade on the opposite side of the person in front of you. Generally, the Stroker will begin on the left, so Seat #2 will begin on the right, etc.
Mākaukau /
Put your paddles in ready position, that is, above the water and prepare to begin paddling. This command literally means “Ready, prepare, able, competent, capable, handy, efficient, proficient, versed, adept, skilled, qualified; to make ready, to prepare.” As you put your paddle and yourself in ready position, you can respond, “‘Ae,” (pronounced, “eye”) “Yes, consent, agree, approve, confirm.”
Paddles up /
Hoe hapai
See Mākaukau / Ho’omākaukau
Huki“To pull.” Begin paddling.
HitBegin paddling or take only 1 stroke if you are doing Hit Drills
Hut/HoThe kāhea said by the Caller (usually the paddler in Seat #3) to initiate everyone changing sides on which they are paddling. After you hear “Hut,” generally said that the top of a stroke, respond by saying, “Ho,” as you take one more stroke on the side of which you are currently paddling. Then immediately switch sides.
LawaStop paddling. Literally, “enough, sufficient, adequate.”
Hold waterAn action to stop the canoe from moving. Plant your paddle in the water on the left side of the canoe with the blade perpendicular to the gunwale.
Back paddleStroke on the left side of the canoe starting from the back and moving towards the front. Stay in time with the Stroker.
Buck it overThis action moves the canoe laterally to the right. Place your paddle in the water against the left side of the canoe with the blade parallel to the gunwale. Then push your paddle to the left towards the ama.
KahiLiterally, “to cut.” Place your paddle in the water away from the canoe with the blade parallel to the gunwale. Then, push the blade under the canoe. This draw stroke is generally done by Seats #1 & #2 and usually on the left. On the Steerperson’s command, it could occasionally be done by Seat #1 on the right while everyone else leans left.
DrawSee Kahi. The Steersperson will usually indicate which side to stroke, e.g. “Draw left” or “Draw right.”
Power up /
Dig in
Put more pressure on the blade; bring your paddling effort up to 100% power. This command is often used when the Steersperson is fighting strong wind or current to make a turn or maneuver to the dock.
on the left
All paddlers paddle on the left side of the canoe. If you are already paddling on the left side, stay there; if you are paddling on the right side, immediately switch over to the left. This command is used to put more pressure on the ama and make the canoe more stable usually when making a turn in choppy water.
MahaloLiterally, “gratitude; to give thanks.” Done at the end of practice when the canoe returns to the dock. The Steersperson will count to three (in English or Hawaiian) and everyone is invited to express gratitude for a safe paddle by saying “Mahalo” often accompanied by tapping tenderly on the side of the canoe.
PostReach out and place your paddle in the water on the left side of the canoe away from the gunwale. Your blade should be parallel to the side of the canoe or slightly turned out. This is can be done by the Stroker to help turn the canoe left or by the Steersperson to turn the canoe right. If the Steersperson has to do a hard poke on the right, Seat #5 may be asked to post on the left.
KauLiterally, “to put, to set, to place.” See Post.
UneLiterally, “to lever.” Generally, this is done by Seat #1 to assist the Steersperson in turning the canoe around a flag during a sprint race. Seat #1, places the blade of his or her paddle against the right side of the canoe parallel to the gunwale. This is similar to when the Steersperson pokes to turn the canoe.
I mua
Literally, “to go forward, progress.” Everyone paddles forward. This command is usually given after the canoe has made a turn around a flag during a sprint race and the Steersperson wants the canoe to go straight.
PokePlace your paddle flat against the side of the canoe. If done by the Steersperson to turn the canoe, try to angle the blade forward. See Une above done by Seat #2 during a sprint turn.