The Makapo Aquatics Project was originally a team of five blind men gathered together by John Chavez. It was John’s dream to field a team of all blind paddlers to compete in the 18-mile Queen Liliu’okalani Outrigger Canoe race in Kona, HI. Being largest race in the world, it would be a showcase of what blind people could accomplish despite their disability.
The team trained under Billy Whitford, a world-class coach and Executive Director of the Newport Aquatic Center, and raced on September 2, 2006. The team finished last with a time of 3 hours 10 minutes and 42 seconds. However, they became the first all blind team to finish the race.
Upon their return, John and fellow team member RJ De Rama decided to formally establish a non-profit to spread the word about outrigger paddling to the blind community and thus the Orange County Makapo Aquatics was formed as a California non-profit corporation.
The organization’s first goal was to give back to the community. The first Get On Board Outreach paddle was held at the NAC on June 29, 2007. Children from the Braille Institute in Anaheim’s Youth Program came and tried out outrigger paddling for the first time. There wasn’t a face without a smile at the end of the day.
The men’s team raced again in Kona in 2007 when it caught the attention of Kirsten Hermstad, a paddler from Southern California. Inspired by the team, she offered her time and experience and began serving as their coach in 2008. Makapo returned once again that year with a women’s team, who became the first all blind women’s team to complete the race with a time of 3 hours 2 minutes and 54 seconds.
Building upon that success, Makapo formed a keiki (youth) team in 2010. The team competed in several sprint races that summer and remained an active part of Makapo’s program offerings.
Since then, the organization’s name was changed to simply Makapo Aquatics Project to reflect our organization’s intent to serve the blind community in areas beyond Orange County and Southern California.