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A photo from 2006 with a team of all blind paddlers in the 18-mile Queen Liliu'okalani Outrigger Canoe Race in Kona, Hawaii.


From a team of 5 blind men who simply wanted to finish an 18 mile race to a growing Ohana of people affected by vision loss who love to paddle.

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 the 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.

After more than a decade since its formation, Makapo is now committed to expanding its programs to serve people of all ages who have disabilities. We are proud to use  our experiences in working with blind athletes to help a greater number of people enjoy the benefits of outrigger paddling.

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