Born to paddle: Hi’ilei Lu’uwai strives to meet expectations


Lauren Sieberg

Senior Hi’ilei Lu’uwai leads both Seabury Hall’s paddling team and her club team with her knowledge and enthusiasm for the sport.

Olivia Hoekstra, Staff Writer

Hiilei Lu’uwai, who is a senior at Seabury Hall, was born to paddle. The Lu’uwai family has had a paddling dynasty on Maui and at Seabury Hall for over a decade. Lu’uwai has had multiple family members attend Seabury before her who have helped pave the way for her success.

Lu’uwai started paddling at a very young age. She said,“My mom told me that ever since I was a child, I was just down at the canoe club.” Lu’uwai would spend many days with her father, Paul Lu’uwai, who is also a paddler and the paddling coach for Seabury Hall. Lu’uwai remembers her dad would hold her and coach paddling at the same time when she was very young. When she was a little bit older she said, “ When I was able to walk, I would just sit in the canoe.”

Lu’uwai really started to get into paddling and learning the proper ways of paddling when she was eight and started to compete in paddling at age ten. She showed a natural talent for paddling as she trained with older people to hone her skills. She said, “At age ten, I began competing with older people, and ever since then, it kinda just took off from there.”

Her teammates express how much she has grown through the years both physically and mentally, as her Seabury Hall and Hawaiian Canoe Club teammate senior Zachary Ferrier said, “Well, she started as a young one under her father wing, and her dad guide her very well. From a young age, her mind was sharp, and her steering skills were good, but recently her body has actually matured more than anything. She has gotten much stronger and much more powerful in the water.”

It was not always just padding for Lu’uwai. She was a competitive soccer player and had to make a tough decision to choose one or the other. “I used to play soccer for eight years before I came to Seabury, but it was the same season as paddling, so I had to choose one or the other, whether to to break my dad’s heart or paddle,” she said.

Overcoming parental expectations has been one of the main challenges for Lu’uwai in her seasons of paddling in school and out of school as her dad is a paddling coach and paddler. Lu’uwai’s father is a big part of her success and the Seabury Hall team’s success, but having her father as the coach has some challenges. As Lu’uwai explained, “It is definitely a blessing and a curse because you know your workouts and you can prepare for that, then again he will expect more out of you and it is challenging.”

Not only does Lu’uwai have to deal with the pressure of her dad being the coach, but she has to live up to her three cousins, Kaulu, Kawai and Mogul Lu’uwai, who has attended Seabury before her and left a paddling legacy for the Lu’uwai name. Lu’uwai said “ Kaulu, Mogul and Kawai, I had to look up to them to know what to do. They were my goal. They all did it. Now it is my turn.” The expectation to be a good paddlers placed upon her is exponentially. She feels it is her duty to hold the torch and keep the flame going for her family.

Lu’uwai does not let the expectations and challenges get in her way as she strives for greatness in paddling, competing in local, state, and international competition. Lu’uwai does not just paddle for Seabury. She paddles for Hawaiian Canoe Club outside of school. At Hawaiian Canoe Club, she has been able to go to Australia and Brazil, and is going to Tahiti this year. In Australia, the mixed paddling team, which Lu’uwai was on, took fourth place in international competition.

Ferrier, a mixed paddler, explained what it is like paddling in mixed races with Lu’uwai. “The experience of mixed paddling is like nothing else. In a mixed crew, everyone has to blend and it is much harder to do, and when we do with Hi’ilei, it means that we are that much further ahead of the people behind us,” Ferrier said.

Lu’uwai is an inspiration to the younger generation at Seabury and at Hawaiian Canoe Club. She is a leader who hopes to make a mark and track the next generation of paddlers to find success as she has.

Getting there is not always so easy. She said, “You have to fundraise, train, workout and ask your family for help.”

She also expressed how stiff the competition is: “There are a lot of different countries that bring a lot of different things to the table. They train their whole life to do that one race”

The competition does not hold Lu’uwai back, as she always has her eyes on the prize which is looking for more state medals. Lu’uwai expressed that the medals are what she trains for.“I really care about the state medals because that is what my dad taught me this is what you want this is your goal and the next step is world’s,” she said.

On top of being one of the best paddlers, Lu’uwai has to juggle a rigorous course load that Seaberry provides. Although Seabury has a lot of homework and she has to spend a lot of time studying, Lu’uwai finds a way to manage her time and make the best of her free blocks and study halls.

She said there are a lot of late nights definitely a lot of late nights. She says that her key to success is to use time management and use her free blocks and study halls wisely, making sure to get her homework done mostly before she goes to practice.

Her teammate Kaila Medeiros, who is a sophomore at Seabury and part of the next generation of paddlers at Seabury explained what Lu’uwai brings to the team. She said, “Hiilei is like having this ball of positivity and energy in the back of the boat, always there supporting you and being there for you, giving us the push we need , when we feel like we are dying out in the boat.”

Looking towards the future Lu’uwai hopes to row in college because she has rowing training from all her years at Hawaiian Canoe Club. The future looks bright for Lu’uwai as she is set to head off to Tahiti in a couple of months for the world’s competition. The Seabury girls team and mixed team are looking for another MIL championship this year led by Lu’uwai. She hopes to grow closer to her team and have a great season this year.