WHO/WHAT: The 2014 International Haari Boat Festival will be held at the Wailoa State Park and river in Hilo, on Friday, Aug. 15, and Saturday, Aug. 16. Aug. 15 is reserved for team practice, although activities for the public will be held in the afternoon. The official Haari boat races will be held on Aug. 16, followed by an awards ceremony, post-race party and entertainment. Festivities end at 8:30 p.m.
RACE DETAILS: Teams in three divisions will compete for speed and cooperative skill in rowing the boats in tandem to the beat of a gong at the rear of the boat. Prizes are awarded in each division.
BACKGROUND: Haari boat races in Hawai‘i began when members of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association went to Okinawa on a study tour in 1986 and paddled in the Itoman Haari Boat Race. In April 1986, the Hawai‘i County Council approved a sister-city resolution between Nago City and Hawai‘i County. In June 1986, a delegation from Hilo joined the HUOA tour to Nago to attend the sister-city ceremony in Nago City.
John Tasato, who paddled in Okinawa, never forgot his experience in Itoman, so when he became chairman of the 90th anniversary of Okinawa immigration to Hawai‘i celebration, he suggested that Hilo host a haari festival. A committee approached Nago City Mayor Tetsuya Higa to donate three sabani, or haari boats for the festival. Mayor Higa agreed and commissioned master boat builder, Renichi Oshiro, to build the boats with new lumber imported from mainland Japan.
The boats arrived in Hilo in 1990 and on Aug. 18, 1990, the first haari boat race was held at Wailoa River. Mayor Higa sent his championship men and women teams to compete in the race, as well as entertainers such as talented youth sanshin and koto performers.