Members of the Lanakila Outrigger Canoe Club based in King Harbor Marina shared their love for paddling and Hawaiian culture this weekend as part of a promotional event with Toyota dealerships of Southern California and Fiesta Hermosa.

More than 250 guests signed up at a booth on Pier Plaza and were shuttled to the marina on golf carts to take a ride in a six-person outrigger canoe through the marina.

Equipped with at least two experienced crew members, the ride was a way for the Lanakila club, which has swelled to more than 300 members in recent years, to show the public what their sport is all about.

Originally developed by Polynesians centuries ago, today’s outriggers are sleeker and lighter than their predecessors, but not much else about the sport has changed.

Popularity has grown with the Lanakila club now ranking among the largest in the continental United States, said Al Ching, who club members call Uncle, a Hawaiian way of showing respect to an elder. Ching co-founded the club in 1970 at a time when there were just four outrigger canoe clubs in California. At age 76, Ching is the oldest club member. The youngest is 8.

“It just gets bigger and bigger,” Ching said, standing near the dock directing first-timers down to the water at Moonstone Park on Mole B in the marina.

Ching was raised in Hawaii where outrigger canoe clubs were as popular as local football teams competing against one another from island to island. When he came to California, recreating an outrigger canoe club like the one at Lanakila was a way to connect to his native Hawaiian roots.

D’Ann DeFries, another native Hawaiian, worked with the younger club members at a table over the weekend making leis out of natural leaves and grasses. She said the club is more than just about paddling. It’s a way to share their Hawaiian culture.

“We think of ourselves as a real Ohana, which means family,” she said. “It’s awesome that our kids get to come and enjoy our culture through Lanakila, which means victory.”

For those taking part in the event, there was a social media campaign as organizers asked anyone posting about it to use the hashtag #ToyotaSoCal and #outriggerCalifornia.

On Memorial Day, during the last Fiesta Hermosa, the campaign generated more than 500,000 posts. This time, they are shooting for even more, said David Moranville with Davis Ellen Advertising, which organized the event.

“Our dealers are committed to this community that enjoys the beach and the ocean, doing what we can to make it easy to get on the water,” Moranville said.

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