Island Native: Tapaari‘i Worthington


As he carries on the traditions of the Polynesians as what the warriors may have looked like throughout the ages. This muscular Hawaiian paddler, with roots that go back to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, has been hammer ing away at his craft for the past twenty eight years! Newly into his forties, Tapaari‘i or “Tapa” as most of his friends call him, remembers first paddling for the Lokahi Canoe Club as a young paddler. He then went on to the Healani, Out rigger, and currently the Lanikai Canoe Club.

Tapa grew up in Kapalama Heights, and graduated from Maryknoll High School in Honolulu. His talents in the water include, Stand Up Paddle (paddling/surfing) Surfing, four man canoe surfing, swimming, and bodysurfing.

“I was born and raised up on the Kamehameha Schools campus, because my dad (Robert) was the head of Financial Aid. Our whole family, Mom (Jean) and Dad (Robert) lived in a house near the dorms, and my brother Kamaki and sisters Tevaiand Moana attended Kamehameha Schools. I was able to travel with the performing arts club at Kamehameha to the South Pacific. My dad was also part of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, and we represented our Hawaiian culture in the South Pacific. I enjoyed being able to travel with my dad and learn about other cultures, as well.”

Over the years, Worthington trained and became an elite paddler. He has continually grown and honed his skills and expertise, to become one of the best paddlers around. He has made an annual event of crossing the Kaiwi Channel. On his own, he has competed in the Kaiwi Channel Solo OC-1 World Championship on twelve occasions, the Pa’a Molokai Relay fifteen times, and with his clubs, in the Molokai Hoe, twenty times!

Wothington remarked, “My best finish in the ‘solo’ was fifth place.” Recently, Worthington and his longtime friend, Kealii Paiaina, won the Masters Division of the PAA Kaiwi Channel Relay.


Tapaari‘i Worthington

Kea and I have known each other since high school and have paddled together at Healani Canoe Club in the late 90’s. We have crossed the channel in the relay together six times, and I consider him my brother. He is an exceptional waterman and we work well together as a team.”

“My family is from Rarotonga, and the Round Raro Relay, a mixed race in the Vaka Eiva, is in memory of my late father, Robert Worthington…”

One of Tapa’s favorite races is the Vaka Eiva in Rarotonga. “My family is from Rarotonga, and the Round Raro Relay, a mixed race in the Vaka Eiva, is in memory of my late father, Robert Worthington. I enjoy representing my family in that race and being able to meet new people from around the world.”

Tapa added, “I highly recommend racing in the Vaka Eiva, if you have a chance to travel there.” He described another landmark experience.

“I had the privilege of practicing with team New Zealand/Hawaii, and racing in the Henry Ayau Long Distance Race with them. They then won the Moloka’i Hoe race a month later. Paddling with team New Zealand/Hawaii, I learned a lot, especially about the high level of dedication and commitment that it takes to be in one of the elite crews. To me, it was one of the experiences I will never forget.” Worthington, a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines for the past seventeen years, has had many opportunities to paddle in faraway places. Tapa has paddled in Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, California, Rarotonga, and all of the neighbor Islands.

When he’s not in a canoe, you can find him at one of his favorite beaches in Pupukea, on the North Shore of Oahu.

“There is lots of good surf, and there is a different vibe out there. It is more relaxing to head to the country and spend time with family and friends.” Makai queried Tapa on who inspires him in paddling.

He replied, without hesitation, “Uncle Nappy Napoleon.” Worthington continued, “I grew up watching him and the whole Napoleon family race, and it is inspiring to see a whole ‘ohana be involved in the ocean and canoe paddling. I consider him to be the ambassador of paddling, as he has traveled around the world representing canoe paddling and Hawai’i.”

When asked about his sponsorship, he replied, “Kamanu Composites and Makana Ali’i Paddles. Kamanu provides exceptionally made equipment, including one man and six man canoes. I have been friends with Leighton and Les Look since I was eighteen. They took me in, and they have been providing me with paddles for a very long time. It is a privilege to have their support, and their paddles are made with outstanding quality and care.”

Tapa is a multi faceted paddler. Besides travelling the globe, he has a bit of acting in his blood, as well! A few years ago, he portrayed the infamous Eddie Aikau in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentaries.

“It was an honor to portray such a legendary waterman. The most memorable scene for me was reenacting when Eddie paddled on his surfboard in the Kaiwi Channel, to search for help. The scene was shot from a helicopter. A lot of things went through my mind while I was paddling alone in the channel, and I can only imagine what went through Eddie’s mind when he took that journey.”

Additionally, Worthington has also had some “Hawaii Five-O” acting experience!

This waterman also shares his busy life by helping to coach at the Lanikai Canoe Club, and he is currently helping to build the 18 Boys Division. The boys also won the State Championship in Hilo last year. “It was a great experience to share my knowledge of paddling with the next generation.”

Growing up, Tapa recalls his first year in paddling. “I paddled for Lokahi Canoe Club in the 12 Boys division. Kevin Mokuahi was my first paddling coach, and he also coached me in Pop Warner football.” Worthington remembers, “I fell in love with paddling, and I immediately knew that this was a sport I would be passionate about for the rest of my life!”

“I fell in love with paddling, and I immediately knew that this was a sport I would be passionate about for the rest of my life!”

Worthington shares his own secret for success in paddling with young and upcoming paddlers: “I would say train to do your best. Always have a goal, and always continue to learn and grow as a paddler, and as a person.”

Although Worthington is one of the top paddlers, he readily admits, “I am still learning every day. It is important to stay humble, as paddling is a sport that typically requires years of dedicated effort to excel. However, if you continue to work hard and keep yourself open to learning, you will be able to succeed and build lifelong friendships in the process.”

He added, “The experience of bonding with friends and family before, during, and after the regattas, and at the races is something I still enjoy today.”