By Jeff Moag
Each October since 1957, Joseph “Nappy” Napoleon has raced six-man Hawaiian outrigger canoes from Moloka’i to Oahu, across one of the world’s roughest channels. He has won the 41-mile race six times, including the epic 1966 crossing in 30-foot seas and 40-knot gusts, a contest so grueling that three of the six boats entered ended up in pieces. At 68, he’s the sport’s consensus grand master, without question among the best steersmen who ever lived. At the same time he is Uncle Nappy, a humble man who deflects praise to his teammates and his wife Anona, herself a champion paddler and mother to their five paddling sons. Napoleon’s proudest moment in the sport came in 2007, when he raced his 50th consecutive Channel, steering a canoe crewed by his sons and three of his grandsons. “I’ve been lucky,” he says. “I wouldn’t trade this life for any- thing else. Money-wise I’m not rich, but in a sense, I always say I’m better off than a millionaire.”
This story first appeared in the March 2009 issue of Canoe & Kayak magazine.
Richard Bangs // Greg Barton // Tao Berman // Paul Caffyn // Graham Charles // Serge Corbin // Nigel Dennis // Dubside // Steve Fisher // Bob Foote // Dan Gavere // Alan Hamilton // Freya Hoffmeister // Mick Hopkinson // Nikki Kelly // Payson Kennedy // Rob Lesser // Anna Levesque // Martin Litton // Brad Ludden // The LVM/T-Dub Connection // Sean Morely // Nappy Napoleon // Michael Peake // Scott Shipley // Jim Snyder // Rush Sturges //