MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII --
Rubber duckies can make a rainy day at the Ala Wai Canal lots of fun — and help a good cause. The 26th annual Great Hawaiian Rubber Duckie Race kicked off despite a dismal downpour, March 30.
Fans of the race opened up yellow rubber duck-shaped umbrellas and braved the weather to watch a fleet of 20,000 rubber ducks float down the canal to an oil boom, which served as the finish line.
The United Cerebral Palsy Association of Hawaii was the first U.S. organization to host a rubber duckie race, according to Donna Fouts, the executive director of the association. More than 20 years ago, she saw the Alberta Heart and Stroke Association host a rubber duckie race in Alberta, Canada, on TV.
“I thought it was such a cute event,” Fouts said.
Inspired by the race, Fouts called the association, and UCPA Hawaii borrowed the Alberta Heart and Stroke Association’s rubber ducks to host a trial race. When UCPA Hawaii decided the race was a worthwhile event, the organization purchased 20,000 of its own ducks.
Since the inaugural race, UCPA Hawaii has raised more than $1 million. Fouts said all the funds from this race stay in Hawaii, and are used for various programs UCPA Hawaii offers to people affected by cerebral palsy, including a recreational program that encourages them to make friends and learn how to socialize.
Before the race, members of the public “adopted” one or more of the blue-eyed squeaky toys for a small fee. Participants received an adoption certifi cate with a number corresponding to one of the 20,000 ducks the association owns. Purchasing a specifi c number of ducks earned a participant a T-shirt.
On the day of the race, attendees amused themselves with entertainment, duck-themed games and as Fouts called it “the best duck store in the state.”
Local resident Evelyn W. Chang has been coming to the race for many years, and continued the tradition with her family Saturday, purchasing 13 ducks.
“(UCPA Hawaii) takes care of a lot of kids,” Chang said. “That’s what (the community needs).”
Many children attended the race, including Sage Hoffman, daughter of an Air Force service member.
“She’s obsessed with ducks, so of course we had to come,” said Hoffman’s mother, Sarah Turk-Hoffman. “It’s really cute and really fun.”
Turk-Hoffman said her daughter collects rubber ducks, and has amassed 120 so far.
In the afternoon, everyone gathered on Kalakaua Avenue, which overlooks the Ala Wai Canal. Volunteers overturned large boxes containing the fearless yellow fowl, dumping them into the canal. The ducks then floated toward the fi nish line. The participants who adopted the fi rst 50 ducks to reach the fi nish line won prizes such as hotel stays and electronics. Even the last duck to cross the fi nish line received a “Lame Duck Award.”
Marine Corps Base Hawaii was also represented at this year’s event. John Nishida, the business operations manager at Marine Corps Community Services, is on the board for UCPA Hawaii. He has volunteered at the race for several years.
“I’m just doing my part for the community,” Nishida said of his reason for volunteering.
Marines from 3rd Marine Regiment as well as Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 24 joined other volunteers to lift the large, yellow boxes of ducks out of their transport vehicle and onto the bridge. Cpl. Anthony Minjarez, an administrative specialist with 3rd Marine Regiment, heard about the volunteer opportunity through his staff sergeant. He said the event was fun and he would be open to volunteering again.
“We’re so grateful that the Marines (and other service members) volunteered,” said Jarvis Graham, a member of the Rising Phoenix Junior Chamber of Commerce who helped recruit volunteers. “There’s no way we could have pushed the crates to the Ala Wai without them.”
This year, the race began promptly at 1:16 p.m. The race time is more precise as each year the association makes sure to check the weather and the tide conditions. The tide conditions are crucial and can cause unexpected changes to the race. Fouts recalled one year when all the ducks floated in the opposite direction from the finish line.
“We had to unlatch the finish line and bring it up on the other side of the bridge,” Fouts said. “We’ve had a few curve balls over the years, (but) people are in good spirits and we get through it together.”
Nishida remembered one year where the ducks contended with canoe paddlers. This year, the ducks gravitated toward one side of the canal, brushing up against the wall. Volunteers with long poles nudged them toward the finish line.
Many parents and children watched the race from the sidelines, like Ryota Kojima, 4, and his mother, Risa.
In rubber duckie spirit, Ryota wore a duck-inspired hat and duck calls around his neck. Risa Kojima, of Waikiki, said Ryota heard his sister raving about the race last year, and he wanted to come this year. Kojima said the race is fun for the kids and involves donating to a good cause.
After the race, volunteers retrieve each and every one of the 20,000 ducks from the canal, power wash them clean and put them away for the following year.
“It’s a very important fundraiser for UCPA and a very visual one at that,” said Winston Chow, who was the 2012 community service development director at the Rising Phoenix Jaycees Chapter of the Junior Chamber of Commerce. “It’s fun and people of all demographics enjoy it.”
Chow, of Honolulu, said the chapter has volunteered for the race for many years. He said he enjoys watching the ducks as they are released into the water.
“It’s good and clean fun ... till we have to fish all 20,000 ducks out of the stinky and dirty Ala Wai,” Chow said. “We leave no duck behind."
For more information about UCPA Hawaii or the race, visit http://www.ucpahi.org/event.aspx?event=rubber+duckie+race.