Canoe Paddling Program Helps Veterans Find Brotherhood and Healing

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Vietnam veteran Wendall DeVera is bringing veterans and members of the community together in Maui with outrigger canoe paddling, a sport that he says has been a positive and helpful experience for him. According to Maui News, DeVera is leading the effort to turn the activity into a nonprofit organization, Pu’ali Koa Kahiko, to help military combat veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

DeVera explained that canoe paddling gives veterans the opportunity to “participate in a traditional Hawaiian sport and heal through a familiar united brotherhood, self-reflection, comradery, physical activity, culture and connection with nature.” Though he has been a paddler for more than 40 years, DeVera shared that it was only about five years ago that he realized the positive impact it made on his mental health, noting that it helps get out his adrenaline and calms his mind. DeVera believes that there are three components that account for veterans readjusting to civilian life and they include the right physical, mental, and emotional support. 


Currently, there are fourteen combat veterans from the Maui Vet Center that participate in canoe paddling for therapy, and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2021, there are about 9,000 military veterans in Maui County. Right now, DeVera’s nonprofit is in the works, but not yet ready to be on its own. His fiscal sponsor, the Academy of Hawaiian Music, Culture, and the Arts is currently accepting the funding for Pu’ali Koa Kahiko until it becomes an official nonprofit. A grant from the Dorcy Hawaiian Foundation of nearly $73,000 helped cover the cost of two six-man outrigger canoes, a trailer, paddles, steering blades and floatation devices. Community efforts and sponsors including Outrigger Zone, Tri-Paddle Maui, Maui Vet Center and others are helping to make DeVera’s plans come to fruition. 

Pu’ali Koa Kahiko brings veterans together in a positive environment as the program fosters a supportive community, and DeVera hopes his nonprofit continues to expand to other islands to reach more of our nation’s heroes. Sharing his personal experience, DeVera is bringing hope to veterans who now have an opportunity to find peace, calm, and support through the canoe paddling program. 


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