SAN ANTONIO - Paddling a canoe is more than just a sport for one group of people, which is why they have made it their mission to educate the community about the Hawaiian tradition of family.
The San Antonio Outrigger Canoe Club has been around for about three years with an official nonprofit status of two years.
The group is made up of several members ranging from age 10 to over 70. They gather as much as they can to paddle a 45-foot, 450-pound canoe.
“It holds six people,” said Robert Forti, president of the organization. “It brings with them this kind of sense of family and well-being and comradery that you just don’t find in a lot of other sports.”
Forti said before the organization came about, his life changed once he started paddling years ago.
“It was like blessing,” Forti said. “It was a godsend for me. Not only did I find that exercise I was looking for but I found a new connection with myself and the friends I made there.”
He said his life was at a struggling point before he was introduced to canoeing. Forti said he was devastated when he realized his life as a school coach in education had a time limit because of his health problems.
“I no longer could be on the field the length of time I was on the field for,” Forti said. “You put so much time and effort and energy in your kids, your students and without that I felt lost. I am not overstating this when I say it really saved my life. I was kind of in a dark place in my life at that time. I was really unsure of just my direction of where I was headed. Career wise and a lot of other things.”
He got the idea of outrigger paddling in Arizona.
“The friends I made up there took me in and made me a part of their family,” Forti said. “I didn’t know just how much I needed that. Now I own my own canoe, I have met great people who have been instrumental in developing me as a better person and a better man. I live and breathe paddling.”
Once his life was back on track and inside a canoe, when Forti moved to San Antonio he was contacted by Elaine Arocha, who is the co-founder of the nonprofit.
“My father is from Hawaii, so I am 75% Hawaiian,” Arocha said. “He passed away when I was 9 years old from pulmonary fibrosis so I wanted to do this to progress his culture. I wanted to show the younger Hawaiians and Polynesians that we are here and this is something to come out and try. It is very important for us to preserve our culture.
Forti, Arocha and nearly 30 other people now make up the San Antonio Outrigger Canoe club which participates in many causes in our community including doing races to raise money for causes.
The plan is to expand as well as purchase a lighter canoe that could range from $10,000 to $20,000.
“We will bring you out,” Forti said. “We will bring you out and put you in a canoe, get you a paddle and away you go. And you will never be the same I promise you.”
The group will be present during this year’s Aloha Festival taking in any recruits.
“It changed my life,” Forti said. “It changed what my outlook was going to be and I am hoping that me being able to start a club in San Antonio, that I am able to give that back to somebody else.”
If you know someone like Forti or a group that is making a difference in the South Texas community or may have a unique story, send us your tips. Contact Japhanie Gray on Facebook or @JGrayKSAT on Twitter. You can also send your tips to KSAT 12 & KSAT.com on Facebook.
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