Publisher: Ropati Hebenstreit
Writers: Peter Caldwell,
Jim Foti, Anne-Marie Reichman,
Tom Bartlett, Lora Bodmer,
Chance Adair, Cara Mazzei
Photos: Peter Caldwell, Nathaniel Evslin, Chris Silvester, Brian Vestyck, Ropati Hebenstreit
Proof reader: Amy Hebenstreit
Mission Statement: to bring the excitement of outrigger paddling to a larger audience. We feel that Pacific Paddler’s hui of supporters, contributors, subscribers and advertisers is helping the sport grow, not only here in Hawaii, but around the world. Thanks for your contribution to the sport.
Late afternoon sun washes over the Anuenue Canoe Club site as paddlers gather for their afternoon workout. Not needing any help from his elders, a small, young boy nonchalantly picks up his sleek grey Pueo OC1 and takes it down to the water. He jumps aboard and heads out, flying the ama a couple of times with practiced ease. This scene does not surprise adult club paddlers because they know as another Napoleon, he has been around the ocean all his life. Son of accomplished waterman Aaron and grandson of Nappy, Riggs has been surprising onlookers from his early keiki days, and although only 12, his resume includes everything from surfing accomplishments to most recently, hanging with the big boys in SUP competition.
Starting in menehune surf meets, Riggs, who will be 13 in December and is still waiting patiently for that growth spurt, has routinely been among the smallest out on the water, but his natural ability was always evident. Data from the Human Genome project identifying over 25,000 genes in human DNA would certainly include some paddling or ocean sports genes that Riggs clearly has inherited. Along with that talent comes the love and respect for the ocean and the family humility when it comes to their successes. Ask Riggs how he did in an event and the answer usually is “I did OK.” What that really means generally is that he had grown-ups shaking their heads in amazement at his performances.
Paddleboarding came into the picture around age 8 followed by racing competition. Speeding past some surprised adults in OC1 events such as this year’s Kanaka Ikaika competition, Riggs has more than held his own, and it’s just a matter of time before he will be up in the front pack. Taking to SUP quickly, in February he qualified in trials to compete in the first Waterman League’s Stand Up Paddle Tour event, the Sunset Beach Pro held in 8-10 ft surf. No doubt he inherited his “no fear” attitude from father Aaron, who also let his son take over the controls of his fishing boat in the Moloka‘i Channel from an age where he could just barely see over the wheel.
Looking at canoe paddling in particular this year, Riggs was 69th out of 90 short course competitors in the Kanaka Ikaika State Championships. Earlier in the season, he finished in the top three in the 18 and under division in several races. In the Kaua’i World Challenge Relay event, he and partner Alex Look finished first in the Junior division and 50th out of 69 entries. He just returned from Maui after competing in the OluKai Ho’olaule’a and will be leaving in a week for Tahiti with his dad for some new paddling challenges in the South Pacific.
With three sponsors already, Riggs is definitely on a fast track even compared to his father. According to grandmother Anona, herself a top-level surfer and skilled paddler, Aaron didn’t really get into competitive events until he was 15.
Even now, Riggs is close to his dad when it comes to SUP short flat water sprints and “Maybe in 2-3 years, I might be able to beat him,” he says modestly and with a matter of fact attitude. When it comes to Riggs and OC1, Aaron says, “When he gets a little bigger and stronger, he’s going to be something.” Those of us who have already watched him fly by us on the water would definitely agree!
What does the future hold? Stay tuned! With unlimited potential and such an early start, the likelihood of a new exciting chapter being written in the storied history of this remarkable Hawaiian family is very high.
Photos and story by Peter Caldwell