Not your typical paddler - Ely student Jacob Dayton spends several months per year in Hawaii, competing in outrigger canoe racing’s biggest events

ON THE BEACH in Hawaii after an outrigger canoe race was Ely’s Jacob Dayton (in sunglasses). Dayton was part of a juniors team that competed in the world championships earlier this year. He is pictured with teammate Kawai Cho and coach Lorelei Nakagawa. Submitted photo

by Tom Coombe -

It’s unlikely that any Ely High School student spent more time in a canoe this year than Jacob Dayton.
But Dayton didn’t spend any time in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Instead, Dayton did his canoeing in Hawaii, living there for several months while pursuing his passion for canoe racing.
Dayton, a junior at the high school, was part of the Na Kona Juniors, a crew of 11 adventurous paddlers who earlier this year took part in the world championships of canoe paddling, taking eighth in their division.
They also were first among all juniors teams at the world’s largest outrigger canoe race - the Aug. 31 Queen Lillukalani Long Distance Race in Hawaii.
“Long distance races are pretty big,” Dayton said earlier this month, after returning home to Ely. “In our division that we compete in, we were first out of 13 crews and we were third in the open men’s.”
In the world championship event, Dayton and his crew crossed the grueling. 26-mile wide Ka’iwi channel during a race held in early-October.
The races capped several months of activity for Dayton, who has gone to great lengths - literally - to pursue his love for racing canoes.
The son of Hans and Traci Smith got into the sport a few years back when he was living in Hawaii.
“The long story short was three years ago I retired and moved to Hawaii for me to go into outrigger racing,” said Hans Smith. “It was something I always wanted to do. I encouraged Jacob to get into it and his high school had a team and he really got into it. We lived there for two school seasons.”
Not even a move to Ely would keep Dayton away from his favorite sport.
Several months into his sophomore year at Ely High School, Dayton left for Hawaii, where he stayed with a family while training and competing.
“Now he has a sponsor family and they took him in for the last eight months,” said Smith.
The soft-spoken Dayton relayed his experience on the water in reverent tones.
“I like the feeling of it when you’re out there and don’t have any other worries other than what’s happening in the canoe and you’re just blending in with the next guy in front of you,” said Dayton.
Canoe racing is not for the faint of heart, or those afraid of sharks, as teams ride monster waves in the Pacific, while taking part in races between the Hawaiian islands.
Dayton is part of teams that take part in both short sprint races, called regattas, as well as long-distance races that can go 40 miles or more.
He described the watercraft, which differ from those that traverse Ely’s nearby wilderness waters.
“It’s a six-person canoe,” said Dayton. “And it has an attachment piece, not like a regular canoe we have here. The wood pieces connect it to something called an ama that stabilizes it, and the pieces that connect are called yakos.”
Dayton quickly developed a love for the sport after being introduced to it.
“My dad told me I had to pick a sport so I tried that one and I got hooked on it from there,” he said.
How hooked? He continues to split time between Ely and Hawaii and plans to head west again, perhaps in March and April.
“I can see myself doing this for a long time,” said Dayton, who is part of Ely’s Nordic Wolves ski team this winter. “It’s special to me because you have that camaraderie with your team and you really have a bond. It allows you to push yourselves as teams and individuals.”
Smith added “Next year is a big year for him. His men’s junior team will go to Tahiti and race. That’s world class if he can get to there, and if he does well he could try and get on with a team sponsored by Red Bull.”