Much like a chess aficionado, Lanikai Canoe Club head coach Scott Freitas commits most of his time at weekly paddling regattas and races to tinkering with and reorganizing his club’s various lineups while putting the proper athletes in the best positions to succeed.
Freitas is tasked with unifying the paddling program while pursuing championships during the summer regatta and ensuing long-distance seasons. He can often be found pacing between his club’s tent and the officials stand, checking on updated results and standings and adjusting crews accordingly like a chemist concocting the ideal formula for success.
"Paddling is one of those sports in that the hard part is getting somebody in the boat," Freitas said. "Once you get in the boat, you don’t want to get out. Right out of high school, I played basketball and softball, but paddling is one of those sports that keeps you young."
The energetic skipper applies the chess metaphor to the coaching experience, declaring "checkmate" after successfully guiding Lanikai to its third Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association State Championship in five years to cap the 2012 season. Freitas exudes passion for the sport and strives to lift Lanikai to prominence while promoting unity among both men’s and women’s racing programs.
"We’re trying to keep everyone together, and we’re going with a youthful movement — one thing is you can never be too old," said Freitas. "We still have a strong nucleus of paddlers. One of the famous outrigger canoe paddlers, Mark Rigg, said, ‘If you’ve ever been successful in your lifetime with paddling, all you have to do is train and you’ll always be successful.’
"But, you have to be on the water," Freitas added. "You can’t just come out one day and think you’re going to be successful; it comes with training. I’m trying to build the club, get everyone together and get to a point where I can pass it on to someone else and they can grab the ball and just roll with it."
In addition to coaching, Freitas has also enjoyed success as part of Lanikai’s men’s 50-and-older crew, which won its fourth consecutive state championship in early August.
"That was a big accomplishment. To win two state championships in a row is fortunate, but to win four, that’s a testament to the solid group of guys," Freitas said. "As you get to an older age, this kind of becomes a consolation prize, winning your age group. The ultimate goal is to win (the Moloka’i Hoe) and the senior men’s and women’s races. Everything else after that is gravy."
The 53-year-old Kailua native has filled multiple roles within the organization and helped Lanikai grow into one of the pre-eminent outrigger canoe clubs in the state. In nearly 30 years with Lanikai, Freitas has paddled, coached at various levels and served as a liaison among paddlers, club officials and coaches to ensure the club’s history and traditions are carried on.
"This is the second time I’ve been head coach; I’ve also been co-head coach, but it’s a big undertaking and takes a lot of your time," said Freitas, who first took up paddling more than 40 years ago. "Especially this year, I’m really trying to build the club, so it’s a bit draining. But, for the love of the sport, you’ve got to do whatever it takes to get to the next level. And, whatever I can do to help our club get to that level, I’m going to do it."
Lanikai serves as an extension of Freitas’ ohana: His wife, Alison, also paddles for the club, as do their daughter and son, both of whom began paddling at 9 years old. Freitas’ son is expected to return to the familiar green-and-white canoes next summer after attending college on the mainland.
Freitas explained that his father paddled for Waikiki Surf Club in the 1950s and passed on the love for the sport to him.
"We’re a Lanikai family," Freitas said. "We try to instill in the kids the importance of paddling. I was doing a lot of basketball and softball, but I decided it was time to get back to my roots and paddling."
Freitas noted that paddlers look forward to the upcoming fall and winter holiday period when competitors usually take time off to rest and recuperate between seasons. However, after enjoying the break coupled with the not-so-healthy food associated with family gatherings, Freitas said he knows "it’s time to get back in the saddle again."
"It’s something I enjoy doing, and my predecessors probably thought the same thing," he said. "It keeps you in shape; paddling is a sport that you can’t really take time off from. It represents a big part of your life, but it keeps you young and keeps you fit."
Regardless of how any particular season shakes out, Freitas stresses the importance of the camaraderie and relationships built through the paddling season, which make the sport appealing to multiple generations of participants.
Of course, Lanikai’s friendly yet fierce rivalry with Kailua Canoe Club, based just minutes up the shore along Kailua Beach, continues to drive Freitas as well.
"My neighbor Kailua Canoe Club has a lot of talent, too," Freitas said. "Our two clubs are located right next to each other, and we battle. We like that because we have our own individualities. It’s a fantastic thing. We just need to stay together and remain focused on our goals."