Special to the Star-Advertiser
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 6, 2010
Hawaiian Canoe Club is wrapping up the celebration of its 50th season—one in which the club paddled to and performed community service on four islands and constructed a canoe hale that serves as a Hawaiian cultural center for the Kahului community.
It would like nothing more than to hoist the state championship trophy as a birthday present.
Hawaiian—the Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association champion—has won eight of the past nine state titles, and looks to add to its burgeoning dynasty tomorrow as nearly 3,500 paddlers representing 59 clubs from across the state vie for the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association state championship at Keehi Lagoon. However, this year's field features a wealth of competitive clubs hungry to dethrone the perennial champion.
"I don't think it puts any pressure on us at all," said Hawaiian coach Diane Ho of the state title spree. "We're going into this race with all the years (of experience), and we're not pressured out. We're going out to compete, but we don't have that feeling of 'we gotta win.' "
Hawaiian completed Kaapuni—which translates to stepping, or traveling, around in a circle—to Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe and will complete its mission around Maui following the state races. While on each island, paddlers from different age groups and backgrounds performed community service and worked to perpetuate the Hawaiian culture while celebrating the club's birthday and the sport of paddling in general.
"I think it would be special (to win tomorrow), but the cultural things we've done are satisfying enough," Ho said. "When you talk about states, everyone's excited, but we're really tired. It's something we look forward to, but it's kind of like we bit off more than we can chew. It's amazing."
Tomorrow's regatta features 39 events ranging in length from a quarter-mile to 1 1/2 miles. Each race allows 14 qualifying six-person crews manning koa outrigger canoes to race for individual glory, as well as club points that go toward the overall standings to determine the champion in four divisions designated by number of crews entered. Winning crews are awarded 15 points, with 13 points going to second place, 12 for third and continuing in descending order with last place earning one point.
Lanikai, the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association's third-place club, has the best mathematical odds to overtake Hawaiian. The Kailua-based club has a crew scheduled to race in all of the regatta's events, the only team to have such a distinction. With the points scale structured so that every finisher earns points, the title could come down to a crucial mix of quality finishes and quantity of crews.
"They're definitely starting out with a lead," said Ho about Lanikai, which is the last club other than Hawaiian to win the state title, doing so in 2008. "And Kailua looks strong to us. They have some excellent novice, masters and kids crews."
Joining Lanikai in the AAAA Division (21-39 crews) is two-time defending OHCRA champion Kailua, which placed third overall in the state regatta last year. While Kailua held off Lanikai in the OHCRA championship regatta two weeks ago, it will have five fewer crews scheduled to race, and will be at a disadvantage going strictly by the numbers.
"We're thrilled with our Oahu championship, but we're going into this race as an underdog," said Kailua coach Kathy Erwin. "Hawaiian is the powerhouse; they've won so many state titles. But Kailua loves a challenge.
"The state race is a huge celebration of paddling. It's a huge party. Every canoe paddler in Hawaii is putting their paddles in the water and getting ready."
Like Kailua, Kai Opua—the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association champion representing the Big Island—is also scheduled to field 34 crews. Kai Opua finished second to Hawaiian last year in its home waters of Hilo Bay, and remains a threat atop the leaderboard.
The action starts with an opening ceremony at 7:30 a.m., followed by a presentation and exhibition event. The first official race is slated for 9 a.m.
A "Battle for the Paddle" is being promoted by Velzy Hawaii to help gather used wooden paddles to donate to high school programs.
The Velzy Paddle-Raiser is part of the company's mission to eliminate the use of plastic paddles during instruction and practice, especially in high school programs. The company wants to promote and perpetuate the tradition of wood paddles.
Patrick Dolan, currently in Italy with brother Ryan preparing for the World Kayaking Championships, is a Velzy co-founder along with owner Angie Giancaterino.
New paddles range in cost from $125 to $300. Organizers hope to get at least 75 paddles to donate to high schools such as Castle and Maryknoll, who use plastic paddles to accommodate high numbers of participants.
Donors can bring paddles to the Velzy tent at tomorrow's state championship regatta at Keehi Lagoon, or to the Queen Liliuokalani race Sept. 5. For other drop-off locations, contact Dolan and Giancaterino at VelzyHawaii.com
"It's important to have the right equipment, especially when you're starting out," Dolan said. "There's a certain feel for the water that a real wooden blade gives you which a plastic one does not."
All high schools that receive paddles will also get one-on-one time with USA National Team members and Lanikai Canoe Club standouts.