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It never gets old

For Lanikai's 65-over women's crew, paddling isn't about the winning; it's "all about being on the water"

By Cindy Luis

LAST UPDATED: 9:14 p.m. HST, Jul 23, 2011

They were called the "old chicks."

Some of them got into paddling when their kids became involved.

Some of them were kids themselves when they first picked up a paddle.

When the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association offered its first age-group race back in 1978, six Lanikai Canoe Club women showed their driver's licenses to prove they were old in order to compete in that inaugural event at Honolulu Harbor.

They joked about being brave to admit their age.

They were the only canoe in the quarter-mile race for 35-and-older women.

Several haven't stopped since.

Jane Lipp, Mollie Foti and Barbara "Hoppy" Smith will continue their age-be-darned legacy Sunday when they compete in the 65-and-older division of the OHCRA Championship at Keehi Lagoon. This is the first year of the 65s and — since the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association hasn't yet sanctioned it for next month's state championship — this will be their final regatta race of the season.

"It's never been about the medals," said Foti, whose husband, children and grandchildren compete in the sport. "What it's all about is being on the water.

"I'm so grateful I moved to a place at an age where I could start in athletics and be accepted. At first, we were the ‘old chicks.' And we're still out there."

The crew's age ranges from 67 to 81. Most races the average age is 74.

"How marvelous it is that (OHCRA) has adapted to add this age group," said Lipp, who first paddled in 1948 with Koolaupoko Canoe Club, the predecessor of Lanikai Canoe Club. "I remember coming back to Hawaii in 1958 (after college) and being told I was too old to be paddling. I was not yet 30.

"It is ironic since the (athletic) peak for women really is in their 30s and 40s. This is my way to exercise. There is something about being on the water in the early morning or late afternoon. I love it."

So does Gerri Golick Pedesky, who had paddled every season for Outrigger Canoe Club since coming to Hawaii in 1956. When Outrigger didn't sponsor a 65s crew this year, Pedesky — who had been paddling recreationally with Lanikai during the offseason — made the move over the Pali.

"We've known each other for years and it was an easy fit for me to come over and play with the gals," Pedesky said. "When they added the 65s, I was thrilled. We were able to get out of the damn 60s.

"I'm not an athlete, but I love the competitiveness that is there and the camaraderie of being around my peers in a sport that I love."

The women come from an era where there were few athletic opportunities growing up. Smith was a cheerleader and played basketball in high school, skied a little at the University of Colorado, and began competitive running in the 1970s.

When the family moved to Lanikai in 1960, "I didn't know I could have gone down to paddle," Smith said. "When you had little kids, you didn't go out and do things like that."

She became involved with the club when her oldest son began paddling at age 9 in 1970. He was in the same 12-under crew with Foti's and Lipp's sons.

The women's bonds strengthened with plant and pot sales to raise money to repair the Mokulua, the club's koa canoe. They were at all the regattas and, at some point, they asked about taking out a canoe in the mornings off Lanikai.

"It had always fascinated me, but women my age — and I was in my 30s — didn't paddle," Foti said. "But there were other moms jumping into the sport, so we decided to as well.

"We limped along at first, but it was so nice to be on the water. Eventually we had quite a nice coterie paddling and we said, ‘You know what, we can do this. Let's try it for a season.' "

It's turned into 40-plus as they've continued to move up with the addition of older age groups. Several did Na Wahine O Ke Kai, the women's Molokai-to-Oahu race, in their 50s.

Foti, Lipp and Pedesky have never missed a regatta season. Smith sat out a couple with injuries but stayed involved by coaching youth crews, as she still does.

"What I love is you can maintain your ability for years," Foti said. "Paddling is one of those sports you can continue for the longest time.

"We'll have tourists come up when we're on Lanikai beach and they ask what is this all about. We tell them about regattas, how you can have three generations of a family paddling on the same day. They are blown away by that concept."

Although Foti won't be competing in the Aug. 6 state race at Hanakao'o Beach, Maui, she'll have five grandchildren from three clubs from three islands paddling.

Only three clubs sponsored women's 65 crews for most of this season. Anuenue, Kailua and Lanikai. Hui Nalu moved its women's 60 crew last week to 65s, but because it isn't a race in the state regatta, the crew will be back in the 60s division Sunday.

Lanikai has nearly a dozen women practicing to race in the 65s. They joke that, if the age group had been set at 70 "there might not be another crew out there with us," Smith said.

It would feel like 1978 in Honolulu Harbor all over again.

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