This time last year, the Kailua Canoe Club was searching for a way to dethrone three-time defending champion and longtime Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association rival Lanikai.
Fast forward to present day and the situation is reversed. Kailua accomplished its goal of defeating Lanikai, thanks in part to winning seven races en route to a 96-81 victory in last year’s OHCRA championship.
Now, Kailua must defend its crown.
More than 2,500 paddlers will converge on Keehi Lagoon tomorrow to represent OHCRA’s 16 member clubs in the organization’s championship regatta. The event features 39 races, ranging in length from a quarter mile to 1.5 miles and will include paddlers competing in age groups from 12 and under to 60 and above.
Tomorrow’s regatta holds an extra facet of importance, as clubs will attempt to qualify as many crews as possible for the Aug. 7 Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association State Championship Regatta, also at Keehi Lagoon. OHCRA clubs are awarded four berths in each of the state championship races and they are given to the highest-finishing crews according to the season-long cumulative point standings, which wrap up tomorrow.
The elaborate planning process of coaches attempting to qualify crews for the state races has been compared to a chess match by multiple team leaders. Paddlers are allowed to compete in two races per regatta, so coaches can stack or rearrange certain crews according to which groups need more points than others.
"It’s a paradox because you have to decide between going for the championship and possibly losing some crews in the state race," Lanikai coach Jimmy Bruhn said. "I think we’re at a position where we can combine both so we can pull out a victory at the regatta. It’s a crapshoot, trying to do both. The state race is very important, but we have such strong competition with our fellow OHCRA clubs."
Lanikai and Kailua are heavy favorites to contend for both the overall and AAA Division (27-39 crews entered) titles, while Outrigger has gained momentum in recent weeks and has consistently finished in third place. Long shot Hui Nalu could play a role in helping decide the winner of the large club division by taking potential points away from the leaders.
"For our club, it’s very important to try our best to beat them, but they’re awfully strong," said Bruhn of neighboring Kailua. "For us on the Windward side, our clubs are close like family. We want to beat them, but if we have to lose to someone, I’d rather lose to them."
Hui Lanakila and Keahiakahoe have been atop the AA Division (14-26 crews entered) all season with the prior emerging victorious in four of five official regattas. Healani and Leeward Kai also could play a part in deciding the outcome in AA, as both have finished within a couple of wins of vying for the lead in nearly every regatta.
The A Division (1-13 crews entered) is routinely home to close finishes as the clubs’ lack of numbers make strong finishes more valuable than the clubs with up to three times as many crews that are afforded more breathing room. Waimanalo won three regattas, while Keola O Ke Kai and the Waikiki Surf Club won one event apiece.
The Na Ohana O Na Hui Wa’a organization is holding its championship regatta today at Keehi Lagoon.