For the Waikiki Beach Boys, success in the regatta season is a bonus.
Much like the cherry on an ice cream sundae, success in the sprint season is something extra that comes as a byproduct of training for the ultimate paddling test found in the long-distance season.
Not to say Waikiki is not trying to win regattas, but there are loftier goals on the horizon, including attempting to win the Molokai Hoe and Na Wahine O Ke Kai men’s and women’s marathon Molokai-to-Oahu races in the fall.
But come Saturday, the Beach Boys will be focused on the task at hand: winning the state title to culminate an impressive regatta season.
Nearly 3,500 paddlers representing 59 clubs from six organizations will converge on Keehi Lagoon on Saturday for the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association State Championship Regatta. The paddlers will compete in 39 sprint events, ranging from a quarter-mile to 1 1/2 miles, and will be separated into age divisions ranging from 12 and under to 60 and above.
Waikiki is vying for the AAA division (13-20 crews entered) title, and if all 18 of the club’s expected entrants do as well as this season’s results suggest, the Beach Boys — the only club from Oahu in that division — should emerge victorious. The Beach Boys finished third by a mere two points in the AA division (7-12 crews entered) last year in the state competition in the unfamiliar waters of Hilo Bay.
"As a club, there was a sense of disappointment of missing out on the (AA division title) last year," said Dana Gorecki, Waikiki paddler and club president. "From my perspective as president, being in the AAA division, there are a handful of clubs that will all be a challenge to beat. But, with 18 crews entered, we have the opportunity to do substantially well."
With this year’s race being at "home" in Keehi Lagoon, Waikiki is able to fully showcase its program.
When competing in the Na Ohana O Na Hui Wa’a organization’s season, Waikiki averaged second place or better in each event. To put that feat in perspective, competing clubs rarely averaged better than fourth place when all crews’ finishes were averaged.
This incredible crew efficiency can be linked to the club’s practice habits, which include not only long-distance paddling, but also cross-training techniques, including one-man canoe paddling.
Waikiki is focused on the long-distance season from the get-go, using the regatta season — which is composed entirely of short sprints — to stay in shape and work on various crew combinations while also scouting the potential of other clubs.
Waikiki has seen a renaissance in its program, thanks to the plan of head coach Sean Monahan, a firefighter who took over the program 11 years ago amid declining membership that nearly forced the club to fold. The work has paid off for both the club and individual crews, which the coaching staff has fine-tuned and tweaked throughout the sprint season.
"When I first started coaching, people told me that a club from Hui Wa’a could never win in the upper division," Monahan said. "I really started to focus on technique and opening up the whole program to paddlers who could make the boat go fast. It made the competition amongst themselves and that kind of raised their level. We have clear goals and clear objectives, and an extremely clear way of picking the crews: it’s all by the watch. It’s all out in the open. There’s zero favoritism, the fastest paddlers race."
The club shared an overall regatta victory this season despite entering 15-20 fewer crews than the larger clubs in Hui Wa’a. Individual crews also dominated their events, including the senior women’s crew, which competes against some of the most talented paddlers each club has to offer on a weekly basis.
Waikiki’s senior women’s crew set a club course record for their fastest time in the 1 1/2 -mile race at Keehi Lagoon, finishing the course in 12 minutes, 13.48 seconds — one minute and 20 seconds ahead of the nearest boat at the June 27 regatta. With Saturday’s championship being held in the lagoon with the familiar water and surroundings, the Beach Boys will look to showcase their dominance.
"It’s hard to say (how we are perceived by unfamiliar competition) because we don’t get to compete against outer island clubs until the state race," Gorecki said. "It’s hard to gauge how we’re perceived in the community, but there’s a mutual respect between the clubs."