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Lanikai … barely

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    Hawaiian Canoe Club's men's junior crew, from left, Tony Beltran, John Gosselin, Tim Lara, J.B. Guard, Diego Panza and Kekupa'a Naeole, made their second turn yesterday at Keehi Lagoon.
    Lanikai paddler Holly Kemsley ran under the tunnel of outstretched arms after her women's novice A crew finished first.

After more than three months of intense competition between Windward-side rivals Kailua and Lanikai, yesterday’s state championship regatta was supposed to determine who would finally claim bragging rights.

However, after 38 races, the clubs were tied, and the only thing certain was that each was worthy of a championship.

In the day’s final race — the men’s 40 event — Lanikai finished fourth, followed by Kailua 5 seconds later. That resulted in a one-point difference in the standings and allowed Lanikai to take its second state championship in three years.

Lanikai, which last won the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association state title in 2008, eked by two-time defending OHCRA champion Kailua, 343 to 342, yesterday at Keehi Lagoon.

Hawaiian (307 points), Outrigger (255 points) and Kai Opua (252 points) rounded out the top five in both the overall and AAAA Division (21-39 crews entered) standings.

"This is the biggest thing; it’s like Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl all rolled into one," said Lanikai skipper Jimmy Bruhn after learning of the ever-so-close final result. "The coaches, paddlers, and their parents all sacrificed their time and we came out with a positive result."

Nearly 3,500 paddlers representing 59 clubs via six organizations from Kauai to the Big Island flocked to the lagoon. The regatta featured 39 events ranging in length from a quarter-mile to 1.5 miles. Each race allowed up to 14 qualifying six-person crews, ranging in age from 12 and under to 60 and above.

Winning crews were awarded 15 points, with 13 points going to second place, 12 for third and continuing in descending order with last place earning one point. The scoring system forced clubs to not only go for victories in each event, but to consistently place high in order to score points across the board. Lanikai qualified crews in all 39 races, while Hawaiian entered 35 crews and Kailua 34.

"It’s so exciting to have such a close race," said Kailua coach Kathy Erwin just after learning of the result, and comforting club members who were disappointed to have come up just short. "Well done, Lanikai. Mathematically, because every place scores a point, (Lanikai) was in a much better position. But, that takes great planning and skill to get to that point."

The Waikiki Beach Boys dominated the senior women’s event, and repeated as state champion in one of the day’s marquee events. The crew of Dana Gorecki, Frances Lichowski, Jen Polcer, Andrea Messer, Raye Powell and Kaui Pelekane led the entire way, finishing the 1.5-mile race in 12 minutes, 42.01 seconds — 26 seconds ahead of runners-up Hui Lanakila.

"Now we can sit here and take a sigh of relief," said Gorecki, the crew’s stroker and Beach Boys club president. "We were able to come back and repeat what we did (last year) in Hilo. It’s not easy. It validates what we’re trying to do, keeping us focused."

The squad from Waikiki was in a familiar canoe named "Makani Kai," which it borrowed from Big Island club Keauhou. Gorecki said that partnership has gone on for the last six years, as the clubs assist one another as state championships change sites from year to year.

"It’s been a really special relationship," Gorecki said. "They help us out when we go to Hilo, and we try to accommodate them when they are here."

The two clubs competed in the same division yesterday, each vying for the AAA Division (13-20 crews entered) crown. Keauhou came out on top with 226 points, besting Puna (145 points) and Waikiki (133 points).

Hui Lanakila notched 127 points to hold off Keahiakahoe (116 points) and Keaukaha (110 points) and claim the AA Division (7-12 crews entered).

The A Division (1-6 crews entered) went to Kawaihae, which picked up 67 points to fend off Leeward Kai (60 points), Wa’akapaemua (59 points) and Healani (57 points).


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