Hawaiian Kanaktion entered yesterday’s Dad Center Race with a new combination of paddlers and hopes of a strong finish.
The crew, which featured a group familiar with each other’s abilities from time spent paddling with Hui Lanakila, proved that the Kanaktion connection is one capable of altering the women’s long-distance canoe paddling landscape.
Hawaiian Kanaktion built and maintained a comfortable lead as it paddled to victory in the 36th annual Dad Center Race yesterday. The event marked the start of the women’s long-distance outrigger canoe paddling season, and featured 57 crews that traversed a 25-mile course that spanned from Kailua Beach, around Makapuu and Diamond Head and finished in the water fronting the Outrigger Canoe Club in Waikiki.
Team Kanaktion finished in 3 hours, 11 minutes and 35 seconds to fend off the Waikiki Beachboys No. 1 (3:12.25) and five-time defending Na Wahine O Ke Kai champion Team Bradley of Hawaiian Canoe Club (3:14.04).
"We didn’t know what to expect," said Kanaktion crew member Jessie Ka’awa. "Some of the girls have paddled together before, but it’s a new combination."
The victorious crew also included: Maggie Twigg-Smith, Madison Minkel, Grace Emanuel, Michelle Arnold, Laura Birse, Michelle Bradley, Shien-Lu Stokesbury, Clair Townsend and Arlene Holzman.
According to Waikiki president and crew member Dana Gorecki, the lead canoes all struggled to push through the choppy water off Kailua and Waimanalo. But, after making the turn around Makapuu, Hawaiian Kanaktion opened up a near 2-and-a-half minute lead.
"The front end of the race was really choppy, and after we rounded Makapuu, it mellowed out," Gorecki said. "The rest of the race was more rolling surf and cleaner waters."
Waikiki challenged the leader in the race’s final leg, narrowing the gap by more than a minute and giving it a chance to win in the event of a Hawaiian Kanaktion collapse.
"We had a pretty big gap, but (Waikiki) took an inside route and just shot out by Black Point," Ka’awa said. "We were definitely getting a little nervous on the escort boat because you can’t do anything while you watch."
Yesterday’s race was named after David "Dad" Center. He was a premier waterman in the same era as Duke Kahanamoku who headed the Outrigger Canoe Club’s water programs. According to Kawika Grant, a member of Outrigger’s paddling committee for more than 20 years, in those times, women were not included in canoe paddling because they were thought to lack the strength or endurance to compete in the same events participated in by the men.
In 1943, Outrigger fielded its first women’s crew, and in 1974, the first women’s long-distance race sanctioned by the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association was held in memory of Dad Center and his work in advancing women’s paddling. At the time, the course spanned 8 miles from Maunalua Bay in Hawaii Kai to Outrigger, and was expanded to its current distance in 1979.
"We’re very proud of the fact that we were instrumental in sponsoring the first women’s race that helped prove that they were able to do all the same races the men participated in," Grant said.
Team Kanaktion’s victory earned the crew the rights to the race’s Thomas H. Richert trophy, which is awarded to the open division winner each year. The cup was donated by Outrigger paddler Tiare Richert Finney, whose mother Loretta Turnbull won what was originally deemed the Conte Theo Rossi Cup in 1932 as reward for victory in speedboat racing in Italy.
"It’s good to know that we have potential, but as we learn year after year, it’s just the first race," Ka’awa said. "We’re grateful that we did well today, but we’ve got to step it up from here. We would have been happy to have finished in the top three."
The women return to action on Sept. 12 for the E Lau Hoe race, which follows a course from Maunalua Bay to Nanakuli Beach Park.
The men will complete on the same course on Sept. 19 in the Henry Ayau Memorial Race.