Team Primo was built last year with the singular goal of stopping Tahiti’s Shell Va’a, the four-time defending Molokai Hoe champion.
After its dominating victory in yesterday’s Henry Ayau Memorial Race, Team Primo is poised to contend for canoe paddling’s ultimate prize.
Team Primo navigated the 32-mile course, which stretched from Maunalua Bay to Nanakuli Beach Park, in 3 hours, 41 minutes and 53 seconds — more than 9 minutes ahead of the nearest competitor from the pack of 57 crews that entered the event. Outrigger "Red" finished second in 3 hours, 50 minutes and 57 seconds and held off Hui Lanakila (3:51:49), Kailua (3:56:21) and Lanikai (3:57:09).
"We were looking forward to this race because it was real important for us to jell at this point, and we executed everything today," said Team Primo member Mike Judd. "Now we have three weeks to prepare. (The Molokai Hoe) is another world. We really have to step it up to hang with these boys (from Tahiti)."
With yesterday serving as the final official tune-up for the Molokai Hoe, which culminates the long-distance season on Oct. 10, Team Primo shored up strategies and tweaked crew rotations in preparation for the momentous race.
"For the next three weeks it’s about finding our top speed and working to raise our level, because we’re going to be chasing the Tahitians," said Team Primo steersman Kekoa Cramer. "Molokai has been our goal from the very beginning, and hopefully now we can tell exactly what we need to fix."
Team Primo features an all-star mix of paddlers from Oahu and Maui. While it competes under the flag of Maui’s Wailea Canoe Club, the team is sponsored by Primo beer.
Yesterday’s victorious crew also included: Kai Bartlett, Tyson Kubo, Peter Konoliva, Al Van Geison, Felipe Gomes, Danny Ching and Mael Carey.
Outrigger finished second to Team Primo after surviving a back-and-forth battle with Hui Lanakila for the runner-up spot. According to the crew, light winds and a slight current pushing the boat toward the finish made the trek more manageable than in years past, when conditions hindered crews significantly.
"It was important to keep our ama (outrigger) light, and once we got the hull speed up, we connected the dots," said Outrigger steersman Jimmy Austin. "It got flat, then it picked up again. At one point there was a 6-foot swell that picked us up and nearly wiped us out. The Primo crew has some excellent guys, so this (result) is great for us."
Team Primo — last year’s Molokai Hoe runner-up — has ridden a wave of momentum since it kicked off the long-distance season with a win on Aug. 15 in the 26-mile Duke Kahanamoku Long Distance Race. The crew raced to victory again on Sept. 4 on the Big Island in the Queen Liliuokalani Long Distance Race — an 18-mile race along the Kona coast.
The efforts of Team Primo are geared toward its ultimate goal of knocking off four-time defending Molokai Hoe champion Shell Va’a of Tahiti. Last year, Team Primo finished 12 minutes behind Shell Va’a. It seeks to narrow that gap significantly in three weeks.
"We’re where we want to be, we’re ahead of where we were at his point last year," Judd said. "You need to have confidence and know where you are, and we were able to get going early this year and raise the bar. You never want to be overconfident, but we’re in much better shape than we were at the same time last year."
The long-distance season consists of four races on Oahu — two men’s and two women’s events — followed by the Na Wahine O Ke Kai and Molokai Hoe: the women’s and men’s versions of the 41-mile Molokai-to-Oahu race often considered the world championship of the sport. In distance races, crews are accompanied by motored escort boats and are allowed to substitute paddlers in crew changes along the way to provide breaks for the athletes.
The women have the first shot at making the trek from Molokai’s Hale O Lono Harbor to Waikiki Beach in the Na Wahine O Ke Kai on Sunday. Five-time defending champion Team Bradley looks to add to its impressive streak, while the Waikiki Beach Boys are looking for a breakthrough victory after steadily improving each year.