A format change in the First Hawaiian Bank State Canoe Paddling Championships led to a controversial rules interpretation that had coaches from all leagues involved scratching their heads.
But in the end, after nearly an hour of deliberation between race officials with input from coaches, the event continued with a school synonymous with success on the water hoisting the championship hardware yesterday at Keehi Lagoon.
Kamehameha swept the championship races, winning the boys, girls and mixed (three boys, three girls) events in convincing fashion. The boys team defended its state crown, and won its fourth title in the 10-year history of the state championship race. The girls won their first state crown since their last race to gold in 2007, and now have a state-high six championships. The mixed division victory was the second for the school in that race’s existence.
"We were hoping to do it (sweep all the titles) last year, so at least we got it done," said Kamehameha head coach Kalama Heine. "A lot of our paddlers are young, so we’re looking to do this for at least the next few years. It’s all about hard work and they were hungry. They wanted it badly, and they trained that way."
At Ke’ehi Lagoon
The youth Heine refers to is found in a stockpile of sophomores, four boys and at least eight girls, according to the coach. An example of the budding talent can be found in Tyler Meditz, a sophomore who helped stroke both the boys and mixed squads to victory yesterday after a mere half-hour break in between sprints.
"The adrenaline kicked in, and from the time we called our push, we could feel it propel the boat," said Meditz of the boys crew’s half-mile time of 3 minutes, 32.73 seconds — the day’s fastest finish. "Just the thought of winning states and being on that podium made us mentally strong, and let us finish with full force."
The girls race featured the closest finish of the afternoon as the Warriors edged fellow Interscholastic League of Honolulu foe Pac-Five by less than 2 seconds. Kamehameha crossed the line in 4 minutes, 6.4 seconds while the Wolf Pack (4:08.32) and Molokai (4:12.12) couldn’t close the gap.
"It feels so good, when we were finishing, I was smiling the whole way," said Kamehameha’s senior steersman Kamalolo Koanui-Kong. "We were out of the turn before (Pac-Five), and we started walking away."
The event’s only hiccup occurred after the second heat of the preliminary race in the mixed division. Baldwin was deemed to have buried the flag, a term described in the rules as contacting the flagged buoy at the race’s halfway turn point, and forcing it to touch the water.
According to Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association rules, any crew that buries a flag is automatically disqualified. However, Baldwin was allowed to advance to the semifinal round because, as officials initially ruled, the newly adapted 16-team format (in past years, 24 teams were awarded spots in the championship field) is a progression system, something not covered under HCRA guidelines.
After multiple discussions, and hearing arguments from both Baldwin coach Alika Atay and opposing coaches, the officials reverted to the long-standing rule of automatic disqualification, and the Bears’ roller coaster of emotions crashed, leaving many paddlers and coaches in tears.
"It’s an unfortunate decision for the kids," said canoe paddling coordinator Hartwell Lee Loy. "You never want to see that happen."
While no official announcement was made, state officials are likely to amend the rules in the offseason to address yesterday’s issue with hopes of preventing future confusion.