KAHULUI - With 10 state championships in the last 13 years, Hawaiian Canoe Club has become accustomed to this position.
HCC goes into the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association state championship regatta on Saturday at Keehi Lagoon on Oahu as the defending champion. As usual, the club in position to knock HCC off its perch is Oahu powerhouse Lanikai.
Hawaiian, the Kahului Harbor-based juggernaut, has 35 crews entered in the 41-race regatta. Lanikai has 39.
Crews in the men’s 18 race compete during a Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association race in June. The state regatta is Saturday at Keehi Lagoon on Oahu.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
HCC keiki and masters coach Paul Luuwai has the regatta charted out as a 354-351 win for his club.
"We have strengths, we have weaknesses, we're kind of OK in some events," Luuwai said. "Lanikai has strengths, Lanikai has weaknesses, and they are OK in some events. It is just a big track meet - here we go."
Hawaiian is currently recovering from a suspected arson case that burned a major ohia log, as well as caused damage to rafters and a cord in its recently constructed traditional hale. The estimated repair costs are $2,000 to $3,000 for the hale, and a canoe belonging to Seabury Hall suffered $1,500 to $2,000 in estimated damages.
Luuwai, who is Seabury Hall's coach during the Maui Interscholastic League paddling season, said the fire will not motivate HCC in any way at state.
"Not at all, it has nothing to do with what we are doing in the water," Luuwai said. "It didn't deter our focus in any way."
Last year, Hawaiian won by 59 points over Lanikai, but Luuwai said that is deceiving.
"I don't think a lot of people really acknowledge how good they really are," he said. "They had three scratches where they didn't race and they had two (disqualifications) that were worth 20-something points, so that is a big turnaround right there."
Luuwai said all of the Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association should do well. Kihei and Lae'ula O Kai appear to be contenders in the AAA Division for clubs with 13 to 20 crews entered, Napili could contend in the AA Division (seven to 12 crews), while Wailea, Molokai and others from the county could ultimately help HCC in its quest to win the overall crown.
"We are counting on Wailea Canoe Club's men, the Team Primo guys, to take out Lanikai's men, Kihei's masters to take out Lanikai's masters and things like that," Luuwai said. "It is going to be a typical Hawaiian Canoe Club state regatta - we get out to a lead and try to keep covering (Lanikai)."
Last year, six of the HCC keiki medal-winning crews included a Luuwai. Hiilei Luuwai, Paul's daughter, paddles for the mixed 12 crew. Paul's nephew, Kawai, steers the boys 13. Another nephew, Mogul Luuwai, was in the boys 14 and 16 crews, and niece Kaulu is part of the girls 15 and 18 crews. Paul's brother, Robert - father of Kawai, Mogul and Kaulu - will be joined by Bobby Luuwai, Paul and Robert's father, at the beach on Saturday.
"I don't know if these kids realize what they accomplished," Paul Luuwai said, fighting back tears. "I don't know how many opportunities families get to be together like this."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org