Last season, Hawaiian Canoe Club put a hammer down in the first half of the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association state championship regatta.
HCC won seven keiki division titles in the first 19 events contested - including four in a row in the boys and girls 16 and 18 races - to propel the club to its 11th state club title in the last 15 years. After the 41-race day was complete, Hawaiian was on top by a comfortable 24-point margin over Hui Nalu.
"That was very important, that was no surprise to us because our keiki work very hard," said Palekana Hett, who won titles at boys 15 and 16 last season. "Getting gold with the 16s (last year), that kind of set me on top because I got to paddle with the older guys and I look up to them."
The Hawaiian Canoe Club women’s open crew leads Kihei during the Mayor’s Umeke Regatta on June 28 at Kahului Harbor.
The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photo
Hett will compete in the boys 16 and 18 races on Saturday at Keehi Lagoon on Oahu for the HCRA state regatta. It is all part of the next-paddler-up plan at HCC.
"Those older guys, they really push me because I'm a younger guy," said the 6-foot-5 Hett, who will start his senior year at Baldwin High School on Monday. "I think we can hold it again because we have got all 13 (keiki) crews qualified - we are really strong in our keiki division. Our keiki division kind of sets the scores, then our adult division comes and finishes it up."
One year ago, Kihei Canoe Club was third in the AAA Division, one rung below the AAAA Division for the state's largest clubs.
Now, Kihei - infused with the world-class talent of Team Primo men's paddlers from now-dormant Wailea Canoe Club - will be playing with the big clubs on Saturday.
This summer, KCC pushed Hawaiian to its closest county finish in the last decade. HCC has won the last 30 Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association titles.
"They are pretty strong," Kihei head coach Kawika Williams said of Hawaiian. "But we are ready to go, we are raring to go, actually. Everybody is chomping at the bit, everybody is healthy, everybody looks good right now and everybody is excited."
Hawaiian has a club-record 40 crews in the regatta - after buying three available lanes, the women's novice B crew will be the only race it won't compete in.
"I'm looking at the numbers, I'm looking at the qualifications the last few days," said HCC keiki coach Paul Luuwai, who annually develops a scoresheet with his thoughts on the contending clubs in all 41 races. "Our numbers look really good. We are feeling good about our position. We have 40 crews in 41 races and I cannot ever recall that."
Hui Nalu and Kihei each have 35 crews in the regatta, while Lanikai and Kailua each have 34.
Luuwai's scoresheet has Kihei's Team Primo paddlers sweeping the men's freshman, sophomore, junior and senior events.
"These are the same guys we have been paddling with our whole lives," said Kekoa Cramer, who is the main steersman for the Team Primo contingent. "Whatever the color of the canoe, we just try to paddle hard."
Team Primo paddlers focus their seasons on the long distance portion of the schedule, which begins after state.
"The state regatta is a good measuring stick for everybody," Cramer said.
Hawaiian has been on both sides of the numbers game in the past to win state regattas, so Luuwai is also cautious. After winning its first state crown in 1999 and then seven in a row from 2001 to 2007, HCC has alternated taking state crowns in the last six events, winning in each odd-numbered year.
"You have to be mistake-free, error-free as much as possible because anything can happen," he said. "It's a 41-race series. We have been in the position where we have had less crews before, where we have more crews before - it doesn't make you feel any different. You have to take care of the details."
Luuwai was doing just that Monday as his youth paddlers went through some of their final training at Kahului Harbor.
Noah Garcia, an 8th-grader at Seabury Hall, will paddle in the 12A boys and 12 mixed crews for HCC.
"It will be really important because the keiki races is usually what puts the entire club ahead," Garcia said. "Usually we are really, really good and are able to put our club ahead and the other clubs can't catch up. We really want to give the club a good chance to win."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org