Keiki O Maui Regatta starts MCHCA season

LAHAINA – With another year comes another Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association event.

For the 2013 season, the association has added a mixed race for men and women 65 and older, and Kihei Canoe Club captured the inaugural competition Saturday afternoon in the Keiki O Maui Regatta at Hanaka’o’o (Canoe) Beach Park.

“I think we ran a really good race,” said Kihei’s Sandy Bell. “We have an awesome crew. Today it worked out because we got gold in the women’s 65 and gold in the mixed.”

On the mixed crew, Bell teamed with Diane Wetzel, Mark Stanfield, Sue Wiehl, Ken Pearsall and Bob Brooks.

“It’s great, it’s a lot of fun and a lot more powerful,” Wetzel said. “We have three men in the boat so it’s so different.”

Official results and team scores were not announced due to a medical emergency for a paddler during the regatta, the association said.

Wetzel and Bell were in the women’s 65 race, which like the men’s 65 is in its second year of competition – the men’s and women’s events are recognized in state competition, unlike the mixed.

However, the inclusion of the mixed event on Maui is a welcome addition for the 66-year-old Bell.

“It was a long time coming,” she said. “They probably should have done this earlier because everyone is moving up, and the amazing thing is everybody is still paddling. Even though we’re moving up, nobody is dropping out.

“It’s cool, it’s a good sport, it’s healthy, we’re outdoors, we have a canoe family – it’s nice.”

Their canoe family also includes Wetzel’s husband, John Wetzel, a retired NBA player and coach, who paddled in the men’s 65 race.

The couple now splits time between homes in Arizona and Kihei, visiting the Valley Isle every summer and winter. During John Wetzel’s coaching days, the couple would make annual trips to Maui, but the time on the Mainland offered an array of paddling conditions.

“I paddled in Sacramento on the lakes, clear through the year so I would be in really good shape before we came here,” Diane Wetzel said. “I paddled some in Portland too and it would hail. It would be springtime and it would be hailing and cold rain.”

The Wailea Canoe Club freshman men’s crew, which includes members of the elite Team Primo squad, started the season with a win.

“We had a very close battle with Na Kai Ewalu, and I expect the same the rest of the year,” said Jacob Abeytia.

“We got a bunch of Primo guys with us so all I’ve got to do is keep in timing and the rest is history,” said Guy Wilson, another member of the crew. “I’ve been paddling my entire life, but you know with these guys they got everything down to a science. Everything is really touchy, your entrance, your exits – I’ve paddled with different clubs, but I don’t get the sort of insightful and scientific approach like these guys.”

The group also has high hopes for its younger paddlers – namely the 18 boys, who won on Saturday under Primo paddler Kai Bartlett’s direction.

“They’ve been struggling the last couple of years, but Kai’s finally got them wrangled in and teaching them a lot of his tricks and a lot of his skills,” Abeytia said. “It paid off.”

* Chris Sugidono is at