Hawaiian does it again

HANALEI, Kauai – Hawaiian Canoe Club has re-established itself as the best in the state.

“I want to cry,” coach Diane Ho said Saturday following her team’s title in the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association state-championship regatta at Hanalei Bay. “We’ve all worked so hard to get here and it was a complete club effort.

“It’s awesome – I can’t say anything else.”

Hawaiian won nine races and finished with 351 points for its 11th large-club state title in the last 15 years. Hui Nalu was second, 24 points behind.

Napili won the A Division, for clubs with no more than six crews, by one point – the Maui club had 51, and Kawaihae had 50.

Seven of Hawaiian’s wins were in keiki races – girls 12, 13, 14, 16 and 18, and boys 15 and 16. The club also took gold in the women’s novice A and mixed open divisions.

Hawaiian keiki coach Paul Luuwai said he “could not imagine” how well the club performed.

“They took seven gold medals,” he said. “Some clubs don’t get seven in the entire regatta. I’m really proud of them.”

The run of medals included a stretch in which HCC won four consecutive events.

“After seeing all those crews win golds it was like, ‘If they can do it, we can do it,’ ” said Tianna Yonemura, who helped the girls 16 and 18 crews win gold.

Hawaiian had nine other paddlers on a pair of championship crews – Kalena Vaivai, Mikaela McDaniel, Kamaile Lee, Palekana Pamat-Hett, Kaysha Terry-AhKui, Kaya Given-sel, Taysia Pimentel, Hiilei Luuwai and Kahili Novikoff.

Napili took the mixed 12 title.

“They worked hard and deserved everything they got,” Napili coach Joey Tihada said of his club.

Wailea won the sophomore and senior men’s races – Kai Bartlett, Mael Carey, Tyson Kubo, Jacob Abeytia and Kekoa Cramer were on both Wailea crews.

McDaniel, who also was on Hawaiian’s girls 16 and 18 crews, said she felt “anxious” before the races because of limited practice time together.

“We didn’t have much time to prepare – only about two weeks – but when we got lined up, we synced up,” she said.

Lee, who won 16 and 18 titles as well, said: “Sometimes in practice you have a bad day but today was one of those days where we didn’t feel anything. It was just the glide of the canoe and everyone paddling as one.”

Hawaiian’s lead was as large as 60 points in the early going, but Luuwai and Ho were still wary.

“We’re on pins and needles, and hoping we can hang on,” Luuwai said during the regatta.

The open mixed crew’s victory helped create a cushion, and elicited a roar from Hawaiian paddlers and supporters.

“This truly was a group effort,” Ho said.

Wailea was the runner-up in AA, for clubs with seven to 12 crews, scoring 97 points. Namolokama won with 130.

Wailea’s boys 18 crew had to scramble due to a “couple hiccups” in travel arrangements, paddler Kai Bartlett said, including canceled flights, that caused two paddlers to withdraw.

“We had to have one of our 14-year-olds to step in and you could tell he was nervous,” Bartlett said,. “They ended up finishing second, which shows what they really could’ve done with their whole gang.

“For our senior members we were able to win the seniors men, after losing it last year, so that was rejuvenating,” he said.

Kihei was third in AAA (13 to 20 crews) with 153 points, behind Keahiakahoe (169) and Keaukaha (162).

* Chris Sugidono is at csugidono@mauinews.com