Baldwin boys off to strong start

KIHEI – The first regatta of the Maui Interscholastic League outrigger paddling season is always about making a statement and no crew did so more than the Baldwin High School boys on Saturday at Ka Lae Pohaku.

The Bears’ crew of Kellen Bean, Palekana Pomat-Hett, Matthew Vanni, Tyson Felicilda, Chase Kuluhiwa-Rodrigues and Kyle Knutson recorded the fastest time of the day in their half-mile race – 3 minutes, 47.24 seconds to triumph by 11 1/2 seconds.

“Over the summer we all paddle together for Hawaiian (Canoe Club), and we all kind of split up for the high school season, but five of us happen to be here,” Bean said. “There is always the competitiveness between us and I think we made a statement to them. Those guys are our friends.”

Bean knows that Seabury Hall and Maui High, the second- and third-place finishers who both broke four minutes, will be out for the Bears in next week’s second of five MIL regattas.

“We are looking forward to the next races,” Bean said. “There’s still tough teams and they are right next to us.”

Seabury Hall won the mixed and girls races on Saturday.

Kamaile Lee, Mikaela McDaniel and Lexi Smith were on both crews and were joined by Ashley Tanga, Mapuana Andrade and Mikela Wesson in the girls boat that won in 4:25.60.

The Spartans boys on the mixed crew were Adam Ferrier, Nic Colon and Mogul Luuwai – that crew won in 4:17.07, just two seconds in front of Kamehameha Maui.

“It’s big to win so we can see how we rank amongst our peers,” Luuwai said. “It’s good to know to see how much work we have to do.”

Bean, Pomat-Hett, Vanni, Knutson and Felicilda all paddle for state champion HCC in the summer season and were joined by Kuluhiwa-Rodrigues, who recently moved to Maui from the Big Island.

“It helps us come together as a team more,” Bean said. “It creates a deeper bond and then we come together and we are all one family.”

Luuwai is the steersman for the HCC boys 16s and 18s in the summer.

“I paddle with all five of those guys,” Luuwai said. “We are all buddies, this is just more competition. Personally I think it benefits all of us in total because we all know our strengths and weaknesses.”

The state regatta is set for Feb. 1 at Keehi Lagoon on Oahu. The Baldwin boys crew has big things in mind when that date arrives – a few parents forming the tunnel to greet the crew Saturday were declaring the Bears as state favorites.

“It’s always on our minds,” Bean said of state. “We just have to go out there and do our best. We are always Maui first – we have some friends who paddle for Hawaiian from Oahu, so we are always talking to them, too.”

Bean, Felicilda, Pomat-Hett were all on the boys 16 state champions for HCC in the summer season. Vanni was on the HCC boys 18 crew and was a summer workout partner of all of his Baldwin counterparts.

“It helps with our bonding,” Vanni said. “When we come back into the water, it’s continuing what we have been doing. We trained this summer for this.”

Vanni said the crew must take care of things on Maui before setting sights on state.

“We just have to practice every day,” he said. “Just coming out here and finishing the races in first place – it gives you some confidence definitely, but it is such a different thing over on Oahu.”

The next regatta is next Saturday at Kahului Harbor. After that, the last three regattas are all in January.

* Robert Collias is at