Connected by more than the rope

MAKAWAO – As Kanoa Awai-Dickson and Kaena Poouahi train in team roping at the Baisa family corral, it is clear they’ve been doing it for a long time.

Awai-Dickson is the Hawaii High School Rodeo Association all-around cowboy and a rising senior at King Kekaulike High School. Poouahi is the Hawaii’s Own Series all-around cowboy and a King Kekaulike junior-to-be.

Each have won their all-around titles for two years in a row.

They are cousins who both play football for Na Alii, and have been practicing together since Awai-Dickson was 10 years old and Poouahi was 9.

They will compete in team roping at next week’s National High School Rodeo in Rock Springs, Wyo. This week, they will mix it up with professional cowboys in the Makawao Rodeo at Oskie Rice Arena.

“It takes a lot of faith in my teammate – he has to catch the slack – and consistency,” Poouahi said before the workout, which comprises run after run of Poouahi roping a cow’s head moments before Awai-Dickson lassoes the hind legs.

The pair practices daily from the start of the high school rodeo schedule in February to the current championship portion of the season.

“I have a lot of confidence right now, guaranteed,” said Poouahi, a 5-foot-6, 243-pound lineman in football.

Poouahi proudly wore his champion belt buckle for the Hawaii’s Own title, which includes two events contested only in the 50th state – double mugging, in which Poouahi ropes a steer’s head and Awai-Dickson takes it to the ground before Poouahi wraps the legs; and poo wai u, in which plastic horns are put on a cow, which the roper lassoes, guides to a stand and secures.

The cousins are part of a rodeo family. Former Makawao all-around cowboy Brad Apo, an uncle to Poouahi, lives at the Baisa spread and offers advice to the teenaged team.

“He helps us a lot,” Poouahi said. “For heeling (roping the hind feet), he gives me a lot of tips like how to place ropes and all that stuff.”

At the state high school finals on the Big Island last month, Elliott Baisa – Poouahi’s grandfather – was honored as the state association’s Horseman of the Year. Baisa died at 62 in March.

“There’s plenty family in rodeo – that’s part of the reason I like it,” said Poouahi, who will also compete in double mugging and poo wai u this week.

The 6-0, 190-pound Awai-Dickson, a receiver during the football season, will enter calf roping and steer wrestling.

The national high school finals will be Poouahi’s first. Awai-Dickson has been there once before. Both have competed in the Makawao Rodeo since they were 10.

“We pretty much know what each other’s going to do,” said Awai-Dickson.

“I’m looking forward to this weekend because there is a lot of competition, which makes it more fun. Makawao will get us ready for nationals.”

* Robert Collias is at