The Maui News 2018-19 MIL Canoe Paddling All-Stars

Gibbons, Kawaa named league’s top paddlers

Robert Gibbons helped the Seabury Hall boys and mixed crews win Maui Interscholastic League titles this season. The Maui News file photo

Robert Gibbons is leaving the Seabury Hall paddling program on solid footing. Kamakana Kawaa will be back to continue the building of a foundation for King Kekaulike.

Gibbons is a senior and one of the most decorated Maui Interscholastic League boys paddlers ever. Kawaa is a junior steersman on a Na Alii crew that returns five of the six paddlers who were in the boat that finished third in the girls state final.

Both are the choices of the league’s coaches as The Maui News MIL Paddlers of the Year.

“It was so much fun, it was amazing because I was just paddling really fast with a lot of the best (paddlers) on the island,” Gibbons said after being part of three state championship mixed crews and three state runner-up boys crews through his junior season in Olinda. “Then we’d go to states and just be setting almost record times. My brother was on some of those crews, too, and it was really just out of this world.”

Gibbons was in two more state finals this year as the Spartans’ MIL championship crews finished eighth in the mixed and fifth in the boys races at Keehi Lagoon.

Kamakana Kawaa was the steersman on King Kekaulike’s MIL championship girls crew, which went on to place third at the state regatta. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“We definitely had a really lucky past few years and our coach (Paul Luuwai) really makes a huge difference during our season,” Gibbons said. “And to think about not paddling with him anymore, and with anybody else, it’s a big trip. It’s been pretty much my dedication throughout high school.”

Gibbons is joined on the boys first team by crewmates Noah Garcia, Reiley O’Connor and Mark Brocklehurst; King Kekaulike’s Kiva Herrera and John Farrell; Baldwin’s Dustin Teixeira and Dylan Moikeha; Kamehameha Maui’s Joshua Kailiehu; and Maui High’s Kaimana Sabatini.

Work and preparation for college may take Gibbons off of the Hawaiian Canoe Club roster this summer, where Luuwai is the veteran keiki coach.

“I talked to a lot of the other­ boys who have been doing it and it’s pretty sad to be done, for sure,” said Gibbons, who plans to study environmental engineering at either Cal Poly or Colorado State. “I think engineering is kind of my route.”

Kawaa is joined on the girls first team by crewmates Reyann Mau-Bagay, Sarah Emmsley and Skyler Sands; Seabury Hall’s Amber Proctor and Nanea Andrade; Kamehameha Maui’s Kamahie Baricuatro and Healani Tolentino; Lahainaluna’s Dakota Delos Reyes; and Molokai’s Talia Nakayama.

2018-19 MIL Canoe Paddling All-Stars

“That’s very cool, I’m super honored to be MIL Paddler of the Year,” Kawaa said. “But I definitely wouldn’t be the paddler I am today without my coaches, starting from Lae Ula (O Kai canoe club). Coach Sharon (Balidoy) and coach Mary (Kielty), coach Flo (Michelier) and also coach Johnny ‘Mac’ (MacCandless) because they’ve taught me all the skills that I’ve needed.”

Mau-Bagay is the only senior among the King Kekaulike girls starters. Michelier is the girls coach of the year and Luuwai is the boys coach of the year.

“I had so much fun this past paddling season and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to paddle with my crew — they were amazing,” Kawaa said of her crew that also included Rose Delaney and Olivia Delaney. “They worked super hard this season and I’m so proud that we got third state. I’m just so happy to have been able to paddle with them.”

The top step on the state podium is clearly the goal for the King Kekaulike girls returnees next year.

“Hopefully, yes,” Kawaa said when asked if a state title next year is within reach. “We’re going to work really hard this next season and hopefully we can get that title for states.”

That nucleus will have a chance to gel even more this summer as Kawaa, the steersman, said she has plans to join the Delaneys, Sands and Emmsley at state powerhouse Hawaiian Canoe Club.

“Summertime, I would love to paddle for Lae Ula but I think I want to take my paddling to a different level, so I’m going to try for Hawaiian this season,” Kawaa said. “But, of course, I’d like to thank all of my Lae Ula coaches for teaching me all the skills that I know today and teaching how to steer because if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be a steersman.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

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