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MCHCA cancels summer regatta season

Clubs decide to scrap races for second straight year due to pandemic

Canoes line the shore at Kahului Harbor during the Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association’s Mayor’s Umeke Regatta on June 8, 2019. The MCHCA has canceled the summer regatta season for the second straight year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

By a “pretty unanimous” vote on Tuesday night, the Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association canceled the 2021 summer regatta season, MCHCA president Keone Ball said on Wednesday.

“It was just impossible to run a regatta,” Ball said via phone, noting the decision was due to COVID-19 concerns. “The logistics of it where we need to control the area — well, we have all kinds of people that show up to regattas on the beach, right? Then they wanted us to try to split the regatta. We go from 8 a.m. to 5, 6 (p.m.) sometimes.

“There’s kids that paddle, to adults that paddle, to grandparents that paddle, multiple people paddling in different races. To take a break in the middle and reset, you have a whole new group coming in, but a lot of those people are the same group.”

For regattas that routinely draw more than 1,000 people to either Kahului Harbor or Hanakao’o (Canoe) Beach Park in Lahaina, the task became too daunting for the MCHCA.

“Just the social distancing of it and all that sort of thing, we just said, ‘It’s just impossible,’ “ Ball said. “If things for some reason get worse, for the clubs to go through all that and then we have nothing.”

The MCHCA summer regatta season usually starts in early June and finishes with the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association state championship regatta in early August. Ball believes the MCHCA is the first of the state’s associations to call off the season and that no decision has been made yet on the HCRA state championship event.

Ball said he is hopeful that at least part of the long-distance season that begins in August can be salvaged. He noted, however, that the Pailolo Challenge, a 26-mile race held annually in September from D.T. Fleming Beach Park on Maui to Kaunakakai Pier on Molokai, has already been called off.

“The major event of Pailolo is definitely canceled,” Ball said. “They might try to do something for the Maui clubs, but that might be in itself a challenge by the rules, which we get.”

Maui’s nine clubs — Hawaiian, Lae’ula O Kai, Na Kai Ewalu, Napili, Kahana, Lahaina, Hana, Kihei and Wailea — can choose to practice, which would be an important activity, especially for youth paddlers who will now miss a second straight summer season to go along with the missed high school season this winter.

“Clubs still are allowed to practice, with certain conditions, of course,” Ball said. “That’s kind of one of the silver linings of it, right? Still will be able to get some practice in, we might even still be able to do some scrimmages with the other clubs. We’re looking to maybe a distance season, but we have to know fairly soon because of the permit process.”

All of the clubs were asked to poll their membership on how to proceed before Tuesday night’s board meeting, Ball said.

“Because of the permit process, we’ve got to do it months ahead of time,” he said. “Then for our side, if they said ‘go,’ we still have to register everybody — that’s a large task in itself. Just the logistics of it was just not … then maybe it’s all for naught if things got worse or something like that. This went back to all the clubs for their mana’o, input.

“It was an association decision. All clubs, it was pretty unanimous.”

Ball said the decision to cancel summer regattas did not come easily.

“We’ve been watching over the last couple months, seeing if things were getting better,” he said. “We were optimistically looking at it, but at the end of it we had to be realistic.”

A decision on the distance season must be made within “the next couple months, for sure,” Ball said. “A lot of the clubs already have decided not to do them, just because you put a lot of time and effort into those. Expenses, too. Coordination with all the food, then we can’t have food. A lot of clubs are, like, ‘Look, we’re not going to put all this time and effort in for nothing.’ “

Ball is encouraged that practice is still allowed.

“It’s huge, huge,” he said. “Because we can still have the camaraderie and things that people enjoy with paddling, not only the exercise. And of course right now people are talking about the psychological aspect of the pandemic because you’re isolated and things like that.

“So, it’s kind of a really nice getaway, even taking into consideration all the social distancing and all that kind of stuff. It’s still nice to get down there and talk to people, see what everybody’s doing, the camaraderie of it all.”

Canoe clubs also offer access to the Pacific Ocean that cannot be downplayed, Ball said.

“The ocean is church for some people,” he said. “There’s something spiritual when you get out on the water and look back at Maui. A lot of people don’t ever experience that.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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