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Wailea’s brotherhood still strong; MCHCA hits midway point

Wailea Canoe Club’s freshmen crew makes a turn at the half-mile mark of their 1-mile race at the Kamehameha Regatta on Saturday at Kahului Harbor. Wailea won in 7:53.53. The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photos

KAHULUI– Even though Maui’s paddlers missed two years of camaraderie during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wailea Canoe Club’s brotherhood is still strong.

“It’s all about our brotherhood and our family atmosphere that we have here at our club. We’re a smaller club, but we also cherish each one of us and back each other up,” Wailea steersman Kekoa Cramer said on Saturday at Kahului Harbor during the Kamehameha Regatta. “So yeah, it’s good to see everybody paddling again after the two years off through COVID, and we’re happy to see everybody from the different parts of the island, but especially we love practicing hard each day and coming together, you know, our brotherhood is still strong, so it’s good to see everyone this year.”

As Wailea hosted the Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association’s fourth event of the summer Saturday, coach Kapena Whitford said the club, which he and wife Donna created in 1993, still averaged around 100 members despite the two-year hiatus, adding that “everyone is excited to be back paddling.”

“You can feel the energy,” Whitford said.

For Wailea coach Franny Durham, “it’s good to have the races back for those who love racing,” she said.

Lae‘ula O Kai’s mixed 18 crew (foreground) heads to a win Saturday at Kahului Harbor.

“It’s a cultural thing too, it’s a Hawaii sport, and teaching the kids to perpetuate it and we try to teach the kids culture as well — they learn chants and different things. And then they make a lot of friends, so it’s a really good way for kids and adults to get to know one another, you know, and sportsmanship and all of that stuff,” she said. “People who work hard, regardless if they win or not, they get satisfaction from it. It’s a team sport too, so they have to learn to uplift one another.”

It was an instant connection when Durham first tried the sport herself about 35 years ago. She then filled in as a coach soon after.

“I’m proud of my girls because they worked very hard,” Durham said of her women’s 55 crew that placed fourth Saturday. “Fortunately the wind died down in the last race, but it’s been off and on really windy and the water’s been washing machine-like.”

Cramer was joined in the boat by Dane Dudoit, Moki Foster-Molina, Jason Gomes, Sumo Poepoe and Kekoa Santos as they won the 1-mile men’s freshman race in 7 minutes, 53.53 seconds.

Wailea led from the start, though Kihei tried to catch them in the last few strokes of the race.

Wailea’s women’s 55 crew paddles back to shore after their race Saturday.

At the midway point of summer regatta season, the focus is now turning toward qualifying for the state championship on Aug. 6 at Keehi Lagoon.

“We’re trying to figure out between freshman, sophomore, junior and senior, what combinations are going to work better, who steers, who’s going to sit in the front or back of them — just trying to sharpen the knives and get back in shape,” Cramer said. “I’m not gonna lie, people had things going on these past two years, so getting back in a six-man canoe is a lot different than one-manning, so just us being able to race, which is another practice, gives us more confidence and we get hungry to get to each race and see where we’re at and see if our training is working out and see what we can do to be better next week.”

Wailea’s sophomore men crew of Robert Brede, Kevin Dudoit, J.R. Rios, Nalu Sampson, Lopaka White and Quinn Whitford followed suit after the freshmen by winning their 1-mile race in 7:50.94, eight seconds ahead of Napili.

Then, Jonas Arcikauskas, Isaac Bancaco, Big T Calderon, Kingi Gilbert, Felipe Gomes and Diego Panza hopped in the canoe to capture first place in the men’s junior race in 7:59.95.

Wailea’s men’s open four, mixed open and men’s 40 crews also won their respective races to cap the afternoon.

“Hopefully we can do well at state. There’s no Molokai Hoe this year, which is always our goal, so we want to compete in every long-distance race and be competitive and just represent our canoe club,” Cramer said.

Hawaiian Canoe Club topped the team standings Saturday with 170 points, followed by Kihei (98) and Lae’ula O Kai (70).

After taking off for Fourth of July weekend, the MCHCA season continues July 9 with the Mayor’s Umeke Regatta at Kahului Harbor.

* Dakota Grossman is at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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