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Family members continue Dougie Tihada’s legacy

Napili Canoe Club coach Nori Tihada plots strategy with a junior crew Saturday during the Dougie Tihada Regatta at Kahului Harbor. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

KAHULUI — When Dougie Tihada helped to establish Napili Canoe Club back in 1976, he envisioned the community coming together to honor and enjoy paddling and for keiki to have a positive outlet.

Decades later, that vision remains a reality. The family continued the legacy of Dougie, who passed away in 1989, while Napili hosted its annual Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association regatta on Saturday at Kahului Harbor that commemorates him.

“I think it’s important, we always get together, but this really brings us together and gets the community together,” said Joey Tihada, Dougie’s oldest son and Napili’s head coach. “One thing my dad always focused on was having an outlet for the kids. That was his main thing, having something to do back in the day with us. That’s the same thing for us, having an outlet for the kids and the adults and get their mind off their daily life and daily schedule and keep the kids busy.”

It’s truly a family affair now as brothers Eugene, Kalani and Nori Tihada coach for Napili, and there’s about a dozen nieces, nephews and children who paddle on the 200-member club team.

“The Tihada legacy keeps on going. For my brothers and me, we kind of wanted to keep on the tradition of paddling,” Joey Tihada said. “For us, we just try to keep this going, what my dad started, but it’s just nice to see the family working and everybody else who has been in the club for a long, long time now we have really good parents who chip in and good adults that help, and overall as a head coach, I couldn’t ask for any more from them.”

Joey Tihada

The family and community bonds were strong enough to keep the club together despite the COVID-19 pandemic halting the summer regatta season the past two years.

“It’s been going good, especially for the kids. We lost some adults that moved back to the Mainland, but we regrouped,” Tihada said. “We have a lot of new kids, which is surprising, but considering that two-year layoff and stuff like that, it’s going pretty good, pretty smooth. Everyone is excited to be back in the water, getting their practices in.”

Though Lehia Tihada never got to meet his grandfather, he said that he hears many stories about who Dougie was and how much he meant to the family.

“I just wish he was here to see everyone and the kids progressing, to show what he created,” said Lehia Tihada.

To the young Napili paddler, the annual regatta means “just to represent, be humble and put it all out in the race.”

Mixed Novice B crews break from the starting line Saturday at Kahului Harbor.

He represented the Tihada name well as he helped the boys 14 crew of Malino Dapitan, Kukawai’olu Hamakua, Chase Imamoto, Keaka Keahi-Ng and Ezra Smith win with a time of 2:19.15.

“The coaches have been pushing us every practice to do our best,” Lehia Tihada said, adding that they are going to fine-tune their starts during the final weeks of the season. “Next race is in our home waters, so a little advantage. Just going to push hard all week through practice. That’s pretty much it.”

The decision was made Thursday to move the Dougie Tihada Memorial Regatta from Hanakao’o (Canoe) Beach Park to Kahului Harbor due to high tides and surf forecasted for West and South Maui shorelines.

All the Central Maui clubs stepped up to help host Napili set up tables and tents despite the quick change in venue, Joey Tihada said.

Still, Kahului’s rough conditions challenged paddlers of all ages with very strong winds on Saturday. Some of the wind gusts were so powerful that canoes would sometimes momentarily stall in the water even as paddlers stroked as hard as they could.

Napili Canoe Club’s boys 14 crew paddles to shore after its win Saturday.

Napili’s girls 14 crew of Daisy Austin, Hailey Kulukulualani-Tadena, Hana Losano, Anahera Tevaga, Amaya Tuala and Ka’iulani Verzosa powered through and won in 2:40.34.

“We did good. It was really rough out there. Made it harder to steer,” Kanani Tihada said after paddling on Napili’s second, unofficial girls 14 canoe. “In the beginning, we weren’t as good as we are now, we’ve improved so much.”

Among the younger Tihadas, Kanani said that having several family members participating for the club makes her feel more comfortable.

“It’s fun,” said Tihada, who will be steering the state-qualifying 12 mixed crew. “This is the only team I prefer, I don’t know, there’s too many reasons to say — I love it.”

Though shy, her passion for paddling for Napili was evident when disappointment showed on her face as she was reminded that there’s only one MCHCA regatta left this summer, the Naleieha Regatta.

Napili coach Eugene Tihada smiles after a win Saturday morning at Kahului Harbor.

Standing nearby, Auli’i Tihada, who paddled on the mixed 12 crew that finished in second place behind Hawaiian Canoe Club, said she looks forward to capturing first place at the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association state championships on Aug. 6 and “winning that medal together as a team” at Keehi Lagoon.

“I think we did a really good job at paddling today because we worked together as a team,” Auli’i Tihada said. “I would normally prefer paddling on the other side because we practice over there and I get kind of used to it.”

At the other end of Kahului Harbor, Hawaiian Canoe Club keiki coach Paul Luuwai was tallying his spreadsheet as Saturday’s regatta reached its midway point.

The club secured its 30th lane — the boys 14 crew — and was keeping tabs on what it would take to be in title contention at the state championships.

HCC, which won 23 of 49 events on Saturday and topped the team standings with 166 points, was starting to practice racing in their koa canoes for “honor and mystique,” Luuwai said.

Napili has secured about nine lanes, mostly in the keiki divisions, including the girls 16 crew of Kauikeolani Alo-Kaonohi Ah Loo, Chamille Balderas, Kealoha Baricuatro, Mauri’irani Niles-Cantero, Nayah-Iliana Smith and Noelle Storer.

From the inside lane, Napili came from behind to just edge Hawaiian by a stroke for an exciting win in 5:23.10. Hawaiian finished in 5:23.83.

“We may not have been so great in the beginning but the main thing is we all worked together and these past few weeks, we’ve just been working hard getting it up there and getting our names out there,” said Balderas, the steersman. “We’re working on it and we’re ready to go to the states. We’re absolutely ready to go and we’re excited.”

The Lahainaluna High School paddler has been with Napili for nearly 10 years. The club has been like family to her, which is why Saturday felt a little extra special.

Manny Portables, a longtime coach and member of Napili and Kahana canoe clubs, died last year at age 76.

“Everyone in this club is treated like family out here and it’s just amazing how we all love each other,” Balderas said. “That race was just, it’s just thrilling to be in the boat ready to race, especially when we’re here to gather all together and support each other, especially for uncle Manny since he passed away. It feels good to be out in the water with my family.”

* Dakota Grossman is at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

MCHCA DOUGIE TIHADA REGATTA

Saturday’s Results • At Kahului Harbor

Hawaiian 166, Kihei 102, Na Kai Ewalu 69, Napili 62, Lae’ula O Kai 57, Wailea 28, Lahaina 21, Kahana 0.

SEASON STANDINGS

Through 6 of 7 events

Hawaiian 1032, Kihei 574, Lae’ula O Kai 390, Na Kai Ewalu 353, Napili 334, Wailea 211, Lahaina 146, Kahana 20.

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