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Long layoff, same strategy for Hawaiian­

Keiki crews will again be key for HCC’s title hopes in first state regatta since 2019

Hawaiian Canoe Club (foreground) wins the girls 12A race during the Dougie Tihada Regatta on July 16 at Kahului Harbor. HCC has crews set to compete in 42 of 44 races at the HCRA state championship regatta Saturday at Keehi Lagoon in Honolulu. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAHULUI — Finn McAfee and Lei Ana Bland are both recent Seabury Hall graduates set to leave for college soon on the Mainland, but they have some outrigger canoe paddling to do first.

Both are members of key crews for Hawaiian Canoe Club in the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association state championship regatta that takes place on Saturday at Keehi Lagoon on Oahu.

It will be the first time since 2019 that the state championship regatta has been held, due to the pandemic.

“It’s really cool, it’s good to get back in the water and just have another form of competition,” said McAfee, who is headed to the University of Colorado in Boulder. “With high school, it’s always fun, but you always want more, especially when it’s done because you have almost a full year — you have six months, really, of a break.

“It gets frustrating, especially when this is what you love to do.”

McAfee

McAfee has been paddling since he was 13 years old and has twice before qualified for the state regatta, which takes a top-two season finish in their Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association division.

McAfee will be part of Hawaiian’s boys 18 crew that HCC keiki coach and statistician Paul Luuwai feels will be key to the club’s hopes for a 16th state title in the AAAA Division since 1999.

“We’re all proud and we’re all happy, we’ve worked really hard, so this feels really rewarding, being able to put in all the work and see some results from it,” McAfee said.

Bland is headed to Cal State Channel Island, where she will study environmental science and resource management of coastal land. First, though, she will be helping the HCC 18 girls and 18 mixed crews on Saturday.

“I’m just stoked that we’re even having one,” Bland said of the state regatta. “Because, I mean, it’s not like COVID went away — it’s still around, but somehow we’re managing to pull through and make it happen, which is awesome. And I think we’re just super stoked to be back in a canoe competitively.”

Bland

Luuwai said HCC probably needs a 120-point cushion after the keiki division, going into the adult races on the slate as they battle with Lanikai for the overall state crown.

Luuwai draws a spreadsheet with his predictions of the race-by-race points chase between Hawaiian and Lanikai — he has the outcome coming down to the final race of the day.

After buying seven lanes at the recent lane draw — a process that allows third-place crews from the MCHCA to purchase a lane that is not being claimed by another association in a division — Hawaiian will fill 42 of the 44 races. Lanikai has entered 39 crews.

HCC has not won the state title since 2017.

“We totally have a shot,” Luuwai said.

Canoes line the beach at Hanakao‘o during the Keiki O Maui Regatta on June 11. When the state regatta rolls around, the MCHCA brethren come together as one island, MCHCA president Keone Ball says. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

He is over the moon to be back with some sense of normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the last two summer regatta seasons.

“It’s surreal, you know, going through the pandemic was just junk,” Luuwai said. “I’m just stoked that we can go back and play our sport, honor the traditions that came before us, and represent our families, our club, and our ancestors.

“You know, do what we do, get out there and rock the ship. Roll up our sleeves and go fight with Lanikai — it’s going to be a slugfest.”

MCHCA president Keone Ball said that the HCRA regatta is back to near capacity in the 14-lane, 44-race schedule. Ball said there will be 584 total crews — out of a maximum of 616 — and 58 clubs represented at the event.

“It sounds like everybody is kind of showing up,” Ball said. “So, it’s going to be awesome.”

Hawaiian Canoe Club leads Kihei and Kahana into the turn in the men’s 65 race during the Naleieha Regatta on July 23 at Hanakao‘o. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Ball said that when the state regatta rolls around, the MCHCA brethren come together as one island. He said the Valley Isle will be well represented over all of the club divisions — A (six or fewer crews), AA (7-12) and AAA (13-20), and Hawaiian in AAAA (21 or more).

“It’ll be super interesting in the different divisions because Maui is representing big-time in those and we have over the past years — Hawaiian has won, Kihei has won, Na Kai (Ewalu) has won, Wailea has won their division before,” Ball said.

Kihei Canoe Club will compete in the AAA Division; Na Kai Ewalu, Napili and Lae’ula O Kai are in the AA Division; and Wailea and Lahaina are in the A Division.

“It is great to be back at almost normal,” Ball said. “Super proud of all the Maui clubs that are going to go represent us as a force to be reckoned with as usual, in all the divisions. I wish them all luck and they are going to make Maui proud.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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