West Maui crews win gold medals at HCRA state championships
LAHAINA — Flanked by two days of strong winds, racers were lucky to enjoy perfect conditions at Hanakao’o Beach Park for the 2011 Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association State Championships.
“Canoe Beach” was a hive of activity from dusk until dawn, with paddlers as far as the eye could see and majestic koa canoes set up along the shoreline. Food and retail booths enjoyed a roaring trade in sales.
Maui’s nine canoe clubs put in a lot of hard work preparing to welcome paddlers from across the state and, with 2,472 individual paddlers set to compete, West Maui was alive with the buzz and energy of the 61st annual state races.
The day began with an opening ceremony and an exhibition race for cancer survivors — a quarter-mile course that was paddled in koa canoes.
West Side hales were represented in both the AA and A division; Napili in AA (teams competing with 7-12 crews) with 12 crews, and Kahana and Lahaina in A (six crews or less) with six and three crews, respectively.
It wasn’t long before Napili’s keiki impressed the watching crowds. The club in black and yellow saw their Girls 12 crew come in fifth, their Boys 12 in seventh, and the Mixed 12s (Andilyn Alavazo, Ana Lukela Kobatake, Lina Nolan-Criste, Matini Perlas-Kaai, Kawika Sanchez and Kila Vierra) finish in first place.
Napili’s Girls 13s (Kehau-Lani Brown, Diamond Freitas, Carly Jaramillo, Hailani Keahi-Ng, Christy Mae Ruidas and Courtney Ruidas) also beat 13 other crews to finish first in a time of 2:07.58.
Cousins Christy Mae and Courtney Ruidas were delighted with their win and dedicated it to their coaches and club.
Christy said, “It felt really good. We worked really hard with our crew all season. We’re a team, and we did this for our coaches — Uncle Eugene, Uncle Nori, Uncle Junior and all the other coaches who help us. We did it for Napili and also for Hawaiian Canoe Club, who let us use their koa.”
Courtney added, “We practiced almost every single day. We did lots of running and conditioning. Sometimes the running was tough, but it was worth it! We worked so hard on all our strengths and weaknesses, and we always hang out together. We’re like one big family.”
NCC’s Boys 13 came in fourth in their race, and Napili’s Girls 14 also took the fourth spot and earned 11 points for their club.
NCC’s Boys 14 finished seventh in a time of 1:54:21, and the Men’s Novice B crew came in ninth. Napili’s Girls 15 crew took third and bronze medals in a time of 4:43.35, and the Boys 15 came in 12th. Event 17 saw the Boys 18 finish tenth, and Napili’s Senior Men came in 12th.
Nori Tihada, who coaches NCC’s keiki crews from manini to age 14, paid tribute to the club’s hard work this season.
“We’re proud to see so many keiki crews at states, and it’s really a reflection of what we are all about. Our keiki do really well, but the backing they have is key. It starts with the board, the coaches and the rest of the club members — without them we wouldn’t have a club. We have so many people who put in a lot of their own time, It’s an effort that allows our paddlers to go out there and have fun. If one crew wins, we all win. That’s what makes Napili, Napili.
“Our mentality is just to tell our kids to go out there and be the best that they can be, but when you get out on the water, you know they want to paddle for first. Every single crew did really well today. We are all proud of our kids, and we know they are out there paddling with their hearts. With us, it’s a ‘we thing’ not a ‘me thing.’
He added, “We are also very fortunate to use Hawaiian’s koa. Every year they share with us; they have two real good boats, and for the biggest club on the island to trust us with them is really special and touching. That’s a big factor for us each year — a huge part of states.”
In the A Division, Kahana’s Freshmen Men finished 11th with a time of 7:40.85. The Junior Women came in fourth, earning 11 points for their club in a time of 8:26.11.
KCC’s Senior Women finished in seventh, the Men’s 60 crew in tenth with a time of 4:36.77, the Men’s 50s in eighth in a time of 4:14.85, and the Women’s Open Four registered 12th in event 34.
Lahaina Canoe Club’s Mixed Novice Bs notched five points as they finished tenth in a time of 2:11.37, and their Men’s Novice A crew came in sixth in their one-mile sprint.
In the day’s final event, LCC’s Men’s 40 crew (Geoff Bogar, Bear Keahi, Alan Kuiper, Spud Lenhardt, Adam Quinn and Mark Shimer) won gold and the title of state champions.
Adam Quinn, the crew’s stroker, said, “It’s a huge relief! It is a spectacular feeling to win at our home beach and to beat Livestrong/Keauhou. It says an awful lot that Hawaiian were willing to loan us their prized koa, as they wanted us to have the best shot at winning. The expectation felt like a weight on our shoulders and it feels awfully good to get it off.
“LCC has turned the corner. Three years ago, we set out to get the club back on track, and it feels like a lot of it has come to fruition. We’ve taken crews to states, won medals, we have a new canoe coming and we have a new hale. Now we hope the club can continue on its voyage of success.“
Lenhardt, seat two, remarked, “It’s surreal. We knew we had the crew, the lane and the canoe, but I still couldn’t believe it when I looked across and realized we’d come first. After paddling for 13 years and competing seven times, winning my first gold at states was like an out of body experience. We have an awesome crew; we blended really well, we never had any bad moments, and if you have Bear Keahi as your steersman, you can’t go wrong!“
A successful day for Maui’s clubs saw Hawaiian clinching their ninth state title in 11 years with 366 points in the AAAA Division (21-40 events) and Na Kai Ewalu winning the A Division with 60 points.
Lae ‘Ula O Kai finished second in the AAA Division (13-20 events) with 127 points, with Kihei in fourth on 110. Napili came in third in the AA Division with 107 points, and Wailea finished in seventh with 82. Kahana came in seventh in the A bracket with 38 points, Lahaina ended the regatta in 12th with 29 points, and Hana registered a point to finish 29th.
Imua to all of Maui’s paddlers who competed this season and made it such a fun and exciting year. And, as always, a huge imua to our West Side clubs: Kahana, Lahaina and Napili!!