Luna paddling team benefits from veteran coaching staff
LAHAINA – The cultural value of the Hawaiian canoe continues to grow as the Hawaii High School Athletic Association maintains the sport of outrigger canoe paddling all across the 50th state. Here on the Valley Isle, the Maui Interscholastic League has grown the sport as well with competitive seasons every winter since the sanctioning of canoe paddling as an official sport in 2001.
Lahainaluna High School won the state championship in that inaugural year, as the Lunas’ mixed crew blazed to a gold medal to lead the team to the coveted title.
Now, 15 years later, Joey Tihada remains at the helm of the Luna paddling program, and the veteran community mentor has enlisted an experienced and knowledgeable staff of coaches to guide the student athletes in their charge.
Steven “da Bear” Keahi brings a lifetime of technical training expertise to the program, while Manny Portables also has spent a good portion of his daily life down at Canoe Beach. They continue to pay forward their accumulated knowledge of the canoe and of the ocean to the team.
Courtney Asato, another Luna coach who has spent a lifetime in and around the outrigger canoe, will handle much of the administrative duties for Coach Joey, and Colin Delos Reyes, a teacher at Lahainaluna, will serve as the team’s academic advisor.
According to Tihada, the Luna coaching staff greeted a large contingent – upwards of 50 – of experienced, but young, student athletes to the initial practices that began about a month ago.
“Most of these kids come from club programs in the summer and have been paddling for many years,” said Coach Joey. “Although they are mostly freshmen, they have a lot of experience in the sport.”
Leading the way for the Lunas will be four-year paddlers and team captains Iwalouise Bryan, Ola Medeiros, Lina Nolan Criste and Ana Lukela Kobatake, and junior Victoria Decoite Wilsey. The Luna boys will be led by senior team captains and four-year paddlers Justice Tihada, Braddah Hamakua and Enele Scanlan, and junior Dalton Lins.
“With the experience that most of these kids have from club paddling, we could be better than we have been – there is a lot of potential,” said Coach Joey last week. “We have plenty of freshmen that have paddled before, and Bear has been working with them every day at practice.”
The MIL paddling season began on Dec. 17 and will run through Jan. 28, with the championship meet at Kahului Harbor. The HHSAA state championships will be held on Feb. 4 at Keehi Lagoon in Honolulu.
“We hope to have one or two crews qualify for states – our mixed crew was second in the MIL last year and made it to the semifinals at state. They should do well again this year, and the girls crew has potential,” he said.
As always, Napili Canoe Club has been instrumental in the success of Lahainaluna paddling. “Napili continues to help us out with the equipment, including the canoes, paddles and the use of the hale here at the beach. With this support and the number of young paddlers that have come out for the team, the future looks very bright for the program,” concluded Coach Joey.