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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, June 25, 2001

Smiles replace surf in girls-only contest

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

If waves could be powered by smiles, Kuhio Beach would have been cranking yesterday.

Makaha's Chantel Navarro made the finals in three divisions and won a new longboard and bodyboard.

Paul Teruya • Special to The Advertiser

Instead, 1-foot waves greeted competitors for the Rip Curl Girl/China Uemura Wahine Surfing Classic. Not that it seemed to matter to any of the wave-riders who entered the two-day event.

"I kept apologizing to the girls because there's no waves," said China Uemura. "But they kept telling me, 'no worry, no worry, we out here for have fun.' "

In the end, waves were about the only thing Uemura didn't give away.

"Only because that's out of my control," he said with a laugh.

For the fifth consecutive year, Uemura served as host for the contest. Competition was held in age divisions for shortboard surfing, longboard surfing and bodyboarding, with one requirement: females only.

"Even these days, women still don't have that many chances to compete," said Uemura, a former national longboarding champion. "I'm just trying to push women's surfing a little bit."

In truth, he has pushed it a lot. The inaugural contest in 1997 drew 94 entries. This year's contest drew 225, and, for the first time, received a title sponsorship from Rip Curl Girl, a female apparel company based in Australia and California.

"To tell you the truth, I never dreamed it would get this big," Uemura said. "But to see all this support, it makes me think that it can grow even bigger."

To keep them coming back, he rewards finalists in each division with armloads of prizes. In what has become an Uemura tradition, the first-place finishers get the biggest trophies, but sixth-place (out of six) receives the best prizes.

In true wahine fashion, many of the contestants compared prizes and traded with one another after the event.

"There was no waves, but this is still the most fun contest around," said 17-year-old Miku Uemura. "I get to surf with all my friends and it brings girls together from all over."

Visha Bungo placed fifth in the junior girls shortboard surfing division, and was one of 225 females competing over the weekend.

Paul Teruya • Special to The Advertiser

Uemura, who is not related to China but still calls him "uncle," was one of the standouts. She won the girls bodyboard and girls shortboard divisions. Her younger sister, Mio, won the girls longboard division.

Still, their family did not walk away with the most prizes. That honor went to the Navarro family of Makaha.

Chantel Navarro, a junior-to-be at Wai'anae High, won a new bodyboard and a new longboard. Her younger sister, Chelsy, received a new shortboard for her outstanding grades as a fifth grader at Makaha Elementary.

All told, they went home with more than $1,000 in prizes, and the first brand-new boards of their lives.

"We came here just to have fun, make it like a girl's day," said their father, Howard Navarro. "But this is a huge gift. We really feel blessed."

Marissa Eveland, 13, and Ashley Hunter, 9, also received new longboards for impressive school work.

"I didn't even know my mom sent in my grades," said Eveland, who just completed seventh grade at Mililani Middle School. "The reason why I improved my grades was because I got busted by her."

Hunter's new 10-foot board was nearly three times her height, leaving her father, Steve, with a big smile.

"My heart was beating so fast when they called me," said Ashley, who will be a fifth-grader at Hau'ula Elementary. "I'll probably let my dad use it for now because he's big enough."

As Steve Hunter put it: "Thanks to China, this has become the premier contest for girls in Hawai'i. They really are treated special."