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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 20, 2001

Kai 'Opua will be tough to beat

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Yip, yip, yip.

The Kai 'Opua women hope to repeat this scene Sunday, following an "off" season of cardio training, weight training and open-ocean paddling.

Advertiser library photo • Sept. 24, 2000

Those meaningless words will become meaningful for the women of the Kai 'Opua Canoe Club during Sunday's 23rd annual Bank of Hawaii Na Wahine O Ke Kai.

"When we hear that, we know it's time to go hard," said Kai 'Opua paddler Cherisse Keli'i. "It's kind of like we're the sled dogs and that's our 'mush.' "

The yips certainly worked wonders last year, when Kai 'Opua became the first team from the Big Island to win the Moloka'i-to-O'ahu race. The club from Kailua, Kona is one of a handful of teams considered top contenders again this year.

Outrigger, Hui Nalu, Team Eyecatcher, Kailua and Lokahi are the other top Hawai'i entries. Approximately 70 crews are expected to enter the 41-mile race that travels from Hale O Lono Harbor, Moloka'i to Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Waikiki.

As Kai 'Opua steerswoman Jackie Taylor said: "We feel good about ourselves, but we also know there's a bunch of crews out there just as talented as we are, if not more so. We're not taking anything for granted."

Yip, yip, yip.

Beanie Heen, coach of the Kai 'Opua women, is the voice behind the yips.

"He's quiet, but he's intense," Keli'i said. "When you hear that 'yip, yip, yip,' you know it's him."

After more than 20 years as a member of the Kailua Canoe Club, Heen moved to the Big Island eight years ago for family reasons. Four years later, he started coaching and paddling for Kai 'Opua.

Last year, he agreed to coach a group of women from various areas of the Big Island during the World Sprint Championships at Australia. That group has stayed together under the Kai 'Opua banner ever since.

"My job was easy," Heen said. "They wanted to come together. They all had good paddling backgrounds, and they were all in real good shape."

But as Taylor put it: "We wouldn't be where we are without Beanie. He taught us so many little things that made us better."

Yip, yip, yip.

Imagine the smartest kid in class spending every spare minute in the library, or the strongest player on the team constantly in the weight room. That's more or less what Kai 'Opua has done since winning the Na Wahine O Ke Kai last year.

"We had to take an ergometer test about a week after, and we were all like, 'What? We just won the big race,' " Taylor said.

The object of the test was to determine how much physical training each paddler needed during the "off" season. "Some of us needed to work on cardio training, others needed weight training," Taylor said.

Most of all, they continued to paddle. Each member of the team was required to train individually on one-person canoes. Once the team season started in June, weekly positions in the canoe were determined by individual performances.

"That way, it's black and white," Heen reasoned. "The fastest ones get to race."

Yip, yip, yip.

By beating up on one another, Kai 'Opua has beat up the competition so far this year.

"It's pretty intense," Carrie Sue Hendricks said of the individual races. "We know we're all teammates, but for that one time-trial, you're going all out to beat the person next to you."

This year's 10 fastest who will race on Sunday are Taylor, Hendricks, Keli'i, Ronona Della Cioppa, Jessie Eames, Patty Eames, Nicki Enos, Beth Graves, Cheryl Villegas and Amy Young. All but Keli'i were on last year's winning crew.

Hendricks, Villegas and the Eameses are considered among the best individual paddlers in the state. "And they're all fighting for spots on one crew," Taylor noted. "That's pretty good competition."

Kai 'Opua is undefeated against Hawai'i teams this year, including victories in the state regatta championship off Kaua'i, the Dad Center Race off O'ahu, and the Queen Lili'uokalani Race off Kona.

Yip, yip, yip.

Even Heen will admit that Kai 'Opua was aided by kona-like conditions last year — muggy weather and a generally flat ocean.

"If (the waves) were big last year, I don't know how we would have done," he said.

So this year, he took the crew to secluded areas off the Big Island to practice in the rough ocean, including some treacherous sessions off Keokea.

"The water there is nuts," Taylor said. "One time, it was like 10 to 12 feet. It was more like survival."

What's more, the waves break straight onto cliffs, meaning there is no escape for miles.

"Once you get out there, you're committed," Hendricks said. "If something were to happen along the way, we'd be screwed. But I think that helps us focus and work hard at doing it right."

Now, Heen is confident in the crew's wave-riding ability. "We've done our homework, put it that way," he said.

Yip, yip, yip.

Patty Eames has paddled on various "all-star" crews in recent years. This Kai 'Opua crew, she insists, does not fall into that category.

"Not to take anything away from the other teams I've been on because those were like families, too," she said. "But this group is special."

It probably helps that she gets to paddle with her daughter, Jessie. At 52, Patty is the oldest paddler on the crew; at 20, Jessie is the youngest.

"It's made me grow up a lot faster, both as a person and a paddler," Jessie said.

Near the end of last season, Jessie started beating her mother during the time-trials for the first time.

"I'm so proud of her," Patty said. "If she wasn't paddling with me, I don't know if I'd still be doing it."

Yip, yip, yip.

Commitment to paddling takes on a whole new meaning for Keli'i, who is in her first year with Kai 'Opua.

She lives in Waimea, works in Hilo and paddles for a club in Kona. On a typical day, that means driving a little more than one hour to get to work, skipping lunch so she can leave work early, driving two hours from Hilo to Kona, practicing for two hours, then driving one hour from Kona back home to Waimea.

"I wanted to paddle on the highest level," she said. "I knew what it would take, but I wanted to be a part of it."

She's not the only one. Heen also lives in Waimea, as does Villegas. The Eameses live in Honaunau, about a 45-minute drive from Kona.

"Our loyalty is to this club," Keli'i said. "But I really feel like we represent the whole Big Island."