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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 8, 2002

Regatta winners Koa Kai party on

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

There wasn't a more fitting way to end yesterday's Na 'Ohana O Na Hui Wa'a canoe regatta than with a full-on party — Koa Kai style.

Na Keiki O Ka Mo'i's girls 15-younger crew paddled to victory during the Koa Kai Regatta at Ke'ehi Lagoon. The team finished the 1-mile race in 4:32.74.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Affectionately known as the "Party Club," Koa Kai does more than just laugh the loudest, dance the best and drink the most.

They're undefeated this season in the A division for smaller canoe clubs.

"We party," said Tambry R. Young, women's coach and longtime paddler, "but people respect us."

Koa Koa won its own regatta with 32 points, edging out Windward Kai (28) and Kalihi Kai (22) at Ke'ehi Lagoon.

Lokahi edged out Kane'ohe for the AA division title, with a season-high 65 points in 36 events for its third regatta win of the season. Kane'ohe finished second with 59 points, Na Keiki O Ka Mo'i third with 51 points.

Koa Kai never needs an excuse for partying; crews are known for hanging out after practice at Magic Island, sitting on the wall and drinking beer before heading to Ocean's or Mai Tai.

They may have fun, but they take practices — and competitions — seriously. Crews practice three times a week, often starting at 5:30 p.m. and ending well after the sun goes down. They do interval training, mixing sprints with long runs and practicing in different wind and wave conditions.

"We want to do well, we want to compete," Young said. "We work hard, but we party hard."

And the club's fun-first philosophy is obvious: Koa Kai's two tents were dressed up with ti leaves, flowers and kites, and crew members wore matching Aloha shirts and shorts.

"We stress fun first," said Joe Kim, the club's head coach and longtime member. "Winning is good, but let's have fun doing it."

Teri Wright of Kane'ohe's 16-younger girls crew made her way through a victory tunnel after the club won the 1-mile event in 4:37.69. Kane'ohe finished second in the AA division behind Lokahi.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Koa Kai has infused its brand of fun into regattas, from staging a dance competition and volleyball tournament after yesterday's regatta to setting up the "race for the case" competition between clubs. (In the men's and women's open four and the mixed six divisions, the crew that wins while paddling in Aloha shirts gets a case of Heineken beer for men, Zima for women.)

"That was our incentive (to win)," said Bev Kim, Joe's wife and member of Koa Kai's women's open four crew that won its race — and a case of Zima.

"We train as hard as we can and we finish where we're supposed to finish," Joe Kim said. "But we don't stress out about winning."

His theory on how canoe clubs may have started sums up his belief: "It was probably a bunch of drunk guys challenging other drunk guys," he said, laughing. "That's how it probably got started."

With strong men's and novice crews, Koa Kai has given Hui Wa'a powerhouses Lokahi and Kane'ohe competition in recent years. But Koa Kai, in the smaller A division, doesn't worry about beating the larger clubs. They just focus on doing their best and celebrating after.

"They're awesome," said Kane'ohe head coach Clint Anderson about Koa Kai. "They have fun. They make something more out of the regatta, they make it happen. It's not just paddling."

The race for first place in the larger AA division came down to the last two races — women's masters and men's masters. All Lokahi had to do was beat Kane'ohe in the women's masters event for the victory. Lokahi finished third and Kane'ohe fourth in the 1-mile race.

Lokahi won the men's masters, nine seconds ahead of Kane'ohe.

"We had a strong finish, I'm happy about that," said Lokahi head coach Robert Viernes, who paddled in the event. "It was so close, one little mistake and you're out."

Lokahi's senior women extended their win streak to 45 Hui Wa'a races, winning the 1 1/2 mile race in 13 minutes, 20.81 seconds — 38 seconds faster than second-place Waikiki Yacht Club.

What hurt Kane'ohe was the lack of wins by its usually dominant youth crews. The club won only four of the 14 youth events.

"Our kids didn't do as well as they could've," Anderson said. "If our kids do as well as expected, and the adults do their part, we're going to be OK."

But the day belonged to Koa Kai, the club that prides itself on being different, relaxed, fun.

"Just the fact that win or lose, everyone treats it like a win day," said Sekai "Bo" Samuela, in an unbuttoned Primo shirt and lauhala hat, who started paddling for the club two years ago and recruited more than a dozen of his volleyball friends to join.

The next Hui Wa'a regatta is the Waikiki Beach Boys Regatta Sunday at Waikiki Beach.

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• OHCRA: The O'ahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association's next race is the John D. Kaupiko Regatta Sunday at Ke'ehi Lagoon.