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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, July 31, 2003

Big Island canoe club top contender

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Nue Youderian, a member of last year's Kai Opua Canoe Club's sophomore men's team, made his way through a victory tunnel at the 2002 HCRA State Regatta.

Avertiser library photo • August 3, 2002

Mike Atwood remembers a time when paddlers from Kailua, Kona, would arrive in Honolulu for a regatta and "just get overwhelmed by the whole scene."

Not any more.

Atwood and the Kai 'Opua Canoe Club are hoping to overwhelm the competition at Saturday's Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association State Championship Regatta at Ke'ehi Lagoon.

"This is something we've been building for a few years," said Atwood, Kai 'Opua's head coach. "We have a better idea of what it takes to win and we want to compete with the big clubs."

No club from the Big Island has ever won the state regatta championship. Kai 'Opua, a club based at Kona Pier, is the island's biggest and best hope this year.


Who: More than 3,000 paddlers representing 52 clubs

What: Sprint races in Hawaiian koa outrigger canoes for various age divisions

When: Saturday, 8:30 a.m. start; finish around 6 p.m.

Where: Ke'ehi Lagoon
Kai 'Opua will bring 34 crews (out of a maximum 37) to Saturday's regatta. It is the largest contingent ever assembled by a Big Island club.

"We feel like we have a chance (at winning)," Atwood said. "As you get better and more competitive, that winning feeling spreads through the club."

Two-time defending champion Hawaiian Canoe Club of Maui remains the odds-on favorite to win the AAA Division (for the biggest clubs in the state). Hawaiian will have a record 36 crews racing on Saturday, and is the only club with more entries than Kai 'Opua.

"It'll take a combination of us paddling as well as we can, and not making mistakes," Atwood said. "And we could also use some help from the other teams to take points from Hawaiian."

Kai 'Opua placed second at last year's state championship regatta, and Atwood said Hawaiian's winning formula was used as a model for his club.

"We saw how strong their kids were and how valuable they were to the overall club," Atwood said. "After that, we shifted a lot of our focus to our kids."

Many of the successful Kai 'Opua adult paddlers were asked to coach the youths. The added attention yielded winning results.

On Saturday, Kai 'Opua will field a crew in all 13 of the youth races. Hawaiian is the only other club in the state that will enter every youth race (crews qualify for the state championship regatta based on regular-season performance on their respective islands).

"I think it was a matter of working with the kids on a stronger basis," said Kai 'Opua president Bo Campos. "Last year, we were known for our (open) men and women. This year, we have the kids, too."

But along with the building of the club came a need for money. Campos said the club held various fundraisers throughout the year to help the youth paddlers make the trip to O'ahu this week.

On Saturday morning, all 90 of the Kai 'Opua youth paddlers will be on the same flight to Honolulu. They will then board two buses to make the short trip to Ke'ehi Lagoon.

Even without an overnight hotel stay (the youths will fly back to Kona on Saturday night), the cost for the trip will be around $10,000, according to Campos.

"It's a lot of money, but it's worth it," Campos said. "There's no way we could leave the kids home after all the work they put in."

Kai 'Opua is no stranger to paddling success. The Kai 'Opua women are the three-time defending Na Wahine O Ke Kai champions.

Some of those women have since left the club, but Kai 'Opua still finished with the top-seeded women's program on the Big Island during the regular season.

"Our women started this whole thing by showing us that it can be done," Campos said. "Now we want to go out and compete for the state championship."

New clubs: Four clubs will be entering the state championship regatta for the first time this year: Ka Mamalahoe, Kukui O Moloka'i, New Hope and North Shore. All four clubs will compete in the A Division for small clubs.

AAA Division (18 or more crews): Hawaiian (36); Kai 'Opua (34); Kailua (31); Kihei (31); Lanikai (29); Outrigger (27); Hui Lanakila (23); Hui Nalu (22).

AA Division (9 to 17): Hanalei (17); Kawaihae (17); Kane'ohe (17); Lokahi (17); Puna (14); Kahana (12); Lae'ula O Kai (9).

A Division (8 or fewer): 'Anuenue (8); Healani (8); Keahiakahoe (8); Koa Kai (8); Wa'akapaemua (8); Waikiki Surf (8); Wailea (8); Kai E Hitu (7); Keaukaha (7); Manu O Ke Kai (7); Na Keiki O Ka Mo'i (7); Kaiola (6); Lahaina (6); Mana'e (6); Napili (6); Niumalu (6); Waikiki Beach Boys (6); Kamehameha-Hilo (5); Leeward Kai (5); Moloka'i (5); Hawaiian Outrigger (4); Ka Mamalahoe (4); Keauhou O Kona (4); Pu'uwai (4); Keoua (3); North Shore (3); Waikiki Yacht Club (3); Hana (2); Kamehameha-O'ahu (2); Waimanalo (2); Windward Kai (2); Alapa Hoe (1); I Mua (1); Kailana (1); Kukui O Moloka'i (1); Na Wa'a Hanakahi (1); New Hope (1).