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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, May 9, 2004

Napoleon-Pa'iaina team rallies to win Kaua'i World Challenge

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Aaron Napoleon and Kea Pa'iaina overcame a seemingly impossible challenge to win the Steinlager/Pahio Resorts Kaua'i World Challenge yesterday.

Napoleon and Pa'iaina won the popular men's one-person canoe division by completing the 34-mile course in 4 hours, 55 minutes, 28 seconds.

More than 100 teams entered the race, which offered $20,000 in prize money — the largest purse for a paddling race in Hawai'i.

"It's not so much about the money as it is the bragging rights," said Napoleon, who split $2,000 with Pa'iaina. "This is one we're going to be talking about for a long time."

Pa'iaina especially. He passed six other teams and erased a 10-minute deficit in the final leg of the race while paddling straight into stiff winds.

"Some of the guys were so far ahead, I thought there was no way I could catch them," Pa'iaina said. "So I just went straight up the middle hoping I could pass one or two guys. When I made it to the beach and they told me I won, I couldn't believe it."

The course was divided into four separate legs, with each paddler having to complete two legs. The first leg went from Wailua Beach to Hanama'ulu Beach; the second went from Hanama'ulu to Kalapaki Beach; the third went from Kalapaki to Po'ipu Beach; the fourth went from Po'ipu to Salt Pond.

Napoleon said he "blew a gasket" during the third leg, and dropped back to seventh place.

"After that leg, I was feeling so bad because I figured I blew it," Napoleon said. "When I saw Kea coming in first, I was pretty freaked out. But at the same time, I know he's a bull going upwind, so if anybody could have done it, it's Kea."

The team of Mike Judd and Tapa Worthington placed second by just three seconds. Pa'iaina passed Worthington in the final 300 yards of the course.

"The wind was so strong, I couldn't look up to see a lot of the other guys," Pa'iaina said. "When I passed (Worthington) I wasn't even sure if he was in the lead."

Australians Greg Long and Shane McGrath were third at 4:59:24, and Karel Tresnak Jr. and Maui Kjeldsen — winners of last week's Kaiwi Channel Relay — were fourth at 5:00:26

Napoleon also won the Kaua'i World Challenge last year, but with Kai Bartlett. Bartlett is recovering from a hernia operation, but his Kai Wa'a canoe manufacturing company sponsored Napoleon and Pa'iaina and provided the winning canoe named Polaris.

The men's surfski division was not nearly as dramatic, as South African brothers Herman and Oscar Chalupsky dominated.

They completed the course in 4:12:22, beating the second-place team of Dean Gardiner and David Kissane by nearly 12 minutes.

The Australian team of Lisa Curry-Kenny and Robyn Saultry won the women's one-person canoe division in 5:52:01. The Neighbor Island team of Lauren Spalding (Maui) and Cherisse Keli'i (Big Island) was second in 5:56:26.

Many of the same paddlers are expected to race in the Kona Brewing Company Moloka'i World Championships next Sunday. That event is a 32-mile solo race from Moloka'i to East O'ahu.

Reach Dayton Morinaga at dmorinaga@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-8101.