Olympic qualifier in different boat
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i's newest Olympic athlete is planning to "relax" this weekend by paddling in a 32-mile race across the Kaiwi Channel.
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Maui's Lauren Spalding, who has qualified for the Olympics in kayaking, will be paddling a canoe Sunday.
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On Sunday, she will defend her title in the women's canoe division of the Kona Brewing Co. Moloka'i World Championships.
"I grew up canoe paddling, so my body is used to it," Spalding said. "This whole year has been about training for (kayaking), so I thought it would be nice to mix it up. I'm home to relax for a few weeks and canoe paddling is something that I love to do, so why not?"
Approximately 100 paddlers from around the world are expected to compete Sunday on either surfskis or canoes. The Moloka'i race is considered the world championship of long-distance solo ocean paddling.
Spalding, 24, is the two-time defending champion in the women's one-person canoe division, and holds the women's course record of 4 hours, 28 minutes, 31 seconds.
She said her background in canoe paddling played a significant role in her qualifying for the Olympics.
"Some people say it's crazy that I picked up the sport (of kayaking) so fast," she said. "But I've been paddling for a long time. I grew up paddling on surfskis and canoes, so I have that feel for the water."
But there are differences.
Spalding learned to paddle in the rough ocean around Maui. Olympic kayaking is about sprinting along flat waters.
What: 32-mile paddling race across the Kaiwi Channel for one-person canoes, one-person surfskis, and two-person canoes Where: Start at Kaluako'i Beach, Moloka'i; finish at Koko Marina, O'ahu When: Sunday, 8 a.m. start; first finishers expected around 11:30 a.m.
Kona Brewing Co. Moloka'i World Championships
What: 32-mile paddling race across the Kaiwi Channel for one-person canoes, one-person surfskis, and two-person canoes
Where: Start at Kaluako'i Beach, Moloka'i; finish at Koko Marina, O'ahu
When: Sunday, 8 a.m. start; first finishers expected around 11:30 a.m.
"You just have to be aggressive the whole way there's no room for mistakes," Spalding said. "That's why the training is so intense."
It has been especially intense for Spalding because she has been on an accelerated learning curve.
She started training on a flat-water kayak in September of 2002. Less than a year later, she qualified to represent the United States at the World Championships.
"What she's doing is not totally unprecedented, but it's still impressive," said Chris Ball, president of the Hawai'i Canoe & Kayak Team. "She had such a strong background in paddling, it was only a matter of gaining the experience of doing sprint races. Because she's still new to the sport, she's getting better with every race."
Spalding has spent most of this year at the Olympic Training Center in San Diego, Calif. She said a typical training day consists of five hours of paddling, one weightlifting session, and a running session.
"It's what you have to do if you want to be an Olympic athlete," she said. "I don't look at it as being hard. I look at it as something I have to do."
At the Athens Olympics, Spalding will be part of an all-Hawai'i team, paddling with Kailua's Kathy Colin in the K-2 race. Colin, who also competed in the 2000 Olympics, will also paddle with Spalding and two other women in the K-4 race.
"When you think about it, having two paddlers from Hawai'i in the same boat at the Olympics is pretty cool," Spalding said. "I think it shows that there's so much potential for others from the state to make it."
Much of that potential will be on display during Sunday's race.
"I've been away from a canoe for so long, I'm not even sure how I'll do," Spalding said. "There are so many good paddlers here. I just want to get back in it and have fun."
Reach Dayton Morinaga at email@example.com or 535-8101.