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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Ala Wai, Windward teams suffer

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Members of the Hui Lanakila Canoe Club, which normally trains in the Ala Wai Canal, prepare canoes for practice at Maunalua Bay. Hui Lanakila is one of four Ala Wai-based clubs that have relocated to Maunalua Bay because of pollution in the canal.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Raven Aipa, a Hui Lanakila paddling coach and crew member, says safety was the primary factor in the team's decision to relocate from the polluted waters of the Ala Wai Canal to Maunalua Bay.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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With the summer regatta season just around the corner, canoe clubs aren't waiting to see if or when the Ala Wai Canal will be safe enough to paddle in again.

At least eight clubs have moved to new practice sites because of contaminated water in or near the Ala Wai, and several other clubs are in limbo.

In all, about 1,000 paddlers have lost practice time in the Ala Wai in recent weeks and some clubs fear participation numbers also might take a hit.

"It's sad to say, but I don't ever want to go back there," said Raven Aipa, a paddler and coach for Hui Lanakila Canoe Club, which moved to Maunalua Bay in Hawai'i Kai. "As a paddler, I'd much rather be out here (at Maunalua Bay). And as a parent, I don't think I would ever feel safe letting my kids paddle on the Ala Wai."

Two weeks ago, 48 million gallons of untreated sewage was diverted into the Ala Wai because of a broken sewer main in Waikiki. Contamination warning signs posted by the state remain.

The summer regatta season begins May 28, and most of the state's clubs started practicing in late March. Some of the clubs based at or near the Ala Wai have not even started yet.

"We don't know if it's going to be a week, a month, two months, the whole season, or what," said Kea Pa'iaina, head coach of Healani Canoe Club. "But for the safety of the paddlers, we have to move."

Healani, Hui Lanakila, Outrigger and Waikiki Beach Boys packed up their paddles and canoes and moved to Maunalua Bay this week. (Hui Nalu Canoe Club holds the permit for Maunalua Bay, and it was willing to accommodate the other clubs.)

Other clubs on the move were Kamehameha, Koa Kai and Waikiki Surf Club, which all went to Ke'ehi Lagoon, and Lokahi, which moved to Kaimana Beach.

"We probably lost about a month (of practice time)," said Adam Treinen, a paddler and coach for Hui Lanakila. "But what can we do? It's not worth it to go out there right now."

Sally Moses, the coach of youth paddlers for Hui Lanakila, said she does not want to resume practicing on the Ala Wai until there is "clear, scientific evidence" proving its safety.

"I'm not saying I don't trust the state's results, but I think in a case like this, you need a second opinion," she said. "We've got parents looking to us to make the right decisions, and I would hate for anything to happen to any of the children knowing already that it's unsafe to be there."

Added Lokahi head coach Michael Cushnie: "It needs to be clearly communicated that the Ala Wai is a clean, safe place to paddle. Until you get that, nobody's going to want to go back."

On Monday, University of Hawai'i scientists began taking samples at 12 sites in and around the Ala Wai Boat Harbor and the Ala Wai Canal to determine how much of the dangerous vibrio bacteria is in the water. Test results will be shared with the state Health Department as soon as they are available.

Waikiki Surf Club coach Luana Froiseth said the relocation already has affected her club's participation numbers.

"We had 60 kids sign up for this year, but only 20 showed up (on Monday)," she said. "It's hard for everybody when you make a change like this."

Coaches from other Ala Wai-based clubs said they expected to lose paddlers because of the sewage spill and subsequent relocation.

"Most of our kids come from town, so now they don't have the transportation to get out (to Maunalua Bay)," Healani's Pa'iaina said.

Sean Monahan, coach of the Waikiki Beach Boys, added: "We can't take all our practice boats up there (to Maunalua Bay), so we've had to cut practice times. And there's definitely going to be some paddlers who can't make the practices they normally could in town. This is going to have a big impact."

Cushnie said he's tried to keep his club in tune by doing running and technique work on land.

"It's affected a lot of things, from our practice schedules to transportation for the kids," he said.

Several clubs from Windward O'ahu also have canceled practices because of dirty ocean water caused by heavy rain and runoff in late March and early April.

Among the teams affected are Kailua, Hawaiian Outrigger, Kane'ohe, Lanikai, Windward Kai and Waimanalo.

"We wanted to try and get back in the water this week, but a lot of the paddlers still didn't want to come out," said Rebel Kapoi, club representative for Windward Kai Canoe Club. "This happened at a really bad time because it's the start of the season."

From a competitive standpoint, the lost practice times could result in slower race times once the regatta season starts.

"The clubs that have been able to practice all this time definitely have an advantage," Monahan said. "You can't make up all those days you lost."

The Windward clubs are apparently going to wait for the ocean to clear rather than move.

Lanikai, which is one of the biggest clubs in the state with more than 300 paddlers, expects to start practices this week.

"We were going to start last week, so we lost that; but the clubs in town are worse," Lanikai head coach Kalani Irvine said. "At least we feel a little safer about going back in the water on our side."

When the "other side" will be safe again is anyone's guess. But at least one club is eagerly waiting for the Ala Wai to reopen.

"As bad as it is right now, that's still our home," Waikiki Surf Club's Froiseth said. "And like anybody who loses their home, you want to go back there and clean everything up and make it right again."

Reach Dayton Morinaga at dmorinaga@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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