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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 21, 2006

They're undersized, and undefeated

'Alapa Hoe Canoe Club photo gallery

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Miyuki Tanaka, who attends Moanalua High along with seven of her eight crewmates, says having a common interest has bonded the team: "Paddling brought us together, and now we're stuck together."

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Where: Ke'ehi Lagoon

When: Tomorrow, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Who: More than 1,000 paddlers ranging in age divisions from 12-younger to 60-older


Where: Ke'ehi Lagoon

When: Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Who: More than 1,000 paddlers ranging in age divisions from 12-younger to 60-older

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Nicole Mejia

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A paddling clique in school has clicked into a winning combination in the Na 'Ohana O Na Hui Wa'a organization.

The girls 18-younger and 16-younger crews for 'Alapa Hoe Canoe Club are both undefeated heading into tomorrow's Hui Wa'a Championship Regatta at Ke'ehi Lagoon.

"They have the advantage of being good friends and going to the same school," 'Alapa Hoe youth coach Nicole Mejia said. "They really work well together, and I think that makes the difference."

Making it more impressive, the girls have been winning despite an undersized roster.

Twelve paddlers are needed to fill the seats in the canoes for the two crews. But at 'Alapa Hoe a small club based at Ke'ehi Lagoon there are only nine girls available for the 12 seats.

As a result, the girls practice together during the week, and then many of the 16-younger girls "double-up" and paddle for the 18-younger crew as well on race days.

"They aren't big girls, but they have exceptionally huge hearts," 'Alapa Hoe head coach Daniel Sanford said. "They have that chemistry when they paddle, and that makes up for their size."

Members of the 16-younger crew are Miyuki Tanaka, Cierra Faletoi, Jasmine Parish, Nalei Mendonca, Charlene Kahai and Tiare Lafaradez.

They won their seven races during the regular season by an average of 14.1 seconds, which is a significant margin for a 1/2-mile youth race.

"The 16s is a very strong crew," Mejia said. "We look at them as kind of like our foundation because they have a few more years with the club."

Faletoi, Kahai and Mendonca join Chelsey Takahashi, Brianna Abrigo and Gwen Larrow to form the 18-younger crew. That crew won its seven races by an average of 6.3 seconds.

"The competition is hard just this past weekend, we were two seconds away from being second (place)," Takahashi said. "So when we came out for practice this week, we kept saying 'two seconds, two seconds' because we know we have to work harder on opening the gap."

To compensate for the lack of paddlers, the 'Alapa Hoe girls focus on conditioning during their daily practices.

Kahai, one of the "double-up" paddlers, said: "You only have a short amount of time to catch your breath between races, so sometimes you feel like you don't have as much energy for the second race. That's why it's kind of hard being undefeated. We really have to work extra hard because we don't want to lose."

It helps that eight of the nine girls attend Moanalua High School (Parish attends Campbell High). When not paddling, they hang out at the beach and eat lunch together.

"We go everywhere and do everything together," Kahai said. "And I think that's what helps us the most. The more love we have for each other, the more the (canoe) feels it, and then we just glide."

Tanaka added: "Paddling brought us together and now we're stuck together."

As good as both crews are in the Hui Wa'a organization, they will be considered underdogs at the state championship regatta on Aug. 5.

For starters, 'Alapa Hoe does not own a koa canoe, and all clubs are required to use koa canoes in the state regatta (the club will borrow one on Aug. 5).

"That's a big disadvantage because it'll be like jumping into something brand new just for that one race," Mejia said.

What's more, no crew from 'Alapa Hoe has ever won a state regatta race in the 14-year history of the club.

In any case, the 'Alapa Hoe girls are proving that paddlers can be competitive while maintaining a small-club bond.

"Some people are saying these girls have a shot at states," Sanford said. "But the bottom line is they have fun. The winning part is great, but you can see that they're all close friends and that's what matters the most."

Reach Dayton Morinaga at dmorinaga@honoluluadvertiser.com.