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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Canoe club fights to stay afloat

Kamehameha Canoe Club photo gallery

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Kamehameha Canoe Club members practice at Ke'ehi Lagoon since moving from Ala Wai Canal. But some members have not been able to commute to Ke'ehi; others just say that, overall, the "water is gross." Among those perservering, from front to back: Ashley Montibon, Mayumi King, Chelsea Hieda and Debbie Lee.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Kamehameha Canoe Club members practice at Ke'ehi Lagoon since moving from Ala Wai Canal. But some members have not been able to commute to Ke'ehi; others just say that, overall, the "water is gross." Among those perservering, from front to back: Ashley Montibon, Mayumi King, Chelsea Hieda and Debbie Lee.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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For the Kamehameha Canoe Club, it's a battle against extinction this season.

"My whole crew from last year is gone," said Kiyoshi Akasaki, a 17-year-old paddler for the club's boys program. "They said they didn't want to come out because the water is gross. Kind of sad because the crew we had last year was solid."

Kamehameha is one of 10 clubs that moved out of the Ala Wai area after 48 million gallons of untreated sewage was diverted into the canal because of a broken sewer main in Waikiki in late March.

The displaced clubs moved their practice areas to Ke'ehi Lagoon, Kaimana Beach in Waikiki and the Maunalua Bay Beach Park area of Hawai'i Kai.

But the move from the conveniently located Ala Wai led to many paddlers' dropping out. It left clubs scrambling to fill crews as the start of the racing season approaches.

Na 'Ohana O Na Hui Wa'a President Tambry Young said enrollment is down for virtually every club on O'ahu, although the actual impact won't be known until the first regatta on May 28.

"We're hoping that the paddlers keep coming out, even as the season goes along," Young said.

Because of its small size, the Kamehameha Canoe Club is perhaps the most at-risk within the Hui Wa'a organization.

"I want to keep moving up and getting better in this sport, so I feel like this is kind of stopping me this year," said Andrea Calvan, a 17-year-old paddler for the club's girls program. "I wish I had more girls to paddle with, but there's nothing we can do if they don't want to come out."

CLUB BEGAN IN LATE '60S

Club representative Barb Vasold said the Kamehameha Canoe Club which is not affiliated with Kamehameha Schools was formed in the late 1960s.

"We've always been a small club, but this is the lowest point (membership) has been," she said.

"As far as who's going to win the regatta, which crews will score the most points and all that stuff, that goes out the window this year," she added. "I think it's more about keeping the club together and existing."

During an afternoon practice at Ke'ehi Lagoon last week, fewer than a dozen youth paddlers were in the red-and-yellow canoes for Kamehameha.

"At this time last year, we had three times as many girls," Kamehameha girls coach David Ahina said. "A lot of them can't make it out to practice anymore because we're not right in town. Some others just don't want to paddle anymore."

As a member of Na 'Ohana O Na Hui Wa'a, Kamehameha must be able to field six crews to participate in the summer regattas. Six paddlers make up one crew.

Vasold said if a regatta were staged today, Kamehameha would not be able to fill the six-crew requirement.

What's more, the crews that Kamehameha does put together this season will likely have an unorthodox mix. In the youth crews, for example, 17-year-old paddlers may have to paddle with 13-year-olds just to form a six-person crew; normally, youth paddlers compete with paddlers in the same age group.

In the adult divisions, Kamehameha may have to mix novice paddlers with paddlers from the open and masters divisions.

"We're real iffy right now," Vasold said. "But we're trying. We'll do whatever it takes."

RECRUITING URGED

The Kamehameha club's youth coaches have been encouraging the paddlers to bring in friends from school. At least one new recruit has showed up.

"I came out because my friends are here," said Christian Silvia, a 16-year-old student from Word of Life. "It didn't matter to me where (the practices are). I just wanted to try paddling."

The Kamehameha coaches expect to stay at Ke'ehi Lagoon for the entire summer, but they'd like to return to the Ala Wai next season assuming it gets clearance from city officials.

"There's going to be people who will never go back to the Ala Wai, ever," Vasold said. "But there's also going to be people who can put it behind them and feel OK about paddling there again.

"And our club is known as a kids' club, so you can't beat the Ala Wai as being a good location easy for the kids to get to after school. But how many will come back next year? I don't know."

IF IT'S GUARANTEED SAFE

Byron Montibon, father of Kamehameha girls paddler Ashley Montibon, said he would allow his daughter to paddle in the Ala Wai next year, but under specific circumstances.

"If the state and city can come out and give us a guarantee that it's safe to go back, and the club goes back there, I'll go," he said.

Until then, the few paddlers still with Kamehameha are remaining loyal.

"I don't want to have to join another club," Calvan said. "I know all the coaches here, and we're all close in this club. I don't care if we have to go back to the Ala Wai or wherever, I just want to paddle for this club."

Reach Dayton Morinaga at dmorinaga@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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