Late start just minor hurdle for Hawaii Prep's Nakoa
By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer
Most prep hurdlers pick up their craft early in their high school careers.
Hawai'i Prep senior Ku'uipo Nakoa learned just a couple of months ago and has quickly emerged as one of the top hurdlers in the state.
"I think it's from watching so much. I watched it so long, I think it was a lot of visualizing," Nakoa said. "It just looked like a lot of fun."
Nakoa is the top qualifier in the state in two events: long jump (18 feet) and the 300-meter hurdles (46.04 seconds). She ranks second in the triple jump (36-4) and the 100-meter hurdles (15.14).
It sets up one of the more intriguing matchups of the meet, as Nakoa will go up against Kahuku star Zhane Santiago in those four events.
Santiago is the top qualifier in the 100-meter hurdles (14.61) and triple jump (37-1.5). She is second in the long jump (17-8.75) and third in the 300-meter hurdles (47.09).
"Anything that (Nakoa) wants to get into, she can probably be the best at," said Hawai'i Prep coach Patrick Lau, who added that Nakoa also pole vaulted her sophomore season. "I could probably put her in a distance race and she could do well."
Although Nakoa expressed her desire to run hurdles earlier, Lau said Ka Makani already had several competitive hurdlers on the team and he needed her speed for sprints.
"As a coach, a person like her comes along once in a great while," Lau said. "She's a great athlete. Every school wishes they could have her."
Nakoa won the long jump and took third in the triple jump in last year's state meet. She ran in the finals of both sprint events, finishing seventh in the 100-meter dash and eighth in the 200-meter dash.
But she always wanted to hurdle.
So this year, after Punahou's Ralph Martinson Invitational, Nakoa remained on O'ahu and trained with coaches from the Renegades Track Club. Hawai'i Prep didn't have the facilities because of renovations.
"I said, 'I don't know, you're a senior and you want to learn now?' " Walter Thompson of the Renegades Track Club said.
When asked if her grasp of hurdles was usual, he responded: "Absolutely not, this kid is marvelous. She seems to pick up things so quickly. I really don't know how else to put it. She is just able to pick them up and grasp things and understand things as quickly as possible."
Thompson was astonished with her ability, because "hurdling is a different function of your body. Everybody who has watched her has been amazed."
Nakoa isn't quite satisfied with her progress.
"When I run the 100-meter hurdles, snapping my trail leg down, because I let it hang in the air," she said. "I only wish I had started it earlier, like a few years ago."
Nakoa's athletic talents can be traced to her childhood, growing up on Dahana Ranch, outside of Waimea town.
"I never had the typical childhood, where I would say, 'Oh mom, can I go next door to Ashley's house to play?'
"I didn't have anyone to play with. I played outside. We have 80 to 100 horses. And when the horses run, we would run. When you got older and you would round up horses, occasionally you do it on foot."