By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Kealakehe senior Kali Holman doesn’t need to hit the snooze button on his alarm clock because he’s disciplined enough to get up on time, which helps him when it comes to canoe paddling.
During the Christmas break, he attended every practice for the Waveriders canoe paddling team, and that good attendance paid off during an all-schools Big Island Interscholastic Federation regatta on a windy Saturday at Hilo Bay.
He was part of two winning crews — the boys and mixed — while the Keaau girls won the other half-mile race in kite-flying conditions that made turning around the flag and the job of the canoe holders pretty difficult.
“The conditions were rough. It was hard but we did well,” Kealakehe boys coach Uncle Bo Campos said. “We had to adapt to the conditions. It’s our boys’ third win. Hopefully, we can get them to go undefeated. I like that no matter what we throw at them at practice they’ll do it.”
Uncle Bo coaches the boys while Mike Atwood heads the girls and mixed crews. They are also the peanut butter-and-jelly combination for the Kai Opua Canoe Club, making everything all good for the West Hawaii powerhouse. Kai Opua has captured the last seven Aunty Maile Mauhili/Moku O Hawaii championships.
Holman first started paddling as a sophomore at Hualalai Academy. He later transferred to Kealakehe as a junior, didn’t paddle, but came out for the team in his last year with Uncle Bo’s urging.
“He brings really good energy. He runs three to four miles to practice,” Atwood said. “He has good attendance at practice, good grades and a good attitude. He’s the type of paddler you’d like to have. He’s really helpful at practice, picking up the wheels (to transport the canoe) and paddles. It was good to see him benefit and be on two successful crews.”
The discipline part for Holman comes from martial arts. He’s a black belt in American karate and taekwondo, and a blue belt in Brazilian jujitsu. He’s not really thinking about becoming a mixed martial arts fighter. At 150 pounds, he’s sort of stuck in the middle between featherweight (145 pounds) and lightweight (155 pounds).
“I look at it as a way to refine my body,” Holman said. “When I first started paddling I didn’t think it was any fun doing the same stroke all the time. But I like it because it’s about constant effort to perfect that single stroke. I came to every practice during the Christmas break. The discipline from martial arts goes to the canoe.”
There’s no such leeway for those who missed practice. Haaheo Kaiawe, a senior normally in the No. 2 seat, became the lead stroker after the starter skipped practice during the break. Sophomore Ini Paio, a member of the junior varsity, earned a promotion and paddled with Kaiawe, Holman, Nalu East, Ka‘u Kinin, and freshman steersman Fisher Nitta.
The returning starters are East and Kinin, a pair of seniors, and Kaiawe, a junior. The trio also paddle for Kai Opua during the Moku O Hawaii season.
“All those guys have won titles with Kai Opua,” Uncle Bo said. “Haaheo’s a good kid. He’s not really a stroker, but he showed up at practice during the Christmas break and we gave him a shot. He did a good job. We brought up a JV kid, Paio, and they all did well. When you come across the line like that, with that kind of lead you did a good job.
“The rain plastered us in Kona. It was one of the biggest rain storms I’ve seen in a long time. The kids know if there’s rain we’ll still paddle at practice. It was windy and we had Lori Nakagawa holding the canoe, and two JV boys holding. They had to keep the canoe at arm’s length from the flag and not let it drift into the other lane.”
Nakagawa is a 2012 Kealakehe graduate who grew up under Atwood and Uncle Bo at both Kai Opua and during her time with the Waveriders. She’s now helping out as an assistant coach while attending Hawaii Community College. One of her charges is her sister Leisha Nakagawa.
The younger Nakagawa was on the winning mixed crew, along with Megan Kaipo, steersman Eleashia Kealoha and Holman, Kaiawe and Kinin. That last race of the day was a good one. Parker is the mixed defending BIIF champion, while Keaau won the boys title and Pahoa (not fielding a team) took the girls crown last year.
“Going down toward the flag it looked like Keaau was ahead, but we beat them out of the turn,” Atwood said. “Parker’s the defending champ and has a lot of pride. They came out really strong at the end. The win is good for the kids. They now know they can accomplish something if they work hard at it.”
Pahoa sort of seized the girls title. That’s because sisters Netai and Ciena Jadu, who both paddled for the Daggers last year, are Keaau starters. Both also paddle for the Keaukaha Canoe Club, where Grant Kaaua is a coach. He and wife Anna Golden Kaaua are the co-coaches for the Cougars, who won the program’s first BIIF title last season with the boys.
Netai, a junior steersman, and Ciena, a senior in the No. 3 seat, attend charter school Hawaii Academy of Arts &Science, making them eligible to paddle for Keaau. The other starters were Kahealani Torres, Amy McBride, Ana Hall and Ola Amituanai.
Paddling for the Cougars is bittersweet for at least one Jadu. Netai noted she’s delighted to paddle, but disappointed that her former Pahoa teammates, especially the seniors, are stuck on land.
“I’m super bummed for everyone who paddled for Pahoa, and all the seniors. It’s their last year, and we won BIIFs last year,” she said. “I’m bummed that we can’t go to states together. We all wanted to go again.
“We had a good start and that really helped us out. We were in lane one and drifted toward the beach. We had to paddle up for 10 to 15 seconds to make the turn. The conditions were pretty good, not like last year at BIIFs. That was nuts and crazy.”
Last season at the BIIF championships, Hilo Bay turned into a washing machine. Unbearable conditions featured angry rain, brutal wind and choppy waters that made keeping a canoe upright a major challenge. Eventually, the mixed race was postponed, later won by Parker in a season of parity.
No school has won all three races at the BIIF championships. It’s the ultimate elusive goal. Meanwhile, Netai Jadu has a much simpler objective.
“I want us to work on our blend, make it to states and win BIIFs,” she said, standing still under windy but bearable conditions.