By J.R. De GROOTE
Stephens Media Hawaii
KAILUA-KONA — Konawaena’s mixed crew came into Saturday’s all-schools Big Island Interscholastic Federation regatta at Kailua Bay wanting to prove that a huli on a turn at the Jan. 4 regatta at Hilo Bay was a fluke.
The Wildcats’ statement was heard loud and clear by the rest of the BIIF field, winning a tight half-mile mixed division race — Konawaena’s first win in any division all season.
“We found the right combination,” Konawaena coach Paul Daugherty said. “I told them the crew that makes the least number of mistakes will win the race. As soon I saw their turn, I knew they had it.”
Parker is the defending mixed division champion, but Kealakehe has been the BIIF title favorite this season.
Daugherty hopes the Wildcats’ momentum will carry on to the BIIF finals next week at Hilo Bay.
“We have been struggling lately,” Daugherty said. “Konawaena was one of the top dogs for a long time, but the last couple of years have been a struggle. We are taking it one step at a time, but it’s nice to peak going into finals. Now we have a bull’s-eye on our back, and we know Kealakehe and all of the other teams are not going to back off.”
While coming up short in the mixed race, Kealakehe’s dominance continued in the boys race and the Waveriders have the top lane selection at the finals.
“It will give us an advantage,” Kealakehe boys coach Bo Campos said. “You want the best lanes, you want everything to be the same. Anything can happen in the finals, though. They could hit the flag, or a million other things. Anybody can come up and win. Nothing is set in stone.”
Campos’ boys crew has been the model of consistency, winning every race this season, but it has not been without some struggles.
“We went through a bad Christmas break and now it’s flu season, but I have a bunch of boys who don’t complain and are hungry to win,” Campos said.
The Keaau girls won the other half-mile race and hold the top lane selection at the finals.
While not at the front of the pack, Hualalai Academy has been represented well at BIIF regattas this season. However, in November it was announced that the school is suspending high school operations starting next fall.
The school currently has 10 students enrolled, nine of whom are members of the paddling program.
“Above anything it is about participation and the experience,” Hualalai Academy coach Adrienne White said. “The kids obviously have a lot of classes with each other but are really close friends and enjoy spending time together.”
Saturday, the Hualalai Academy tent was packed with alumni, with past and present students celebrating their time with the school. Participating in the sport has led to big-time connections for the students.
“We have had some kids go on to participate with the local clubs, and I think being from a small school, for them to get out and make these connections through paddling has been incredible,” White said.
Campos — who also serves as president of the Kai Opua Canoe Club and a board member for the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association — is always happy to see fresh faces out on the water and has been thrilled to see the school partake in the sport.
“We are sad to see them go, but hopefully the kids find a way to still participate in paddling,” Campos said. “The more people I see in a canoe, the happier I am. With that happening we are preserving the sport and giving the kids a healthy way to get out and get active.”