By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The biggest prize for the 17 undefeated crews in the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association season is ownership of the most points.
Some paddlers might argue that bringing home a gold medal after each of the last four regattas is a better feeling. After all, it’s always nice to stare at a trophy case filled with first-place mementos.
However, most coaches would take a big-picture perspective and point out that the shiniest medals are found at the Hawaii Canoe Racing Association state championship, where gold is only earned by beating the best of the best.
Not that getting Moku O Hawaii gold is small potatoes, but it’s really tough to finish first at states. Last year, HCRA had 41 events and Keauhou brought home five golds, Kai Opua three and Hanakahi one.
For clear-definition perspective, last season at the Aunty Maile Mauhili/Moku O Hawaii championship, Kai Opua and Keauhou each pocketed 14 golds. Being a big fish in a small pond is a much different deal than swimming with the biggest sharks.
But once in a blue moon, the little guy swings for the fences at states, and knocks one out of the park, giving the Big Island paddling brotherhood a reason to rejoice.
Hanakahi’s crew of Chris Agpoon, Ana Barden, Haunani Haasenritter, Jonathan Pang Ching, Melissa Pang, Ching and Joshua Villanueva won the quarter-mile mixed novice B, the only race the small Hilo club entered.
It will be that crew’s first and only state gold for the mixed novice B. That’s because the race is reserved for rookies. At least, that gold will shine brightest among the four Hanakahi collected during the Moku O Hawaii season.
Moku O Hawaii has three lanes in each event at the HCRA state championship, which will be held Saturday, Aug. 3 on Kauai. The host site is rotated between the Big Island, Oahu, Maui and Kauai. Hilo Bay last hosted in 2009.
The only way to earn a lane is to finish in the top three in the island standings or if a club declines a berth. There are only three regattas left to score valuable points, including the Aunty Maile/Moku O Hawaii championship.
Kai Opua has six perfect crews: girls 14, boys 16, girls 18, women sophomore, women (65), and senior men masters (50).
Keaukaha has five unbeatens: mixed 12, girls 13, girls 15, women novice A, and women masters (40). The girls 13 (Ana Ah Nee, Ash Mendes, Pua Silva, Hopoe Sipinga, Kahealani Ujano, Zoey Vera Cruz) set a new record in the quarter-mile event in 1 minute and 56.92 seconds last week.
Keauhou has two flawless crews: girls 12 and men masters (40). The girls 12 (Trinity Ballesteros, Patricia Flores, Ashley Hanato, Kiana Hoopii, Livi McClure, Tenaia Minamishin) established a new mark in the quarter-mile race in 2:06.36.
Kai Ehitu’s mixed novice B (Niklas Dahm, Kelley Gallagher, Dominique Goodson, Marisa Piazza, Jake Rivera, Malosi Stegehuis) is undefeated.
The West Hawaii club had a bad day at the office last week at Keaukaha’s regatta, watching three of its crews — boys 12 and 13, and men masters (60) — lose their perfect streaks.
At least, Kai Ehitu head coach Richard Kimitete can proudly point to his club’s skill-set at developing rookies. Last year, Kai Ehitu’s mixed novice B tied with Hanakahi with 67 points in the Moku O Hawaii standings, and won two golds.
Meanwhile, Puna, under head coach Afa Tuaolo, has three unbeaten crews: boys 18, women golden masters (55) and the mixed men and women, the last race of the day.
Five of the six 18 paddlers were on Puna’s undefeated boys 16 crew in 2011: Chance Agpoon, Lono Leasure-Lucas, Hayden May, Colby Nicholas and Keola Sumera-Lee. That year the crew finished fourth at states.
The new paddler on the 18 crew is Cheyden Quiocho, a 2012 Keaau graduate, who competed in football, judo and wrestling. The 18 event is one mile, twice as long as the boys 16. And tough competition also goes on within a club.
Puna, which means “spring of water” and was founded in 1975 by Clarence Hauanio, Ipo Kaawaloa, Danielle Mahi, Steve Morris and Anson Smith, often enters in the neighborhood of 30 races during the Moku O Hawaii season.
But at states, the club will usually compete at Division AAA (13-20 races) or Division AA (7-12 events). Puna was second last year in Division AAA, and won the Division AA title in 2011.
Some crews are left home for the greater good of a club’s mission: to chase state gold, the biggest and shiniest prize of them all.