By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Ho‘oulu Bueltmann has seen bad weather before, but the high winds at the Big Island Interscholastic Federation canoe paddling championships won’t be something he forgets anytime soon.
The Kamehameha sophomore and his five crewmates were paddling in a boys varsity heat, almost halfway home to claiming a spot in the finals, when a gust of wind flipped their canoe Saturday at Hilo Bay.
“We were in first place about 100 yards away from the turn,” he said. “Our canoe flipped and got swamped with water. We had to flip it twice to get the water out. We got towed in by the jet ski.”
The winds were likely in the 35 mph range. The gusts were strong enough to blow off hats from heads. It made for great kite flying weather. In fact, the few kite surfers present were having a field day.
Despite the failure to finish and a lost chance at reaching the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament, Bueltmann looked big-picture instead of lamenting what could have been.
“The wind was intense and it was crazy. The adrenaline was high and that made for a good race,” he said. “That added to the challenge. It leveled the playing field. But it was definitely a challenge. I’m glad nobody got hurt.
“It’s a big bummer. We definitely had a chance. Everybody had a chance. You can’t get mad at the wind or the water. Stuff happens.”
There were 16 scheduled races, including junior varsity, non-scoring and heats for all the events. The last five races were canceled, including the varsity mix final. Only two canoes flipped, Kamehameha and the Hawaii Prep varsity girls in their heat.
The JV is only a quarter-mile, a straight run from start to finish. The varsity races are a half-mile, including a turn around the flag.
Life was also difficult for those not in a canoe. The in-the-water holders struggled to steady the canoes from extending beyond the starting line. That’s an automatic disqualification.
“Lining up was hard,” Bueltmann said. “But once we got the canoe started it was not that bad. The canoe is about 40 feet and the ama (outrigger) was one foot off the water. There was a lot of drifting. We worked really hard to stay in our lane.”
Bueltmann has been paddling since the sixth grade. He’s got a short history on weather conditions in Hilo, but he knows one of the benchmarks of bad weather. It was last June during the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association season at the Laka/Hanakahi regatta.
“The wind was not as strong, but it swept away the scoring tent,” he said. “There were swells and it was raining. The visibility was low.”
What really hit home for Bueltmann and worth remembering was the lesson of paddling — six working as one — despite Kamehameha’s race being long over.
“I have to thank the officials today on the jet skis,” he said. “Without them, we would have had a hard time coming to shore. It was the unity of our crew that kept us together. If we didn’t work together, we definitely wouldn’t have made it safely to shore.”