By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The seventh annual Aunty Maile Mauhili/Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association championships Saturday at Hilo Bay double as a tribute to paddling’s matriarch, who has spent her life dedicated to a sport she holds dear to her heart, and a final showdown, where mad dashes are the order of the day.
For more than a half century, Aunty Maile has been sharing her love for canoe paddling with others as a paddler (starting as an 11-year-old in March 1946), coach, race organizer and official for Moku O Hawaii, and the Hawaii Canoe Racing Association — the governing body for state paddling.
She is currently the Kailana coach and Moku O Hawaii’s executive secretary, still going strong and entering her 37th year of coaching. Even when the Moku O Hawaii season concludes, Aunty Maile is still coaching. She also remains Hilo High’s canoe paddling coach.
Meanwhile, the Aunty Maile championships are a last-dash effort for the 13 clubs to qualify for one of the three lanes in each event at the state regatta, which will be held Saturday, Aug. 4 at Keehi Lagoon on Oahu.
Keauhou is the state defending champion for the AAA division (13-20 events), Puna for the AA division (7-12 races) and Kawaihae finished out of first by one point for the A division (1-6 events). There are eight defending state champion crews: Kai Opua’s girls 12, boys 15, and mixed men and women; Keauhou’s women masters 60, men masters 60, and mixed masters 55; Keaukaha’s boys 13; and Puna’s men open four.
All of the crews have qualified for states, except for Keaukaha’s boys 13 and Puna’s men open four. In Keaukaha’s case, those 13 boys have jumped an age into the 14 canoe. Puna would need something no less short of a cow-can-fly miracle to defend its state title.
Keauhou is comfortably in first with 85 points, followed by Kai Opua with 76 points, and Keaukaha, which won last week’s regatta, with 74 points. Puna has 66 points, suffering a costly disqualification (zero points) three weeks ago.
Onward to a much more positive and sunny outlook.
There are nine unbeaten Moku O Hawaii crews: Waiakea’s boys 15; Keauhou’s men sophomore, men master’s 40, mixed masters 55; and a conglomerate of Kai Opua powers with its women novice B, girls 16, boys 16, boys 18, and women freshmen.
There are no sure things in life, except for death, taxes and rain in Hilo, but the Perfect Nine can start to make flight arrangements to Oahu. Unless, of course, cows start flying and major upsets turn the day upside down.
But the real fun is watching the race for third place. It’s the ultimate do-or-die — win and advance to states; lose and stay home. There are a lot of good ones.
Here’s a scorecard primer for close races to watch:
• Event 1, girls 12: Kai Ehitu first with 71 points, Kai Opua second with 65 points.
Battle for third: Paddlers of Laka and Keauhou tied with 51 points.
• Event 3, mixed boys and girls 12: Kai Opua (81) first, Kawaihae (73).
Battle for third: Keaukaha (64) third, Kai Ehitu (61) fourth.
• Event 6, women novice B: unbeaten Kai Opua (54) first, Puna (38) and Kai Ehitu (38) tied for second.
Battle for third: Kawaihae (36) fourth.
• Event 7, girls 14: Kai Opua (70) first, Kai Ehitu (58) second.
Battle for third: Keaukaha (57) third, Kawaihae (55) fourth.
• Event 9, mixed novice B: Hanakahi (59) first, Kai Ehitu (58) second.
Battle for third: Keauhou (51) third, Puna (48) fourth.
• Event 17, women novice A: Keauhou (55) first, Puna (39) second.
Battle for third: Kawaihae (34) third, Kai Opua (33) fourth.
• Event 18, men novice A: Keauhou (30) first, Puna (27) second.
Battle for third: Kawaihae (25) third, Kai Opua (20) fourth.
• Event 19, women freshmen: unbeaten Kai Opua (41), Kawaihae (28) second.
Battle for third: Puna (22) third, Keauhou (21) fourth.
• Event 20, men freshmen: Keauhou (63) first, Kai Opua (47) second.
Battle for third: Puna (46) third, Kamehameha (42) fourth.
• Event 24, men junior: Keauhou (47) first, Kai Opua (34) second.
Battle for third: Puna (33) third, Kamehameha (29) fourth.
• Event 27, women masters 40: Kai Opua (50) first, Keaukaha (34) second.
Battle for third: Puna (34) third, Kamehameha (32) fourth, Kawaihae (29) fifth.
• Event 28, men masters 40: unbeaten Keauhou (54) first, Keaukaha (44) second.
Battle for third: Puna (43) third, Waiakea (38) fourth, Kai Opua (36) fifth.
• Event 37, mixed masters 50: Kawaihae (34) first, Keaukaha (28) second.
Battle for third: Keauhou (24) third, Laka (21) fourth.
• Event 40, women open four: Kawaihae (84) first, Kai Opua (73) second.
Battle for third: Puna (69) third, Keaukaha (64) fourth.
If there’s one race to watch, it’s probably the women’s masters 40, which has been somewhat a roller-coaster, season-long affair.
Kai Opua has won six of the eight races. Keaukaha got one gold and Puna the other. Fourth-place Kamehameha has not figured out how to beat third-place Puna, unless Puna gets hit with a DQ, which happened twice.
In the last week’s Puna regatta, the host crew of Raene Aki, Mamo Brown, Aunty Jen Holani, Kim Rowe, Shannon Takabayashi and Trevella Williams won by a two-mile touchdown, clocking in at 9 minutes and 4.75 seconds, far ahead of Kamehameha’s 9:08.75 and Kai Opua’s 9:12.59.
It was Puna’s race, from both a host and Event 27 standpoint, powering the club into third in the standings, which is better than fourth but no less secure.
The battle is ongoing and everything with mad-dash spirit concludes on Saturday.