By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
It’s only a myth that Kai Opua never loses. The last time the West Hawaii powerhouse lost a regatta during the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association season was three years ago.
Keaukaha edged Kai Opua 225 to 221 points to claim the Division A (15-40 events) title at the Kailana regatta, the fifth race and halfway point of the 2010 season.
The following week Keaukaha hosted its regatta. Kai Opua paddled with a vengeance and piled up 240 points. Puna was far behind with 207 points and Keaukaha was third with 205 points.
Kai Opua has now won 25 straight regattas, often by rather large margins that wrap up the title before the last four races. The best drama has been the fight for second place, home to Keaukaha the last two regattas.
The Kailana regatta June 15 showed how Kai Opua keeps winning, despite three scratches. Keaukaha had one scratch and two disqualifications, pulling even on lost points.
Kai Opua and Keaukaha each entered the maximum 40 races. Kai Opua had 28 medals (13 gold, nine silver and six bronze). Keaukaha had 24 medals (10 gold, four silver and 10 bronze).
The medal count made it appear to be a somewhat evenly matched regatta. It wasn’t really close at all. Kai Opua finished with 206 points. Keaukaha had 173 points.
Depending on the number of crews, first place can be worth as much as 11 points or as low as four points. Most times, a gold accounts for six points. Scratches (not entering a race) and DQs are zero points.
If there’s a hole in Kai Opua’s canoe, it’s the youth paddlers. Six races went by at the Kailana regatta before the club’s girls 14 crew won event No. 7, a quarter-mile race to remain undefeated.
At the same point last year, Kai Opua won five of the first seven races at Aunty Maile Mauhili’s Kailana regatta, the first race at Hilo Bay.
The club’s other unbeaten crews are the boys 16, girls 18, women sophomore, women junior, women (65) and senior men masters (50). That’s a lot of points to put in the bank.
Like any good team with resiliency as its best resource, Kai Opua knows how to turn it on when necessary. From race No. 12 to 15 (men novice B, girls 16, boys 16, and girls 18), Kai Opua seized gold while Keaukaha placed third, second, fourth and third, respectively.
That was a 12-point separation in four races.
Kai Opua is also a good closer, the Mariano Rivera of Moku O Hawaii. The club finished higher than Keaukaha in seven of the last eight events, winning three gold and capitalizing on a 15-point swing.
What’s it all mean?
Like the New York Yankees 43-year-old relief pitcher, Kai Opua may not be as powerful as in years past, but the club still finds a way to get the job done.
Kai Opua has pocketed the last six Aunty Maile/Moku O Hawaii Division A championships. And according to regatta numbers that never lie, it looks like Kai Opua’s myth of being unbeatable will continue to grow.
Keauhou’s girls 12; Kai Ehitu’s boys 12, boys 13, mixed novice B, men masters (40); Keaukaha’s mixed 12, girls 13, girls 15, women novice A, women masters (40); Kai Opua’s girls 14, boys 16, girls 18, women sophomore, women junior, women (65), senior men masters (50); Puna’s boys 18, women golden masters (55), mixed men and women are all unbeaten.
There were 258 crews June 15 and 1,022 paddlers, including 670 adult paddlers and 352 youth paddlers. The youngest paddler was Puna’s 7-year-old Mana Elderts in the boys 13 race. The youngest paddler in an adult race was Keauhou’s 9-year-old Brooke Ballesteros in the women novice B. The oldest paddler was Kawaihae’s Phyllis Fox, 82, in the women golden masters (55).
Novice B is for rookie paddlers with no previous competitive paddling experience. Paddlers are eligible for only one year. Novice A is for up to three years of paddling. The eligibility is for two years, then paddlers must move to a higher classification. Senior, junior, sophomore and freshman are open to paddlers not paddling in any classified or unclassified event in the same regatta.
What: Keaukaha regatta
When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday
Where: Hilo Bay