By TAD SOMMERS
Stephems Media Hawaii
Finishing strong, Kailua-Kona’s Mellow Johnny’s 1, paddling the koa Makani Kai, was first to cross the finish line in Saturday’s men’s Queen Liliuokalani race.
As his six-member crew completed the 18-mile race from Honaunau Bay to Kailua Pier, Keakua Nolan stood up, faced the crowd of spectators and flashed an “I love you” hand gesture, he said, “To show love to everybody.”
In addition to Nolan, Saturday’s crew included Trey Cox, Daniel Chun, Bruce Ayau, Kainoa Tanoai and Mesepa Tanoai. They finished in 2:08:48.
“It’s been years since a traditional Hawaiian koa canoe beat out contemporary canoes that rely on modern technology and lighter weight materials,” said Kai Opua president Bo Campos. “What a tremendous acknowledgement of the power of our Hawaiian culture.”
Racing in the Unlimited Division, with a five-minute start delay, Malolo Nui, a nine-man non-iron team finished first overall in a time of 2:07:33.
Crew members’ names were not available at press time.
Saturday marked the start of the 42nd Queen Liliuokalani Races and the 40th year with a wahine division.
Paddling from Kailua Pier to Honaunau Bay, Waikiki Beach Boys 3 took the women’s race in a record-setting 2:04:43. Five members, Dana Gorecki, Kelsa Gabehart, Jen Polcer, Rachel Bruntsch and steersman Kaui Pelekane, also won the race in 2008. Lindsey Shank is the final member of this year’s crew.
Polcer described race conditions as “flat, hot and hard.”
“Outrigger was a contender and the Kawaihae girls were for sure our competition,” she said.
Outrigger Canoe Club 1 and Kawaihae Canoe Club 3 took second and third, respectively.
Polcer said the team was pleased with its victory, but placing anywhere among the 133 teams was an achievement.
“We’re blessed to represent the na wahine 40th anniversary – we’ve come a long way,” she said.
It wasn’t until after the race that many of the crew members learned Pelekane’s mother, Monique Pelekane, was a steersman in the first women’s Queen Liliuokalani long-distance race.
Kawaihae’s Lora Sakai said, “We just wanted first. We could see them (Waikiki)” the whole way.
“Waikiki Beach Boys, they’re tough,” said teammate Makalaupa Tavares. And “Outrigger came out of nowhere.”
In 40 years, wahine have “definitely come a long way. We train like men,” Tavares said with a smile.
Paddling is a “big part of the Hawaiian culture and it’s awesome that people all over the world take part.”
“Most (team members) have been friends for a very long time. It’s what sets us apart. We know each other. We know what we’re going to do.”
Mahealani Gambill, Nahuku Kalei, Noelani Spencer and Lelani Shakelford comprised the rest of Saturday’s crew.
The first koa canoe to Honaunau was Puna Canoe Club’s Kalapana, crewed by Tita Kaman, Lehua Wall, Uilani Wills, Kelly Tomota, Michele Gunderson and Lauren Supnet.
It was a “great experience,” Supnet said. “A beautiful day in memory of Queen Liliuokalani, everyone worked together and showed aloha.”
Afa Tuaolo, the club’s head coach said his wahine did “damn good,” finishing 16th overall. “I’m proud.”
Oahu’s Outrigger Hui took second in the six-man division and third overall, followed by Mellow Johnny’s 2.
Hunter Anderson, a member of the fourth-place crew, said after the race he was happy with his team’s success.
“Coaching and support is a great recipe for successful teams,” he said.
Mellow Johnny teammates consider “every race a workout in the big picture – to get better.”
Anderson said his team’s ultimate goal is to perform well in bigger races to “beat the Tahitians in their own waters.”