By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The Uncle Arnold Nathaniel long distance race, the annual alarm clock to the start of the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association season, was held last Saturday, setting the stage for another summer of chasing glory and one’s youth on the water.
The kamalii or children’s race is dedicated in honor of Nathaniel, who died in 2006 at age 85 and spent a lifetime coaching the Kamehameha Canoe Club, which he co-founded and was a charter member.
Each passing year brings the reminder that the young grow old, but the old never grow tired, especially with the spirit of paddling in the heart. That’s always the case with Keauhou, the West Hawaii club known for its powerful senior citizens.
Last year at the Hawaii Canoe Racing Association state championships, Keauhou captured the Division AAA (13-20 races) for the third consecutive time, taking five gold medals, the most of any club. Oahu’s Lanikai, which won the Division AAAA (21-40 events), had four golds, along with runner-up Kailua.
Keauhou pocketed the inaugural women’s and men’s 65-year-old divisions, the first two events held at Keehi Lagoon, as well as the women masters 60, men novice B, and men masters 40.
Those golds were nice, but the one the club really wanted was the mixed masters 55. For four years, that event belonged to Keauhou. The crew finished fourth. Then the pieces of that six-paddler powerhouse started to disappear.
“One of the guys went to another club. Of the women on that crew, Sammie (Stanbro) is the only one back,” club president Bill Armer said. “Others are injured and it’s not likely they’ll be back for the whole season.
“Paul Daugherty, Konawaena High’s paddling coach, is our new women’s coach. Actually, he was the coach eight or nine years ago. The women working with him are very pleased with the way he coaches and the structure and vigor of his program.”
Speaking of vigor, Stanbro is the paddling pioneer for Keauhou. Every time a new race is introduced at states she’s on the winning crew: the women 55 back in the day, women 60 and last year’s women 65.
Last year at states, she brought home a pair of golds, from the women 65 and 60. Lonny Higgins and Sue Lalanne also had a double gold haul in both events.
“I wasn’t on the mixed 55 last year,” said Stanbro, who was on that crew for the four golds. “They needed me on the 65, and after they lost I felt so bad.”
There are always more races. And Stanbro will be paddling for Moku points soon enough. The first regatta will be hosted by Kai Ehitu May 18 at Kailua Pier. The first one at Hilo Bay is Kailana’s regatta on June 15.
That week the Big Island will host Olamau, a three-day, 100-mile outrigger canoe challenge, worth $50,000 in prize money. It runs June 12-14, right before Aunty Maile Mauhili’s Kailana regatta.
Race coordinator Mike Nakachi hopes Olamau, templated from the island-to-island Tahitian races, will become paddling’s version of the America’s Cup or Kona’s Ironman World Championships.
“Last year it was big, ambitious and bold and throwing $50,000 and wondering if it would stick on the wall or not,” Nakachi said. “Our goal is to create a professional sport and this is another way of doing that. Guys can get paid doing something they love.”
Meanwhile, Kai Opua will again be the team to beat during the Moku O Hawaii season. The West Hawaii club has won the last six Division A (21-43 races) titles. Kai Opua and Keauhou each won 14 golds last year at the Aunty Maile/Moku O Hawaii championships.
“It’s too early to tell how good we’ll be. Last year was a first for 65 men and women and both won gold. We’ll be competitive in that area, but we’re getting older,” said Armer, a last sentence that was half-serious and half-joking. “We’re generally strong in the 50 plus. The first couple of regattas we’ll have a better sense.
“Kai Opua and Kai Ehitu will be tough. Kai Ehitu has grown in their adult crews. We’ll have some shootouts on the westside. With the three of us, it’ll be a a good time. Kai Opua is always a good challenge for us. They’re deep across the board. Maybe our kids will surprise us.”
At least, there will be no surprises with one veteran Keauhou paddler.
“I’ll be doing it until I can’t do it anymore,” said Stanbro, paddling for Keauhou since 2000 and still young at heart.
For more on Olamau, visit www.olamaurace.com.
What: Kawaihae long distance race
Where: Kawaihae Harbor