Keaukaha rounds the turn in the men’s sophomore 1-mile race Saturday during the Tui Tonga regatta at Hilo Bayfront. Keaukaha took second place behind Keauhou. Kai Opua finished first in A division, combining with runner-up Keauhou to win 28 of 38 races.
By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Kai Opua’s young paddlers reeled off wins in the first six races Saturday en route to the club’s wire-to-wire victory. Keauhou picked up steam a little later, and the two West Hawaii powerhouses combined to win 28 of 38 races during the second Moku O Hawaii canoe paddling regatta of the season.
In between, a handful of youth crews helped maintain some semblance of parity during the Tui Tonga regatta at Hilo Bayfront. The Keaukaha boys 14 and Hui Wa’a O Waiakea boys 15 crews were among those to win for the second consecutive week. Each is simply picking up where it left off last season.
The Keaukaha 13 boat went undefeated last season and claimed the state championship, and Saturday’s winning 14 entry included five of those paddlers — Kumulipo Alapai, Keahi Denne-Kimi, Kaimi Iaukea-Ronquillio, Ulu Bueltmann and Kualono Kaupu — with the sixth set to return soon under coach Keahi Warfield.
“I think they click really well and are good friends,” Warfield said. “They do everything together, and attendance at practice is good. Always good to see the kids come back year after year. I was lucky to have the boys back.”
Kanoa Ka’akimaka was also part of crew that navigated the quarter-mile to win in 1 minute, 47.52 seconds to outdistance Puna by almost four seconds, but Warfield said the boat could gain even more strength next week with the return of Daniel Nunes.
All but Nunes attend Hilo’s Ka ‘Umeke Ka’eo, a public charter school where Warfield teaches. During their sophomore seasons next year, the school plans to compete in Big Island Interscholastic Federation regattas.
Warfield’s been their coach for three years with Keaukaha, and early on he took a simple philosophy: If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
“First time we were working together, they just sort of meshed,” Warfield said. “Once we started winning, we never touched them. We left them alone. That’s the kind of how I go: Lead them up the ladder and see how far they can go.”
Co-host Hui Wa’a O Waiakea’s was the top B division finisher, getting its lone victory from a boys 15 crew (Sumo Kekaualua-Tuiaana, Wyatt Dudoit, Sateki Nisa, Suwaiter Poch, Jordan Dodd, Bronson Napoleon) that also is returning intact and is making a successful transition to the half-mile after an undefeated Big Island season last year in quarter-mile races.
“It gives you more time to make mistakes in practice,” coach Ira Kekaualua Jr. said. “Race day, no more time to make mistakes. You paddle hard with power strokes.”
That form was evident when the crew finished in 4:04.02 on Saturday, more than eight seconds ahead of Keaukaha.
The boat’s lone loss last season was a state appearance that Kekaualua Jr. called “not so good”.
“I don’t like to be considered the favorite, ” he said. “The boys know that on any given day somebody else can step up to the plate. For now, I tell them to stay humble, because there’s always somebody better.”
However, he said better competition wasn’t the problem at states last season.
“No, it was my fault on my calling. I looked at the wrong flag,” Kekaualua Jr. said. “The kids are really doing good this year.”
The top three A division finishers were the same as last week. Kai Opua (207 points) and Keauhou (170) each took 14 races, with Keaukaha third. Keauhou claimed seven of the 11 masters races — ages 40 and above — while Keaukaha got a boost when its girls 15 crew (Tita Hall-Peleiholani, Ivy Ho, Netai Jadu, Camry Isabel, Loke Milare, Amy McBride) won for the second straight week.
So did the Kawaihae girls 14 crew (Britney Samio, Monica Muskat, Ashlynn Kaiamakini, Shania Souza, Brandee Samio, Andielyn Cabulizan-Agustin), giving the club one of its three victories on the day.
Puna Canoe Club turned it on late by winning three masters races to finish fourth, one spot better than last week.
Kekaualua Jr., however, had more fun watching the younger paddlers.
“We’re a small club, and my focus is mainly the kids,” he said. “I’d rather see the kids (paddling), then someplace else getting into mischief.”