Puna 18 paddlers remain unbeaten
By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Lono Leasure-Lucas and Keola Sumera-Lee started paddling together for the Puna Canoe Club when they were precocious 12-year-olds, setting a foundation and welcoming fellow super friends that would turn into a powerful crew years later.
First cousins Chance Agpoon and Colby Nicolas joined as 14-year-olds, establishing the Core Four. The four longtime friends added Hayden May along the way and that nucleus went undefeated in the boys 16 event during the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association season in 2011.
Last year, the paddlers took a break. Perhaps to provide relief to the rest of the competition. Or maybe to test the old motto: If you set something free and it returns, then it’s meant to be.
As such, with Cheyden Quiocho as the sixth member, the crew is back together and tougher than ever. Puna’s Super Six is unbeaten in the 18 boys event, winning another one-mile race Saturday at Hilo Bay, dominating everyone at the club’s hosted regatta.
On a gentle day that sparkled with sunshine and a helpful breeze that lifted the aroma of Puna’s delectable concession food, the Super Six took center stage and put on a masterpiece in the 16th race of the day, motoring to its sixth gold in 8 minutes, 5.50 seconds, far ahead of Kai Opua’s 8:22.12.
Puna’s women golden masters (55) and mixed men and women are also undefeated. The list of unbeatens stands at 16, losing one from the ranks when Keauhou’s girls 12 went down in the first race.
Kawaihae’s girls 12 (Braelyn Samio, Kea Kauka, Julia Salvador, Terri Connors, Kaya Thompson, Darby Muromoto) set a new quarter-mile record in 2:05.38, breaking the mark that Keauhou established last week.
In the next race, Keaukaha’s boys 12 (Kai Kimi-Denne, Pono Mortensen, Kamahao Kawelu, Mihi Mokiao, Solomon Keahililhau-Kuamoo, Kai Kawelu) improved on its record set last week, finishing in 1:49.90.
Same deal with Keaukaha’s girls 13 (Pua Silva, Ash Mendes, Zoey Vera Cruz, Hopoe Sipinga, Kapiolani Perez, Kahealani Ujano). The undefeated crew established a new record last week and improved it with a 1.58.44.
Perennial powerhouse Kai Opua won the Division A (15-40 events) by a healthy margin with 197 points, followed by Keaukaha, 167; Keauhou, 136; Puna, 130; Kai Ehitu, 115; Kawaihae, 113; and Kamehameha, 92.
Laka took the Division B (1-14 races) trophy with 35 points, squeaking by tail-gating Waiakea, 33. Others were Hanakahi, 25; Waikoloa, 14; Keoua, 6; and Kailana, 2.
Lucas-Leasure is a 2013 Waiakea graduate. He’s headed to the College of Redwoods, a junior college in Eureka, Calif., on a football scholarship. Chance Agpoon is a 2013 Hilo graduate. He’s going to major in computer science at Ventura College.
His cousin is at the same California JC. Nicolas, a 2012 Hilo graduate, is taking photography and hoping to establish his own studio. Sumera-Lee, a 2012 Hilo graduate, is working his way into the carpenter’s union. May is a 2012 Hilo graduate and Quiocho is a 2012 Keaau graduate.
Kekoa Sumera-Lee, a 2005 Hilo graduate and Keola’s brother, is a member of Puna’s unbeaten mixed men and women crew.
Keola Sumera-Lee is the lead stroker, setting the pace for a crew that points to team chemistry as its biggest strength.
“We’ve all paddled with each other for a long time. We know how to work the blend,” he said. “I try to keep the pace calm, so everybody grabs at the same time. The one mile is different than the half-mile (for boys 16). We can pace ourselves back and forth, instead of blowing a gasket.”
Puna’s halau also serves as a high school reunion stop. After the boys 18 race, friendly 2012 Hilo graduates Waihilo Chartrand and Jacie Chang stopped by to hang out, listening to car-thumping music and shooting the breeze with the boys.
“We all hang out with each other,” Nicolas said. “Our crew is really close. That’s what makes us so strong.”
Agpoon likes the one mile, a longer, less stressful race than the half-mile event, which is basically a sprint, spin around a flag, and a mad dash home.
“It’s more easy. We can rest and we know when to push, when it’s time to let it out,” he said. “The turns are where we kill ‘em. That and our starts.
“We’re still trying to work on our blending to feel like we’re one. We make choke mistakes. We’ve got stuff to improve on, anything that will help us get better — our timing, technique, changeovers and mindset.”
They’re all grown up now. They’re thinking about serious stuff, like their futures. Paddling is fun, but sooner rather than later they’re off to college or ready to join the workforce.
But there are still two more Moku O Hawaii regattas left. Then there’s the Hawaii Canoe Racing Association state championship, which will be held Aug. 3 on Kauai. Until then, more work awaits.
“We have to keep improving every week,” Leasure-Lucas said. “We have to get our time up there. We have to do our best on Kauai. It could be our last time together. It all depends on how college and our lives go. Hopefully, we can come back and paddle together.”
As a scholarship football player, Leasure-Lucas understands that time is precious. He may spend next summer working on his gridiron skills on orders from Redwoods.
Whatever the case, he is absolutely certain about one thing when it comes to Puna’s 18 crew.
“The best is yet to come,” he said.
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