By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
It’s been an early run of unbeatable dominance for 22 crews in the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association season, which returns to Hilo Bay’s vibrant brown sand and similar-colored water for six straight races.
Aunty Maile Mauhili’s Kailana regatta will play host Saturday to the powerful paddling display of Kai Opua, which has seven undefeated crews and is the reigning six-time Division A (21-43 events) champion.
Keaukaha has five unbeaten canoes, Keauhou, Kai Ehitu and Puna each have three flawless crews and Kamehameha’s senior women master 50 rounds out the list, which has a lot of fresh faces. Only two crews — Kai Opua’s boys 16 and Keauhou’s men master 40 — carry over unbeaten Moku O Hawaii streaks from last year.
Haaheo Kaiawe and Ka‘u Kin In are the only returning members on Kai Opua’s canoe while Hawaii Prep coach Mesepa Tanoai, Bruce Ayau and Nue Youderian are the guys back for Keauhou, the West Hawaii club known more for its sturdy senior citizen paddlers.
“It’s not that unusual this early in the season,” said Aunty Maile, noting the list of unbeatens will get shorter as the season grows longer.
In a push to incorporate more youth and depth to the program, Bill Armer has hit a pair of home runs, going out in style in his expiring last year as the club’s president. Keauhou’s girls 12 and men junior crews are also undefeated.
The fresh face list of returning perfect Moku O Hawaii crews comes with an asterisk. That’s because so many paddlers move up an age division or jump to another club, paddling’s version of free agency and taking one’s talent somewhere else.
On the other hand, sometimes it’s nice to make history and grow old together.
Last year, Kai Ehitu won the boys 12 race at the Hawaii Canoe Racing Association state championship, bringing home the club’s first gold since 2007 and turning the experience into a special moment for six youngsters.
Hiram “Nana” Anakalea Jr., Iokepa Aponte, Kevin Gladden, Abraham Kalavi, Malosi Laasaga and Baba Weza were in the winning canoe that finished the quarter-mile race in 2 minutes and 9.30 seconds, ahead of West Hawaii rival Kai Opua’s 2:10.81.
In an impressive show of strength, Kai Ehitu’s boys 12 and 13 are undefeated on the young season with three paddlers — Laasaga, Aponte and Anakalea — pulling double duty on both races.
However, the youngsters had the opportunity to get in a good night’s rest with the first three regattas held in their back yard at Kailua Pier. They’ll need to wake up before the roosters, bright and early to make the two-hour drive to Hilo Bay, where the weather forecast is predicting 70 percent chance of showers.
For those canoe paddling fans who like to get up early and drink coffee, they’ll have a chance to catch some early entertainment. The crews for the first five races — Keauhou girls 12, Kai Ehitu boys 12, Keaukaha mixed 12, Keaukaha girls 13, and Kai Ehitu boys 13 — are all undefeated.
But far more important for the early risers will be Aunty Maile’s chant to begin the day, honoring Charles “Kale Loke” Rose Jr., who passed away Jan. 15 at age 78, a former president for Moku O Hawaii and HCRA.
He was born in Hilo, and was a police captain, investigator and Army veteran. Rose passed away in Honolulu. He is survived by wife Rose Marie, son Kawika, daughter Crystal Rose-Towill, brother Thomas and three grandchildren.
Online condolences may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“He made a lot of difference for Moku O Hawaii and HCRA,” Aunty Maile said. “He stressed the koa canoe. That was his No. 1 thing.
“He was instrumental in the first International Federation Canoe Championship in 1984 in Long Beach, Calif. With him, it was about coming together as a close-knit family, like six people in a canoe working as one.”
Paddling notes: The HCRA state championships will be held Saturday, Aug. 3 on Kauai. Defending state champions are Keauhou’s women 65, and men 65, men novice B, men masters 40, women masters 60; Kai Opua girls 13, men junior, mixed men and women; Hanakahi mixed novice B; and Kai Ehitu boys 12.
The novice B division is for paddlers with one to two years of experience. The novice A division is for paddlers with up to four years of experience.
Keauhou is the three-time state champion in Division AAA (13-20 events). Moku O Hawaii clubs have won that division the last five years, Kai Opua in 2008 and Puna in 2009 before Keauhou’s string of titles.
What: Kailana regatta
When: 8:15 a.m. Saturday
Where: Hilo Bay