It may take Kai Opua some time to get going.
If form holds, it will start slowly as Kai Ehitu and Keaukaha, among others, shine. Kai Opua doesn’t feature its trademark depth in the youngest divisions.
But around the time its girls 14 crew hits the water Saturday in Hilo Bay, that’s when Kai Opua’s depth usually starts to sink in. And that makes it a runaway favorite again at the Aunty Maile/Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association championships.
The seven-time champion from West Hawaii may make it look easy, but it’s not, said athletic director Mike Atwood.
“We’ve been able to maintain a competitive level that makes it hard for others to match. But it’s not impossible,” Atwood said. “As other clubs figure out what we’re doing, we figure out what they’re doing.
“They’ve been able to pick on us in some areas. We’re not coming over to win every race.”
But Atwood anticipates Kai Opua will be able to enter all 42 races Saturday, and Keaukaha coach Malani Alameda said the top dog features quality as well as quantity.
“They are hard to beat,” he said. “They aren’t just competing in all 42. They are placing in a lot of them, and that is hard to come by.”
Like all clubs, Kai Opua will have to sweat it out as crews try to secure one of two lanes available to Moku O Hawaii canoes at the HCRA state championships, slated for Aug. 2 at Keehi Lagoon in Honolulu.
Atwood targeted 14 races that are still up for grabs, including events 20-22. The island championships carry the same weight as the previous seven regattas this season.
In men’s freshman, Puna Canoe Club (35 points) leads Keauhou (33) and Kai Opua (32). Kawaihae (25) is three points ahead of Kai Opua with Puna another point back in women’s sophomore. Four points separate Keuahou (44), Kai Opua (42) and Puna (40) in men’s sophomore.
“It’d be nice if we could win all three of those races and have that put us over the top,” Atwood said.
Alameda coaches two of the six crews looking to finish unbeaten Big Island seasons. In addition to Keaukaha boys 12 and boys 16, the other unbeatens are Kai Ehitu girls 12, Keauhou men’s masters 40, Kai Opua women’s 65 and Puna senior women masters 50.
Alameda said attrition has taken its toll on Keaukaha. He estimated his club would enter 30 races, making third a realistic goal.
“We’ve lost a lot of our youngsters to different programs, and that’s where we’ve been strong,” he said. “Everyone wants to be at the first race, but we’ve relied on a lot of first-time paddlers this year. And with first-time paddlers, the commitment isn’t as strong.”
However, the boys 12 crew (Keone Agpoon, Kekoa Denne Kimi, Nalu Lewis, Honu Longley-Ka’aumoana, Imi Waipa, Kahiau Walker) and boys 16 crew (Keahi Denne-Kimi, Kalani Fujiyama-Medeiros, Kaimi Iaukea-Ronquillio, Grant Kauahi, Jr., Kualono Kaupu, No’eau Nunes) have been a model of consistency, going 6-0 and 7-0, respectively.
“They’re looking good and the corp is strong,” Alameda said. “They should hold and expect to finish unbeaten.”
The forecast is for heavy rain, with a flash flood watch set to go in effect at 6 p.m. Saturday.
“I’ll bring a raincoat,” Atwood said. “We’ve had chances to practice in many conditions.”
Was Alameda hoping a bad storm would provide an equalizer of sorts for East Hawaii clubs?
“I love the rain, but we can sacrifice it (Saturday),” Alameda said.
“I’m hoping for sunny weather. I’d rather see everybody out and having fun.”