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Canoe paddling: Kailana hosts Hilo Bay’s string of regattas

By KEVIN JAKAHI

Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Kawika Kekuawela grew up paddling at Kailana Canoe Club under the guidance of Aunty Maile Mauhili, who feels most at home when she’s at the ocean.

The Kailana regatta on Saturday kicks off the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association’s run of events at Hilo Bay.

Kekuawela, 39, first started paddling for Kailana in 1991. He last paddled for the club in 2008 in the Novice A division.

He’s back as the club’s girls coach, and one of his paddlers is his daughter Nahiena Kekuawela, 12, who’s in the girls 12 crew, which has one of the fastest times in the state.

Among the Hawaii Canoe Racing Association competition (Big Island, Oahu, Maui, and Kauai), the Kailana girls 12 are fifth in the quarter-mile race at 2 minutes, 17.62 seconds.

The crew members are Jaylea Aiona-Souza, Nahiena Kekuawela, Chiara Mizuno, Naiah Pacarro-Friend, Healani Palakiko, and Kuuipo Sylva.

They’re the only crew from Kailana to crack the HCRA’s top five fastest time list.

Kekuawela, who’s an electrician for DWE Inc., not only teaches his paddlers proper technique but also reinforces Aunty Maile’s philosophy.

“She was always about respect and to have fun,” he said. “Aunty Maile is so sharp. She can give you all the years and facts.”

Aunty Maile, 83, has been at Kailana since 1985. The club’s name was changed from Wailani in 1995. Wailani was formed in 1973.

Kailana has seen a nice numbers boost. There’s over 60 paddlers, an increase of 20 with most being youngsters.

The last two years at the Aunty Maile/Moku O Hawaii championships the club entered only five clubs.

The last time Kailana had a crew at states was in 2008 with the mixed novice B, a race for rookies.

The girls 12 crew is the club’s great hope to break that long drought.

“The girls 12 is all brand new,” Aunty Maile said. “They were fifth in the first regatta and third in the last two. They’re good and put their minds to it.”

Out of the club’s 14 crews, the girls 12 is the only one in the top three of the Moku O Hawaii standings.

It’s an egalitarian system for Moku O Hawaii, where there’s no such thing as tune-ups. Every regatta counts, and the top two finishers in the standings earn the island’s two lanes at states.

Kailana has finished third in all three regattas, entering 11, 14, and 12 crews, respectively, in the Division B (1-14 events).

“We’ve got quite a bit of new ones from age-group to adults,” Aunty Maile said. “They’re into it and want to learn.

“When someone asks them, ‘Where did you learn to paddle?’ And they say, ‘From Aunty Maile,’ That’s the good part for me.

“The biggest thing is the children. I want to teach them about the culture, but the No. 1 thing is about respect. Even when you wake up and clean your room, that’s respect.”

Aunty Maile has been involved with paddling for more than seven decades, and Moku O Hawaii’s return to Hilo Bay is a homecoming for her.

“If I don’t come down to the beach, I feel a void,” she said. “The ocean is healing and takes your mind off everything. It’s my life.”

When Nahiena Kekuawela decided to paddle, her dad knew of a special place with warm open arms.

“It’s really family oriented here,” Kawika Kekuawela said. “It’s the love Aunty Maile has for the sport and for all of us. It’s kind of like being at home.”

 

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