Friday | December 15, 2017
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Canoe paddling: Keiko rule for Kai Ehitu

Kai Ehitu’s Red Engine — the club’s youth paddlers — are powering the climb up the mountain and promising a bright future in the competitive landscape of the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association.

Head coach Richard Kimitete and youth coach Hiram Anakalea have a good thing going with their paddlers from ages 12 to 18, who occupy first place in the Moku O Hawaii standings with four crews: girls 12, 14, 15, and unbeaten boys 13, which has the fastest time in the state in the quarter-mile race.

The crew members are Anakalea’s nephew Hailama Anakalea, Optimus Bong, Kamrin Kam, Keanu Mareko, Diesel Marks, and Gareth Warren and they posted a season-best blazing time of 1 minute, 45.86 seconds Saturday at the Kamehameha regatta at Hilo Bay. Entering Saturday, Maui’s Hawaiian was next at 1:54.02, but Paddlers of Laka moved into second with an effort of 1:53.76.

The club’s adult division also has four crews that sit in first place with the mixed novice B, women novice B, mixed 40, and mixed men and women. But Kai Ehitu competes in 23 adult races while the young guns are in all 13 youth events.

Puna won for the fourth time in as many Hilo regattas, outpointing Kai Opua 219-173.

Kai Opua still has the deepest farm system among all 13 Moku O Hawaii clubs and a strong magnet with chiefs Uncle Bo Campos and Mike Atwood. They also coach at Kealakehe, an annual BIIF title contender. That’s an easy connection to draw in BIIF paddlers from Kealakehe and Konawaena, a reason for their blue-chip older youth paddlers.

Big Blue has six youth crews atop the Moku O Hawaii standings: girls 13, unbeaten 18, boys 15, 16, 18, and mixed 18. But Kai Ehitu’s Red Engine is gaining steam, if the Aunty Maile Mauhili/Moku O Hawaii championships are used as a barometer.

Over the last three years, Kai Ehitu has filled in all 13 youth races, along with Kai Opua. Each club has won 11 Aunty Maile/Moku O Hawaii titles. Keaukaha is next over that 2014-16 span with seven, including five in ’14.

Kai Ehitu draws its paddlers from the same districts as Kai Opua from Kealakehe to Honaunau to Kealakekua. The two West Hawaii clubs are always competing in more ways than one.

At least, Anakalea has an easy connection of his own. Besides his nephew Hailama Anakalea on the undefeated boys 13 crew, his daughter Kiana is on the girls 14 and 15 crews, and son Hiram Jr., nicknamed Nana, is on the boys 16 crew.

However, sometimes families go their separate ways.

Twin brothers Kelii and Keola Pelekane paddle with Hiram Jr. while their sister Kawehi Pelekane paddles with Kai Opua’s unbeaten girls 18 crew.

The East Hawaii clubs, especially the bigger one like Puna, Keaukaha, and Kamehameha, all have a pretty good deal attracting young paddlers because Hilo Bay is a relatively short drive from anywhere compared to what Kawaihae faces.

Longtime coach Manny Veincent has the most difficult challenge because his club is based out of the Kawaihae pier and attracts paddlers from Kapaau to Waimea. It’s not easy to get youngsters to attend practice, let alone filling out a six-paddler crew on regatta days.

Constant change

In the time flies department, Anakalea’s son Hiram Jr. was on the boys 12 crew that captured a Hawaii Canoe Racing Association title in 2012, the club’s first gold in five years. Two years later, Hiram Jr. was on the 14 crew that pocketed state gold. He’s now an incoming Kealakehe senior on the football team.

He’s in the boys 16 crew, which hasn’t won a Moku O Hawaii race yet. It didn’t help that Hiram Jr. missed the last two regattas to concentrate on football opportunities. When original six-paddler crews dissipate, the timing and team chemistry have to start from scratch.

“When new ones come on, for some it clicks right away,” Anakalea said. “Some kids can learn it fast, and it takes a while for others.”

As keiki grow older, it’s harder for crews to stick together, especially when paddlers start to get involved in BIIF sports. There are so many travel teams for basketball, soccer, and volleyball during the summer. Then there’s BIIF football where players lift weights and practice during the offseason. Or sometimes, paddlers hit the books to concentrate on school and drop paddling.

Back in 2014 when her brother won his last state gold, Kiana Anakalea was on the Kai Ehitu girls 12 crew that took the Aunty Maile/Moku O Hawaii title and finished second at states. She jumped an age division the next two years, won island crowns and finished fourth and fifth, respectively, at states.

She’s on the Red Engine girls 14 and 15 crews, and one of only two originals. Maile Grace is the only remaining paddling partner during Kiana’s tenure. And it gets tougher with the 15 age division because that’s the starting point of the half-mile races.

Fond memories

Last year, Kai Ehitu seized a state gold in the mixed 40 and none in the youth races; the boys 12 and 14 finished second. In 2015 at Hilo Bay, the boys 12 and 14 claimed second, the boys 13 third, and the girls 14 second.

“The boys 12 did challenge the best of the best last year. Now, they’re in the 13s,” Anakalea said. “We’re only missing one from that crew. The rest is still the same. They remind of Nana, Kepa Aponte, Malosi Laasaga, Baba Weza guys (the state gold boys 12 crew in 2012). They’ve got the same attitude. They’re humble. They’re good boys, they listen, and they’re just ready.

“They know how to work with each other. They’ve got so much power in the boat. They know how to control it. They’re so young, but they look 18 years old. That’s why we have ID checks.”

The last line had the Red Engine coach laughing and smiling. Then Anakalea started reminiscing and thinking about Pierre “Papa” Kimitete, who founded Kai Ehitu in 1982 and passed away in 2002.

“We’ve got over a dozen 10 or 11 year olds. They’ll be here for a while. The future is really bright,” Anakalea said. “It’s not just about paddling but about life, to do something and do something in life.

“One of Papa’s goals with the kids was for them to work together. Paddling is a huge part of it. It’s teamwork and commitment.”

The 12th annual Aunty Maile/Moku O Hawaii championships are right around the corner on July 22, followed later by the HCRA state regatta on Aug. 4 on Maui.

There are gold medals to be chased and Kai Ehitu’s Red Engine, which keeps producing title contenders at the Moku O Hawaii and state levels, will be leading the charge.


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