KAILUA-KONA —Even as the athletic director of the Big Island’s perennial powerhouse canoe club, Kai Opua’s Mike Atwood heard the offseason “rumor mill” and wondered what a new campaign would bring.
As high surf pounded Kailua Pier on Saturday, any lingering doubts Atwood had were calmed relatively quickly.
Bolstered by its youth crews, seven-time champion Kai Opua reigned at “Papa” Kimitete, the season-opening Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association regatta.
“The first regatta is always exciting,” Atwood said. “You’re looking to see what you have and what the competition has.
“For us to be able to win not knowing what we have, we now feel pretty good about what we have. We know what we need to work on, so it’s a real good way to start the season.”
Under mostly overcast skies, Keauhou finished second in A Division while host Kai Ehitu was third.
Kai Opua got off to a strong start thanks to what Atwood called a “pleasant surprise” from its youth paddlers.
Its boys 13-15 crews each collected victories, with Hanalei Akazawa paddling in 14s and 15s. Girls 16 also won, while boys 16 took second.
“The good thing is we have a lot of new kids and a lot of kids who haven’t paddled before,” Atwood said. “We weren’t sure how they were going to do against the really strong clubs.
“We didn’t win every single race, but we were happy with how they did.”
Kai Opua claimed 14 races in all, including men’s junior, women’s junior, women’s sophomore, men’s novice A, women’s master 40, mixed master 60, men’s 65, women’s 65, women’s open four and men’s open four.
“The club really came together paddler-wise and crew-wise, and the results reflect that,” Atwood said.
Kai Ehitu coach Richard Kimitete’s biggest positive was the way his crews were able to pull through the big swells. The defending B Division champion, Kai Ehitu competed in the upper division Saturday.
“(Third) is a big accomplishment,” he said. “A lot of kids and novices, and the adults did a fine job filling in the gaps.”
Kai Ehitu scored victories in girls 12, girls 15, women’s novice B and men’s masters 60
The club could have amassed more gold, but two crews were disqualified for crossing lanes.
“We made some mistakes, and I let them know about it big time,” Kimitete said. “We just got a little excited. We’re still trying to get the bugs out.”
Keauhou will host a regatta in Kailua Bay next Saturday.