Puna may not be the best, but the canoe club is always hard to beat, and that type of mindset is something Chance Agpoon is trying to pass down to the young paddlers in his crew.
Agpoon, Lono Leasure-Lucas, Marvin Vinoya, Noah Loutalo, Braden Leialoha and Kui Reis are members of Puna’s 18 boys crew that captured first place at the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association regatta Saturday at Hilo Bay.
The crew didn’t paddle in the first three regattas in Kailua-Kona. Since then, the Puna 18 paddlers have finished second three consecutive times, before their first victory.
Under a scorching sun and friendly breeze, they won their mile race in 8 minutes and 9.86 seconds to Keaukaha’s 8:30.17, giving Agpoon a bit of satisfaction against his cousin.
His cousin, Nick Nicolas, is part of Keaukaha’s 18 crew that leads the Moku O Hawaii standings with 32 points after the Puna hosted regatta. Puna is next with 25 points while Kai Opua is third with 22 points.
Moku O Hawaii has only two lanes to the Hawaii Canoe Racing Association state championships. Next year, Hilo Bay will host states and Moku O Hawaii will have three lanes for each event again.
Seven-time champion Kai Opua pocketed the A division (15-40 events) for the seventh consecutive regatta with 193 points, ahead of Puna, 164; Keaukaha, 135; Keauhou, 113; Kai Ehitu, 112; Kamehameha, 111; Kawaihae, 97; and Laka, 58.
In something of a nice small streak, Puna grabbed three races in a row: women 50, men 50 and mixed 60.
Keoua Honaunau seized the B division (1-14 events) with 43 points, ahead of Waiakea, 29; Kailana, 25; Hanakahi, 17; and Waikoloa, 11.
The Aunty Maile Mauhili/Moku O Hawaii championships are July 19 at Hilo Bay. Only the two top point leaders in each event in the Moku O Hawaii standings earn state berths.
Should a crew in second place, third or lower in the standings win its race at the championships, there are no extra points — just an honorary distinction of being an Aunty Maile/Moku O Hawaii champion.
Agpoon knows a thing or two about claiming such a title. He, his cousin Colby Nicolas, Leasure-Lucas, and Keola Sumera-Lee were on undefeated Moku O Hawaii championship crews from ages 14, 15, 16 and 18.
In those four years at the HCRA state championships, those four key paddlers placed third in 14s, second in 15s, third in 16s, and 18s last year — not the best but always hard to beat.
Those were the good, old days when Agpoon reflects on that era. Now, only he and Leasure-Lucas are age eligible to paddle in 18s for a second consecutive year.
“We had a bond and were always together. Colby is my cousin and were always together, and Keola and Lono are close family friends.”
Agpoon can’t polish off another undefeated season, but at least the Puna 18s crew has a chance to take home another Aunty Maile/Moku O Hawaii title, and make another run at states.
Paddlers are allowed to enter two events, and Puna coach Afa Tuaolo could stick Agpoon in the sophomore, junior or open mixed crews.
“For us to win another Moku O Hawaii championship, I’d be happy and it would be humbling,” said Agpoon, a 2013 Hilo graduate. “Lono and I are kind of picking the young boys up, and being like a role model because we’ve paddled with the men, and are a little more experienced.
“We’re just trying to teach the young boys that all the hard work will pay off in the end. We just want to stay focused. That’s what it’s all about.”
The UH-Hilo computer science major is the eldest of Chad and Teresa Agpoon’s four children. His younger siblings are Chase, Chazz and Cassidy.
Chad and Chase paddle for Keaukaha. Chazz isn’t paddling this year, but next year he and Cassidy will likely paddle for Keaukaha. Mom Teresa doesn’t paddle.
Sumera-Lee was first at Puna, and invited his three other pals from Keaukaha to join forces. They became Moku O Hawaii’s version of the Big 4 and dominated their age groups.
“We had tension when we first went over,” Agpoon said. “Then we were in the same boat and took off.”
Agpoon went to Ventura junior college in California last year, and transferred to UH-Hilo. He has a chance to become the first in his family from the Agpoon and Nicolas sides to earn a college degree.
He recently made a commercial for his uncle Shawn Santana, owner of the Pure Aloha Festival in Las Vegas. Then Agpoon provided a touch of aloha, working the shaved ice stand.
“Making that commercial was a mean one,” he said. “My uncle flew me up.
“For me I want to get my degree and make my family proud.”
Agpoon has been busy during the summer, working for his grandpa’s company, Nicolas Construction. There’s no website, but sooner or later Agpoon will tackle that, too.
In a Kevin Bacon six degrees sort of way, everywhere Agpoon turns he’s bound to find someone with family or canoe paddling ties.
At the scoring stand, Agpoon spotted Malani Alameda, the Keaukaha coach and another source of inspiration.
“He was the first one to get me started in paddling,” Agpoon said. “He would pick me up and take me to practice. Even though, we’re on rival clubs. I want to make him proud, too.”