WAIMEA — The 2014 edition of the Hawaii High School Rodeo Association State finals kicked off Friday afternoon at Parker Ranch Arena, with 45 of the top cowboys and cowgirls in the state gathering to compete for a berth to the national finals next month.
“The competition is very tight this year. It could really go any way,” Hawaii High School Rodeo Association national director Tom Richmond said. “There were a lot of nerves out there today, as there always is the first go. I think Saturday everyone will settle in and the competition will be even more fierce.”
The rodeo continues at 10 a.m. Saturday and will run until late in the afternoon.
The riders participate in a diverse range of events, including steer wrestling, barrel racing, dally team roping, breakaway roping, tie down roping, pole bending, goat tying, saddle broncs, double mugging, po’o wai U, and — of course — bull riding.
The top four riders in each event will qualify for the National High School Finals Rodeo, which will be held July 13-19 in Rock Springs, Wyo. On Sunday, the top eight will be announced at an awards ceremony, with the opportunity falling to the fifth through eighth spots if any of the top four qualifiers decline.
The Big Island is represented well at the season culminating rodeo, with 22 riders. Among them two seniors, Kayla Ann Kalauli and Kekahi Ferreira, who will be having their last go at the high school level. Kalauli is the reigning High School Rodeo Queen, but will pass her crown on this weekend to three new participants vying for the title.
Chase Kahiau Onaka is also among the Big Island entrants. Onaka serves as the association’s high school student president.
“I was born into rodeo, so I have been doing this pretty much my whole life,” said Onaka, who is an incoming senior at Makua Lani. “I try not to make this weekend stressful, but it can be hard because it is very important. This is what our whole season comes down to, so you really want to do well and qualify for nationals.”
Onaka still has some time before graduating, but said that for his post-high school plans he has looked at some colleges in California that have rodeo teams.
Richmond agreed, the next step for many of the participants who are looking to continue their career on horseback would be college rodeo, but noted that some can try to break into the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
“It’s difficult for the kids in Hawaii to break into the PRCA because you have to make a lot of connections,” Richmond said. “College rodeo is a great route though, and definitely an option for many of these kids.”
The participants were introduced in a grand entry ceremony before the action picked up, with the 10 seniors in the field being recognized.
Horseman of Year
The HHSRA also announced Maui’s Elliot Baisa as its Horseman of the Year for his contributions to the rodeo community. Baisa passed away on March 15 of this year, but his family accepted the award on his behalf in a heartfelt ceremony.