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A dream come true for Red Bull Wa’a: Big Island crew paddles into history books at Molokai Hoe

Updated: 
October 10, 2017 - 3:10pm

KAILUA-KONA — History was made at the Molokai Hoe on Sunday when the Red Bull Wa’a crew became the first team from a Big Island based crew to win the prestigious 41-mile channel crossing, known as the world championship of long distance outrigger canoe racing.

Red Bull managed to compete the crossing, which started at the Hale O Lono Harbor in Molokai and finished at Duke Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki on Oahu, in a time of 4 hours, 50 minutes and 1 second, edging out second place finisher and 10-time winner Shell Va’a by a mere 31 seconds.

“It was a sense of relief when we crossed the finish line because it was good to know that all the hard work and sacrifices had paid off,” said Red Bull crew member Kainoa Tanoai. “There was a record 102 canoes in this year’s race and it was mostly a battle with Shell from start to finish.”

Following the French Polynesian based Shell Va’a to the line were a who’s who of top crews in the paddling world, which included Oahu’s Lanikai (third, 4:58:06) and Hui Nalu (fourth, 5:02:06), followed by Maui’s Team Primo (5:03:59, fifth).

Red Bull was the first Hawaiian crew to win the race in more than a decade. Lanikai 1 Kamehana‘okala was the last to win back in 2005.

“We knew exactly who the top teams were going to be so to say this win was a big one is definitely an understatement,” said Red Bull team manager Mike Nakachi. “This journey started more than 10 years ago and this is a dream come true for a lot of the boys.”

The event attracts more than 1,000 padders from around the world annually. According to the event’s website, the Molokai Hoe is one of the longest running annual team sporting events in Hawaii, second only to football.

The Red Bull crew is made up of Big Island paddlers Daniel Chun, Kainoa Tanoai, Trey Cox and Keakua Nolan, as well as Heiva Paie-Amo, Charles Teianuiri, Haamatai Leon, Steeve Teihotaata, Chevalier Hikutini.

“The boys decided stay in the middle coming out instead of going inside or outside,” Nakachi said. “There wasn’t a lot going on at the start except for a little dumping tide, but we had practiced with the conditions the day before and set up few strategic tactics that would be best for the team.”

The strategy paid off as Red Bull managed to take a slight lead at an early stage in the race usually dominated by French Polynesian and Tahitian teams.

As the race approached the 40 minute mark, the top teams converged on each other.

“Primo may have even had the lead at that point but it was a battle with us and Shell before we made a little of an attack to take the lead back,” Nakachi said. “Afterward we were able to keep the pressure on and I started to notice a little separation with Primo and Hui Nalu, while Shell went a little north. This is when we started to find a relaxed rhythm and we executed our exchanges cleanly.”

As the team approached hour two and three, Nakachi had a feeling of the the team being all alone out in the Kaiwi Channel, but that all changed heading into the fourth hour as the team’s began to approach Oahu.

“It started to get interesting seven miles from the island,” Nakachi said. “We saw Shell far to the north of us, maybe one-half to three-quarters of a mile away. We got a sense of them coming down on us by riding a bump off the bigger north swell. We maintained our course but they were able to sneak up behind us.”

Down to a two-canoe race heading toward Diamondhead, Red Bull ran into a little trouble when Nakachi said they entered “sticky water.”

“Both teams converged on each other and by the look of it, Shell’s boat was pretty dry and surfing nicely,” Nakachi said. “Our boat looked like it was bogging down after taking on a little water. Shell was able to take a lead and that made me a little nervous.”

The finish would be a dog fight and the intensity on both canoes were at an all-time high. As the canoes passed the Outrigger Canoe Club, another exchange took place and Red Bull was able to find its rhythm again, taking the lead once more, while creating about a 50-yard gap.

However, disaster nearly struck the Big Island crew coming into as the team rode a nice south swell.

“The canoe was heading straight for a green pylon that makes up the left boundary,” Nakachi said. “Another 30 feet and the team may have hit it dead-on.”

Red Bull was able to recover and move back into the channel, maintaining the lead until the finish.

“As the boys finished it was pandemonium,” Nakachi said. “We are really blessed to have so many resources and a wonderful canoe. I just knew something special was going to happen this year.”

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