Moku O Hawaii: Kai Opua powers to eighth straight title
It rained at times, but by the end of the festivities streaks of light shined across a relatively placid Hilo Bay.
Considering the winner, it only made sense. The sun doesn’t appear to be close to setting on Kai Opua’s empire anytime soon.
The West Hawaii powerhouse created the only noticeable storm Saturday, paddling to its eighth consecutive Aunty Maile/Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association championship.
“All of our crews achieved what they needed to do,” Kai Opua athletic director Mike Atwood said. “They recognized it was a championship race, and in order for Kai Opua to win they had to paddle like champions.”
Kai Opua (204 points) competed in all 42 races. Starting with girls 14 and continuing through mixed masters 60, it claimed 11 races to easily outdistance Puna Canoe Club (157) in A Division, which won six of the last 10 events and also claimed 11 races. Keaukaha and Keauhou tied for third at 139.
Paddlers of Laka took the B Division, and Kailana won C Division.
Atwood said he never felt relief until the results were announced at the end.
“There is always a little doubt,” Atwood said “But you feel as the day goes on that as long as you have crews that are capable of getting points, they are going to do that.
“Keaukaha made us pay attention and Puna made runs. But as long as we could get second and third places, we felt we were OK.”
Cheryl Villegas was a part of Kai Opua’s winning women’s sophomore crew, which recorded the fastest women’s mile of the day and was one of the club’s 24 canoes to lock down berths at the HCRA state championships, set for Aug. 2 at Keehi Lagoon in Honolulu.
She also oversees a women’s program that will send all but two of its crews to states. Her most memorable moments came when the junior women and women’s 60 canoes narrowly lost their races and finished runner-up.
“They both battled through the whole race, and that’s what it’s all about for me,” she said. “They worked really hard no matter what.”
Her women’s novice A crew improved on its state-best time, winning its half-mile race in four minutes, 13.5 seconds.
“They are poised to do a really good job at states,” Villegas said. “They’ve been improving every regatta, and that’s what I look for.”
All six crews that started the day unbeaten also finished that way:
Kai Ehitu 12s (Kiana Anakalea, Nayeli Silva-Kahalewai, Lilei Ynigues, Maimiti Otare, Hunter Kalima, Malie Grace)
Keaukaha 12s (Kekoa Denne Kimi, Keone Agpoon, Kahiau Walker, Kaleoali’i Macanas, Nalu Lewis, Honu Longley-Ka’aumoana)
Keaukaha 16s (Kalani Fujiyama-Medeiros, Kualono Kaupu, Keahi Denne-Kimi, Grant Kauahi Jr., No’eau Nunes, Kaimi Iaukea-Ronquillio)
Keauhou men’s masters 40 (Andy Witherspoon, Keone Au, Hunter Anderson, Daniel Legler, Nue Youderian, Stevee B Berengue)
Kai Opua 65s (Sue Lalanne, Betty Guidotti, Sari Lassiter, Carol Clifford, Becky Walton, Susie Shaw)
Puna senior women masters 50 (Sheila Cadaoas, Marcia Johansen, Jolene Hughes, Ruth Hamakawa, Mamo Brown, Bev Tuaolo)
Boosted by its youth program, Keaukaha won four of the first eight races.
“The kids train hard,” coach Malani Alameda said. “The coaches are hard on them, but in a positive way.
“Our 12 and 16s were flawless. They were superb.”
Another unbeaten, Kai Opua 65s, has some unfinished business to attend to at states. The crew won last year only to be disqualified.
“They came back to the beach too fast, but they’re going back to avenge that,” Villegas said. “Hopefully they can put on a repeat performance.”