Rodeo: High school paniolos saddle up for nationals in Wyoming

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When Hailey Onaka travels to Wyoming in July, she’ll be prepared to answer two questions.


When Hailey Onaka travels to Wyoming in July, she’ll be prepared to answer two questions.

“The first thing people always ask is if I know how to surf and if I know how to do hula,” she said.

Onaka can’t do either – but she’s handy with a horse and rope. She’s a cowgirl, and twice the best high-schooler in the state.

“People (on the mainland) are surprised rodeo is a thing in Hawaii,” Onaka said.

Even closer to home, that’s a surprise to some. Like many students at Makua Lani, Onaka is on the soccer team, but that’s a mere hobby for the junior.

“Besides me and my brother (Chase), they don’t know what I do,” she said.

It just came naturally. Her parents are both from ranching families, and they have their own horse facility. Onaka took up rodeo in kindergarten, and she started competing in events as a sixth-grader.

She repeated as All-Around Cowgirl at the Hawaii High School Rodeo Association finals Saturday at Parker Ranch. In addition to winning goat tying, she took second in breakaway roping and fourth in barrel racing. But her most impressive accomplishment came when she teamed with Ty Shintaku, a recent Kahuku (Oahu) graduate, to win team roping.

“I’m a big fan of roping, but (team roping) is mostly a guy event,” Onaka said. “For sure, that was my favorite event to show the guys that I could do it.

“It’s about technique and the amount of work you put in.”

Onaka advanced to the National High School Finals Rodeo from July 12-18 in Rock Springs, Wyo., where she will compete in breakaway roping, barrel racing and team roping with Shintaku.

Shintaku, who competed in the Big Island district during a season that started in October, earned All-Around Cowboy in a finals in which the host island was a cut above the rest:

• Makua Lani graduate Chase Kahiau Onaka prevailed in reining cow horse and light rifle shooting.

• Keaau graduate Kaili Brenneman captured poo wai u.

• Honokaa graduate Mia Nakachi won barrel racing.

• Honokaa senior Patricia Rincon took breakaway roping.

• Keaau junior Kepa Awai was the top bull rider.

• Hawaii Academy of Arts & Sciences graduate Julian Mautz won boys cutting, while Keaau junior Ikena Nakoa won girls cutting.

• Ka‘u senior Evan Manoha and Keaau senior Lexis Andrade shared the crown in double mugging.• Rookie Cowboy and Cowgirl went to Honokaa’s Levi Higa and Kamehameha-Hawaii’s Sierra Gleason.

“We’re competitive here, Onaka said. “It’s not way more advanced, but we do hold ourselves to a certain standard.” Chase Kahiau Onaka (Cal Poly) and Shintaku (West Hills Community College, Calif.) will continue to compete in college, something Hailey Onaka has her eye on someday.

Aesthetics and athletics

Kamehameha-Hawaii senior Gabbie Gleason was crowned the queen, a title won not only based on the strength of a written test, interview and her personal appearance, but also a fourth-place finish in reining cow horse.

“It’s more than just about glamour,” said Gleason, who has been riding since she was 3. “We get dirty, too.”

Though she was the only competitor up for the award this year, Gleason said that only added to the pressure.

“I know that I’m going to nationals, so I had to be at my best so I can represent Hawaii well,” she said. “I speak for the state.”

In Wyoming, she’ll compete against queens from across the United States, as well as Canada and Australia.

“I don’t have as much experience as others in public speaking, but my rodeo experience gives me an advantage,” she said. “I also think it’s an advantage that I”m coming from so far away. It shows how far rodeo has come.”



Joining Gleason, Hailey Onaka and Chase Kahiau Onaka at nationals from the Big Island will be Kohala senior Railen Ching, Kealakehe junior Cassidy Serion, Kealakehe senior Kepa Boteilho-Benevides, Konawaena senior Ethan Awa, Sierra Gleason, Brenneman, Mautz, Andrade, Nakachi, Nakoa and Rincon.

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