KAILUA-KONA — As the short film “This and Nothing Else” reached its climax, Red Bull manager Mike Nakachi’s voice boomed over the speakers in the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel Grand Ballroom.
“Believe, believe,” Nakachi urged his Red Bull Wa’a crew as they reached the final 2 miles of the 41-mile Molokai Hoe in a dogfight with perennial Tahitan power, Shell Va’a. “We have to fight boys — we have to fight.”
The ending of the story was already written, but nonetheless, the finale of the 30 minute movie was dramatic.
With iron will, unparalleled endurance and a little help from their Tahitian brothers, Red Bull Wa’a made history last year as the first Hawaii-based crew since 2005 to win the Molokai Hoe. Racing as members of Kai Opua Canoe Club, the Tahitian-Hawaiian hybrid squad managed to hold off Shell Va’a, which had dominated the last decade-plus at what is considered the world championship of men’s long-distance outrigger canoe racing.
As the Red Bull boys crossed the finish line, on the screen, the standing-room only crowd erupted.
“Boys, you made us all proud,” said Kai Opua President Bo Campos after the lights came on. “It brought tears to my eyes and I think many others.”
The film points out that what the crew did was unprecedented, bringing on four talented Tahitian paddlers to bolster a solid, but “inexperienced” Big Island crew.
“It is a process to move things forward,” Nakachi told the group in the meeting. “You guys have an opportunity in front of you, and I have to tell you, I have a good feeling about things.”
He was right, and the group made history.
“If we put our best foot forward, we can hang with anyone in the world,” Nakachi said.
Before the screen turns to black, the final words of the film are from stroker Keakua Nolan who says, “Shock the world.”
The crowd — again — erupted.
The film’s summary reads: “Get to know the Red Bull Wa’a outrigger canoe paddling team, made up of ordinary Hawaiian guys who hold down full-time jobs. Some of them have troubled pasts, but they’re all united by a shared passion and goal: to win on the sport’s biggest stage.”
The movie has sprawling aerial views of the Kona coast and a behind-the-scenes look at the journey to becoming Molokai Hoe champions — starting in the boatyard of Honokohau Harbor a little less than a week before the race, and finishing on the celebratory sands of Waikiki.
But more importantly, it gives insight into the lives of local paddlers, like Nolan, who do it for the love of the sport.
The film follows Nolan, a born and raised Big Island paddler, as he hits the gym in the morning, works construction in the afternoon, then heads to a grueling evening of paddling practice. He gets home with the sun down to deal with everyday life, playing with his kids and hugging his wife before calling it a night and doing it all over again the next day.
“These guys aren’t paid, for the record,” Nakachi told the crowd. “They do this because they love the sport. They do this for the village behind them and the people who support them. It’s not easy.”
For Red Bull paddler Kainoa Tanoai, finding his “why” is simple.
“We all have the same vision. We work hard, we train together and never lose focus of the goal,” Tanoai said in the film. “You can’t pull the canoe by yourself. For a lot of people, it might look like guys are just swinging paddles, but it’s about learning trust. There’s six guys coming together, working as one.”
The 2018 Molokai Hoe is scheduled for Oct. 7, but today’s 18-mile Queen Liliuokalani Race will serve as another step of the crew’s training. However, being in Big Island waters, the Red Bull crew has a reputation to live up to on its home turf, and can three-peat as champions under the “Red Bull” name. Many of the crew have been part of winning canoes over the years, like Mellow Johnny’s and Na Koa O Kona.
To check out the movie, visit RedBull.tv.