KAILUA-KONA — Determination, focus and years of training.
Those were the key ingredients to local outrigger canoe crew Red Bull Wa’a’s victory at the Molokai Hoe in 2017, an annual 41-mile canoe paddling race that had previously never had a Big Island crew win.
“I’m in the canoe in that moment and I’m just thinking to myself, we’ve got to give it our all, stay focused, because it’s either now or never.”
Those sentiments from Red Bull stroker Keakua Nolan were said in the short film “Red Bull Wa’a: This and Nothing Else,” which follows the crew in the days leading up to the Molokai Hoe and their historic win. Like the team it follows, the film itself has overcome its humble beginnings to find success on the islands.
The film, which originally was made for the company Red Bull’s online television channel, has now played at festivals around the Hawaiian islands such as the Hawaii International Film Festival in November and the Waimea Ocean Film Festival this past week.
Red Bull Wa’a’s founder and team manager Mike Nakachi said he felt honored that the Red Bull crew’s inspiring story is being shared at this year’s crop of festivals, including being chosen for the Waimea Ocean Film Festival. The film’s success has exceeded the team’s expectations when they debuted it on the Big Island in September before the Queen Liliuokalani Race along the Kona coast.
“It’s had over 8 million views online, and it’s something that no one really knows about, paddling,” Nakachi said. “And in Australia, we’ve had a million views alone. And I think that has to do with the boys participating and spreading that wa’a word.”
Paddlers Nolan and Kainoa Tanoai are the center of the film’s narration — two locals following their dreams to go up against the elite paddlers of the world and win the sport’s most prestigious race.
“These guys are spending 20 hours a week in the canoe, training, running and working out. They’re really trying to be a professional athlete with zero paychecks,” Nakachi said. “But it is changing. And we hope that one day they can sign nice contracts and be paid to do something they love.”
Nakachi has been with the team for more than a decade now, long before they were called Red Bull Wa’a, and is a native to the Big Island as well. He said the team had to adjust to being in front of the camera and in the spotlight.
“For us as local boys, we don’t like that limelight at all,” Nakachi said. “We try to stay away from it. And we’re very private, we’re a very small community, but it was something that when you have a GoPro in your face, or a $700,000 1000 mm lens that can basically focus on the teardrops in your eyes, we couldn’t hide.”
The 2018 Molokai Hoe in October had a slightly different ending than the one caught on film the previous year. The Tahitian team Shell Va’a, which Red Bull defeated in 2017, “came back with a vengeance,” although Red Bull was still able to accomplish the feat of beating their personal time.
“We came in second,” Nakachi said. “They went the fourth fastest in history and we went the seventh fastest in history. So we went 4 hours and 44 minutes this year which was 20 minute faster than the year we won.”
Info: Watch “Red Bull Wa’a: This and Nothing Else” at RedBull.tv.