Star-Bulletin Sports

Friday, September 21, 2001


The Healani Canoe Club Womens Novice "B" team trains on the
Ala Wai Canal for Sunday's Molokai Channel crossing.

Healani B doesn’t
need to win to win

By Brandon Lee

Unlike the big guns of the international women's outrigger canoe paddling community, the Healani B team is not entering Sunday's 23rd Bank of Hawaii Na Wahine O Ke Kai to win it. The crew and its coach already know that's not going to happen.

Simply being mentally ready and physically skilled and fit enough to enter the 41-mile, Molokai-to-Oahu race was steeply challenging enough for this group of paddlers based at the Ala Wai Canal on Oahu. But to actually finish the race, which is considered the world championship of long-distance canoe racing, would be a monumental feat, whether at the middle of the pack or at the very end.

Not to say these women cannot be competitive, but defending champion and pre-race favorite Kai Opua of the Big Island, as well as contenders like Team Eyecatcher (1999 champion with the Wailua Kayak & Canoe name) and Outrigger, are likely to leave them behind early on. And that's understandable, for while most on these teams are veteran Kaiwi Channel crossers, Healani B's 10-woman, one-alternate rotation is entirely novice.


Event: 23rd annual Bank of Hawaii Na Wahine O Ke Kai
What: 41-mile Molokai-to-Oahu world championship long-distance outrigger canoe race
When: Sunday
Start: 7:30 a.m. at Hale O Lono Harbor, Molokai
Finish: Hilton Hawaiian Village, Waikiki. First finishers expected between 1 and 1:30 p.m.
Divisions: Koa, fiberglass, masters

"Never! ... Never!," team captain Stacey Acma said when asked if she could have imagined participating in the Na Wahine O Ke Kai even a year ago. Like almost all of her fellow crew members, Acma, 32, has been paddling for less than a year, and none of them have ever crossed the channel before.

"It's just one of those things that progressed and it's just so exciting to share it with so many people who are sharing the exact same experience," Acma said. "You only cross the channel the first time once."

The point from which it really progressed, according to the crew's coach, Dave Young, was the short-course summer regatta season. Healani had a novice crew that won the state regatta championship and then participated in the Molokai race last year, but Young initially wasn't sure this year's group had the same commitment.

But when he announced after the annual July 4th sprint race that all long-distance hopefuls would have to put in an extra day each week cross-training on land, his Novice B women eagerly did.

Young was pleasantly surprised. And when this year's crew successfully defended the club's Novice B state championship, Young was more than willing to help them make the transition to long-distance racing and preparation for the "Molokai."

"It's relatively unusual for novice paddlers to have the dedication, what it takes to do long-distance," Young said. "But then to do a Molokai race, have a Molokai crew, is even more unusual.

"The skills taught in sprint racing don't necessarily carry over to distance, where there is wind, current and swells. It involves a tremendous amount of learning as well as paddling."

Indeed, with such a high level of commitment required from novices to compensate for their lack of experience, only one other entirely novice crew (from Hui Nalu of Hawaii Kai) is participating in Sunday's race among the roughly 70 entrants from Hawaii, the mainland, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Canada.

"There's a lot more involved," steerswoman, Cindy Saiki, 29, said. "The current, riding the swells and just trying to focus on your target when you may not necessarily have a (visible) target. So, it's been a big difference as far as being comfortable in the open ocean."

While they know they won't finish first, the women of Healani B have set a goal to finish under seven hours (the race record is five hours, 24 minutes, 32 seconds by Offshore in 1995). Simply finishing, however, is the biggest goal for these women and would rank very high on their lifetime-achievement scales.

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