HAWAII GROWN REPORT
COURTESY OF USC
Kanani Souza wakes up just early enough to grab a quick breakfast before catching a school-chartered bus to practice at the Port of Los Angeles.
Four outrigger canoe paddlers from Hawaii shine for USC's crew team
AS the sun barely peaked over the horizon, Kanani Souza groggily rolled out of bed. The 2003 Kamehameha graduate threw on several layers of clothes and grabbed a quick bite to eat before she dashed out the door to catch the 6:30 a.m. school-chartered bus, taking her and her teammates to the Port of Los Angeles, where they spent the next 2 hours rowing a single hull canoe called a shell.
Did you know?
Rowing is the oldest intercollegiate sport, having started more than a century ago with East Coast Ivy League competition. The sport of rowing is not new to Hawaii, but in recent years it has not kept pace with outrigger paddling. In the early 1800s, King David Kalakaua was a great patron of the sport and six-oared barges were raced in a "Regatta Day" every September 15 in Honolulu Harbor.
Souza is one of four girls from Hawaii who has performed this routine six days a week for the past eight months as members of the University of Southern California women's crew team.
"You train hard all year long to race maybe five or six times in a 7 to 8-minute long race," said Michaellyn Blando, Souza's former teammate from Kamehameha. "But you get up the next day and do it all over again because you have such a love for the water."
"We all did some type of water sport in high school and wanted to continue a similar sport in college," said Leilani Dimond, who played water polo for Konawaena High School.
"It works out really nicely because we have a lot in common and we can relate to each other in a way no one else can," said Denise Kobashikawa, a 2005 Maryknoll alumna who paddled for the Outrigger Canoe Club.
"Everyone on the team knows we share something special."
Although rowing backwards and using a 12-foot-long oar on only one side of the boat were foreign to them, they decided to try rowing since paddling is not a collegiate sport.
"It's difficult because paddling is my first love and there are some significant differences," said Souza, who paddled for the Waikiki Surf Club for six years.
First of all, there are either five or nine people per boat whereas paddling only has six.
Secondly, one of the crew is a coxswain, meaning the person navigates the waters and commands the team, but does not row.
"It's the mental part of the sport," coxswain Kobashikawa said. "It's my responsibility to encourage them and keep the pace of the boat."
Thirdly, all of the rowers face the back of the boat, where the coxswain sits facing them while paddlers all face the front of the boat.
"It was hard at first to adjust to rowing backwards because you can't see where you are going and you have to totally rely on the coxswain," said Blando, who paddled with Kahana Canoe Club on Maui. "It really is a team sport that requires the contribution of every single girl."
Fourthly, perfect water conditions for rowing are considered flat waters whereas paddlers like swells that help propel them through the water.
"I've been paddling since I was 10-years-old, so I understand how the currents work," Kobashikawa said.
Lastly, rowing exercises different muscle groups from paddling.
"Rowing is a full-body workout as opposed to paddling that uses mostly your upper body," Souza said. "You can never just relax (when you're rowing) because you're using every muscle in your body."
COURTESY OF USC
Michaellyn Blando, wearing a red hat, was a teammate of Kanani Souza at Kamehameha.
"The toughest part isn't even the races," freshman Dimond said. "It's the early, two-a-day practices, which often include erging and weights."
Erging consists of utilizing an ergometer, an individualized rowing simulator that helps conditioning.
"It's such a strain on the body that you often feel like passing out or throwing up," Souza said. "I've never had kids but I think it is worse than labor."
Despite the differences in the two sports, Blando said her paddling background helped her learn and adjust to rowing.
"The same discipline and respect for the water and the boats carries over," senior Blando said.
"This sport takes a lot of strong will and focus," Souza said. "Waking up at 6 a.m. and doing two-a-day practices all year long is taxing on the body."
However, their hard work and dedication has paid off since their team is ranked third in the nation.
The Trojans' last regular-season race was April 29 against cross-town rival UCLA, where Kobashikawa's calabash cousin, freshman Meleana Carr, rows.
Although the Punahou graduate did not race against Kobashikawa because she has been sidelined with strep throat for the past month, she hopes to make it back in time to race against Kobashikawa in the Pac-10 tournament May 14.
The two have competed against each other for years as they paddled for competing schools. However, they both paddle for the Outrigger Canoe Club.
"It (rowing) is not quite the same as paddling, but it lets me get out on the water everyday," Carr said.
"It's a good way to find your niche, meet people and try something different," Souza said. "And if you're lucky, it can take you to places you never imagined."
Souza was originally admitted to USC as a freshman, but she could not afford the private school's high cost. So she went to the University of Washington to row for a year, and her work ethic and commitment to the sport paid off.
"They (USC coaches Kelly and Zenon Babraj) had never seen me row, but based on my high erg scores, they offered me a partial scholarship," Souza said. "Never in a million years did I think I would come here. It was an opportunity I couldn't pass up."
Note: No. 3 USC defeated No. 15 UCLA for the fifth consecutive time last Saturday to clinch the Lexus Gauntlet Trophy.