CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Kailua Canoe Club women's masters 50 crew (Kathy Erwin, Viv Griffin, Chrystal Hogue, Donna Kohl, Kalei Javellana and Carlene Ornellas) practiced by the shore of Kailua Beach Park on Wednesday evening.
Oahu clubs battle for paddling championships
Masters crews buoy OHCRA favorite Kailua
Kailua Canoe Club's masters women paddlers may be aging gracefully, but they sure are not doing so quietly.
These women ages 50 and older are making plenty of noise in the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association this year, winning the majority of their races and helping their club to an association-leading four overall victories in five regattas during the regular season.
Thanks in large part to their successes, defending association champion Kailua enters Sunday's OHCRA Championships at Keehi Lagoon as the favorite to take the overall title against 16 other clubs.
"We feel like it's wonderful if we can contribute to the club," said Sarah Jane Watson, the stroker for Kailua's women's 55 crew that has won four straight times after placing third in the season opener. "We're sorta proud of the fact that our tough old broads are tougher than the other old broads. We like being tough old broads."
These women are tough, indeed, practicing and racing three times a week against Kailua's younger open division women paddlers, keeping up with -- and, at times, leading -- the pack, according to coach Teo Clemens.
And they've been vital to the club's success so far this year, as the points they've earned in their 1/2-mile races have virtually all been needed for Kailua to tie for one regatta win and squeak by with single-digit victories in three others.
"Make no mistake about it: These girls are extremely competitive," Clemens said. "This year, we can count on them to win their races."
Kailua's winning formula has traditionally involved its youth paddlers -- the club's biggest strength -- helping it surge forward to early and huge leads in regattas, often amassing enough points that wins by the open and masters adults later on are not necessary.
This year, Kailua's kids are strong once again, but with relatively few open paddlers and no men's 55 or 60 crews, it has needed practically everything the "tough old broads" have been able to give.
"All these (masters) races really contribute to the (overall) points too," said Vivian Griffin, a member of Kailua's women's 50 crew that easily went undefeated during the regular season. "If you have a lot of older people, your club's gonna win the regatta if you can build those crews."
During the regular season, Kailua's women's 50 crew won its closest race by seven seconds. Its largest victory was by almost 21 seconds -- an impressive margin over just a half-mile.
Kailua's women's 55 changed to a new mix of six paddlers after the first regatta and, sticking with the same crew, have not lost since. They are aiming for a second straight OHCRA title in their race on Sunday, and are the defending state champions as well (states set for Aug. 5).
While Kailua's women 60 crew has managed only one win this year, it placed second three other times to greatly help the cause.
"It's icing on the cake if the crew does well, but if the club does well it makes it perfect," Watson said. "It's important to feel like you're giving something to the whole group."
Although many of these women have been paddling for decades, they admit to still having much the same fire and passion that they had for the sport in their earlier years.
Many of them have gone through most of these years together, paddling for the same club -- the same crews, even.
What has changed for the better is the knowledge and experience these women have gained in their time together. More is being accomplished with less needing to be said to get it done.
"We work in the canoe and out of the canoe. We all love the sport, been paddling together since we were kids," said women's 50 steersman Carleen Ornellas. "We kinda got old together. We just click, and we don't even have to talk about what we're going to do out there."
Added Watson: "I think and I hope I'm a better paddler now."