RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Members of the Alapa Hoe girls 16 and 18 crews -- front to back, Miyuki Tanaka, Cierra Faletoi, Jasmine Parish, Nalei Mendonca, Charlene Kahai, Tiare Lafradez -- practiced at Keehi Lagoon this week for tomorrow's Hui Wa'a championships.
Hui Wa‘a crews staring down association titles
The paddlers on the Alapa Hoe girls 16 and 18 crews are good.
Good enough to be the class of the Na Ohana O Na Hui Wa'a during the regular season.
Good enough to be undefeated so far this summer.
Good enough that even details like their "pre-fight" stare-downs are well-practiced ... and effective.
But are they good enough to be champions?
They think so.
They get to find out tomorrow at the Hui Wa'a Championship Regatta, where Alapa Hoe and the 15 other clubs in the Oahu association will compete at Keehi Lagoon.
"There's a lot of pressure right now," said Charlene Kahai, who paddles for both crews. "But there's also excitement."
Added Jasmine Parish, who sits in the third seat for the girls 16: "We're gonna go out there and give it our best, try our hardest."
Although they didn't expect quite the success they've experienced so far this year -- neither crew is the defending Hui Wa'a champion -- Alapa Hoe's 16s and 18s have unblemished records going into the championships, winning each of their races in the seven regular-season regattas.
Alapa Hoe is based at Keehi, with 77 total paddlers -- including adults -- entering 17 races in each 36-race regatta.
Though the club hasn't come close to sniffing an overall win in the AA division (13 to 24 crews entered) this year, the current winning streaks of its girls 16s and 18s are a major source of pride for the relatively small club.
"It means a great deal," said Daniel Sanford, head coach and founder. "We're not a large club, but we're really tight as a club."
If both crews race like they are capable, they say they should bring home the Hui Wa'a championship titles they covet.
The only thing they believe could stop them tomorrow is "if they flip," said Sanford's daughter, Nicole Mejia, who is the girls' primary coach. "So, I'm always telling them, just don't flip."
Alapa Hoe has only nine total girls that it uses for the six seats available in each crew, so they are fortunate to have three of them who are young enough -- and good enough -- to paddle in both the girls 16 and 18 races.
A big reason for their success has been that most of the girls have paddled year-round with each other for a handful of years now, all of them also competing together for Moanalua High.
For the girls 16s, Alapa Hoe's primary competition has been the defending Hui Wa'a champion in the race, Koa Kai. Alapa Hoe's girls have won by as much as 19 seconds over Koa Kai in their 1/2-mile races so far this year, and as little as 5 seconds.
Association power Kaneohe has been giving Alapa Hoe the hardest rubs in the girls 18, with Alapa Hoe winning their 1/2-mile race by as much as 11 seconds in the season opener and as little as two ticks in the regular-season finale two weeks ago.
Both crews know that, while they've won everything they possibly could so far, the competition will be right there again in the championships, trying to take them down when it counts most.
"I think it's harder to keep placing first than it is to (first) grasp it," said Nalei Mendonca, who sits in the fourth seat for both crews. "It's harder to maintain your winning streak."
If Alapa Hoe wins the girls 16 or 18 races tomorrow, it would be its first association championship in these events in the 14-year history of the club.
And, there is still the state championship regatta (Aug. 5) to come, also at Keehi, where Alapa Hoe's girls will get to test themselves against the best from the other associations across Hawaii.
Their times this year compare favorably to the best from the other associations, and the girls also share the goal of trying to win at states as well as at the Hui Wa'a Championships. The club has never placed in the top three in any race yet at states.
Sure, with their recent success, there is pressure like never before, attention like never before.
But Alapa Hoe's girls are ready ... pre-race stink-eyes and all.
"It's intimidating, kind of, watching the other girls," said Cierra Faletoi, who sits in the second seat for both crews. "But we're trying to be just as intimidating."