RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hui Lanakila headed to the finish line to win the men's senior race yesterday.
Lanikai edges Kailua to claim OHCRA crown
After suffering through a couple of single-digit runner-up finishes and a third-place result late in the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association regular season, Lanikai Canoe Club finally got a skinny victory of its own -- when it counted most.
The Windward-side club won the AA division (18-plus crews entered) at the association's Oahu Championships Regatta yesterday at Keehi Lagoon with 79 total points and five race wins in the 39-race event.
Kailua -- the defending OHCRA champion and its regular-season leader with four regatta wins -- finished as the runner-up this time with 74 points, followed by Hui Nalu (68) and Outrigger (66).
"Because our club is so large, what we try to do is, if the paddlers come to practice and work really hard, we like to try a lot of combinations during the regular season," Lanikai head coach Kalani Irvine said. "The regattas have been so close that you have to paddle your best (athletes), and your strategy has to be right. We missed a few, and that's a credit to the organization ... but I'm happy we won Oahus. We're looking forward to racing the best in the state."
The state championships are set for Aug. 5 at the same location.
Lanikai did not participate in states last year because of a rules violation involving the composition of its koa canoe. It rebounded during the early portion of this year, however, winning the season opener and tying for the victory with Kailua in the second regatta before winning again yesterday.
Lanikai last won the Oahu Championships when it shared the title with Kailua two years ago, and it tempered the strength of its neighborhood rival yesterday by getting strong results in the youth races during the first half of the regatta.
The new OHCRA champion picked up two wins and seven second-place finishes among the 13 youth races, and led 36-33 over Kailua at their conclusion.
Lanikai widened the gap during the open adult races, nabbing two wins to build a 12-point (57-45) advantage over Kailua after the 26th event.
"To win our individual race and the regatta is very rewarding," said James Bustamante of Lanikai's victorious junior men's crew.
Kailua gained some ground on Lanikai during the last third of the regatta. It drew to within six points (77-71) after a runner-up finish in the 37th race -- open mixed -- but Lanikai sealed the victory with a third-place result and two points in the next event, women's 40.
"Basically, Lanikai showed up with their A game," Kailua head coach Kawai Mahoe said. "They proved they were the Oahu champs."
After dominating all season, Hui Lanakila won the A division for smaller clubs with 47 points, and tied for regatta-high honors with seven race wins (Hui Nalu also won seven). Keahiakahoe (24) finished well back in second place, while Waikiki Surf Club (23) took third.
True to its winning formula, Hui Lanakila again had a stranglehold on the open races, winning six of eight. Those included wins in the prestigious senior women's and men's events, as well as one in the junior women's that gave the Honolulu club an undefeated OHCRA season in that race.
Hui Lanakila's senior women finished the 1 1/2-mile race in 12 minutes, 44.61 seconds to runner-up Outrigger's 13:14.20. It was the second straight OHCRA championship for the defending state champions in the event.
Compared to the regular season, the OHCRA title "is a little bit more of a big deal because the other clubs tend to stack the senior race at OHCRAs," Hui Lanakila crew member Gail Grabowsky said. "You want to practice being on the edge of your game when the pressure's on."
After winning the last three regular-season races, Hui Lanakila's senior men stayed hot by finishing their 1 1/2-mile course in 11:04.96. Outrigger (11:13.08) ended in second place, while defending OHCRA race champ Lanikai (11:14.68) took third.
"I think we've been dominating because we've only got a few guys, so we can stick to our crew. The other clubs are constantly shifting around," Hui Lanakila crew member Raven Aipa said.
Besides Hui Lanakila's junior women, two other crews completed undefeated OHCRA seasons: Kailua's novice A women, and Kailua's women's 50. The Kailua's girls 12 and Lanikai's boys 18 had a chance for unblemished records going into the Oahu Championships, but lost yesterday.