FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Waikiki Beach Boys' senior women members Dana Gorecki, Andrea Messer and Sue Brown got ready for the upcoming paddling season with a training session on the Ala Wai Canal.
Hui Wa‘a set for 35th year
The 1,500-member Hui Wa'a opens its 35th summer of racing tomorrow with the first race of the season at Keehi Lagoon.
The four-time defending AAA (25-plus crews) champion Kaneohe Canoe Club will host the 39-race opener beginning at 8:30 a.m.
The Waikiki Beach Boys became the first Na Ohana O Na Hui Wa'a crew to win the prestigious blue-ribbon senior women's race at the state regatta championships last August, and are looking to continue their recent success.
The Ala Wai-based crew is considering moving into the AA (13-24 crews) division despite being one of the smaller clubs in the Hui Wa'a.
Five of the six women from the state champion senior crew return. The only missing member is Amy Elmore, who moved to the mainland.
The core of the group has been together for nearly four years, and has not lost the senior women's race in Hui Wa'a competition since 2003.
It's a pure chicken-skin moment -- even as a memory almost 10 months later.
Trailing in the last half-mile of the blue-ribbon senior women's race at the state regatta championship at Keehi Lagoon last August, the Waikiki Beach Boys proceeded to march and take down defending champ Hui Lanakila in the homestretch. With every hit of their paddles and surge of their canoe, the cheers grew more raucous for the Beach Boys women as everyone realized the historic significance of what was transpiring.
The Beach Boys became the first Na Ohana O Na Hui Wa'a crew to win the prestigious race at states in the 34-year history of the association -- one of two on Oahu -- finishing a little more than 4 seconds ahead of Hui Lanakila and well ahead of the rest of the field.
What's more, the four-time defending Hui Wa'a A division (12 or fewer crews entered) winners took three more titles at the 2006 state regatta, racking up an amazing four victories overall in just 11 races entered.
"You just can't forget that (race), that's something that will just stay with," said senior crewmember Dana Gorecki. "It was a statement not only for us, but for Hui Wa'a as well. That Hui Wa'a does have clubs that are competitive, and that we can go into states and hold our own in any race."
Added Beach Boys head coach Sean Monahan, "We're trying not to focus on it too much right now. But the girls are still ecstatic; it was a once-in-a-lifetime achievement."
Besides the senior women's race, the Beach Boys also won the Novice A and B women's races and the Novice B men's at states last year.
Yet, however exhilarating any of that was -- even now -- a new regatta season is about to begin.
The 17-club, 1,500-member Hui Wa'a opens its 35th summer of sprint racing tomorrow with its the first regatta at Keehi. It will be hosted by Kaneohe Canoe Club, the association's four-time defending AAA (25-plus crews) champs.
While the Ala Wai-based Beach Boys are contemplating a move into AA (13-24 crews), they are again one of the smaller clubs in the Hui Wa'a, with only about 70 adult paddlers and no youth program.
With about 40 women, Monahan believes he has the largest female group and number of returnees for the club in a handful of years.
Still expected to be a driving force for the entire club, five of the six women from the state champion senior crew return. Amy Elmore moved to the mainland, but Kelsa Teeters, Erin Offenhauser, Andrea Messer and steerswoman Sue Brown are back, along with Gorecki.
"It won't be any different this year compared to the last couple of years, as far as us really putting pressure on ourselves" to excel, Gorecki said. "As we get closer to states, obviously the focus is going to shift again, thinking about (last year) and having to go back and defend. Right now we're regrouping, and there will always be tweaks."
The core of this group has been together for about four years, has not lost the senior women's race in Hui Wa'a competition since 2003 and was the 2005 senior women's state runner-up before breaking through with the victory last season.
But they expect to be pushed for spots in the open-division race rotations by a few other veteran open paddlers and novices moving up from last year. Monahan regularly mixes all the Beach Boys women in practice to potentially better combinations for crews.
"The girls in this club are all very competitive and we keep each other going," said Jennifer Polcer, who was on the states-winning Novice B women's crew last year, but hopes to now move into the open-division rotations. "We all click really well, and that makes the boats glide. It's good that there aren't any boundaries in this club, that it's all about your potential."
There are 39 races in tomorrow's Hui Wa'a opener, each important to the paddlers in them and clubs trying to amass as many total points as possible.
Race 32, however, will undoubtedly have a bit more significance as the 1 1/2-mile senior women's competition: The Beach Boys' women will sprint into the Keehi water together for the first time since they made history there at the close of last season.
"I still get goose bumps when I think about that (win)," Messer said.
"But we're really looking forward to this year. I don't think any of us ever take anything for granted."
The Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association begins its regatta season on June 3.