Lane gain could pay off for OHCRA at state regatta
The change from four lanes to five this year at the state championship for the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association wasn't expected. And it won't last beyond this year, according to OHCRA president Hannie Anderson.
But as OHCRA's nearly 3,000 paddlers and 18 clubs prepare for tomorrow's season opener -- the Clement D. Paiaina Regatta at Keehi Lagoon -- it might just end up providing the best recent opportunity for a club from the state's largest canoe association to break Hawaiian Canoe Club of Maui's six-year stranglehold on the state regatta title.
"This will be the first and only time this will happen," said Anderson, explaining that the change was due to a computer accounting error with membership numbers by a neighbor-island association.
John Kekua Jr., president of the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association -- the governing body of the state's six associations (two on Oahu, and one each on Kauai, Maui, Molokai and the Big Island) -- and a member of the Big Island's Moku O Hawaii, said it was his island's association that made the error. He did not believe Moku O Hawaii should have been penalized, but at a recent HCRA vote, it was decided that OHCRA would gain a lane at states and that his association would go down from three to two just for this year.
"We failed in our part," Kekua said. "I argued the point that we did not do anything illegal (by HCRA bylaws); we just weren't done with our (registration) numbers in time. But we've gotten over it."
During much of Hawaiian's run of state championships, there has been talk -- particularly from OHCRA members -- that the current system for qualifying for states is unfair. OHCRA's traditionally competitive clubs have battled each other during the regular season for four lanes at states, while the neighbor-island associations -- which are typically dominated by just one or maybe two clubs -- get nearly as many.
And unlike during the regular season, when just the top four crews in each race are awarded points, every crew racing in states receives points. This makes it difficult -- if not impossible -- for any club without the highest number of total entries to win.
While Hawaiian does indeed have some of the top paddlers in the state among its membership, it also had the highest number of total crews in each state regatta it has won save one, when it had the second most. Prior to Hawaiian's streak, only one neighbor-island club (Hanalei Civic of Kauai in 1982) had won the state championship in its almost 50-year history up to that point.
The change this year "is bound to help level the playing field," said David Smith, first-year head coach of Lanikai Canoe Club, the last club to win states before Hawaiian and the 2006 OHCRA champion. "The way the system has been, it does seem tough for us to compete. It's a numbers game: If you don't have the most number of crews, you can't win.
"As far as those clubs with the most number of crews, they are very competitive clubs with good paddlers and good programs. But it would be nice to have a system that includes the highest number of competitive crews."
Even though the change is just for one year, Kailua head coach Kawai Mahoe is also excited about it. As an illustration of just one facet of what he feels are the problems with the current system, Mahoe says that Kailua and neighboring rival Lanikai regularly compete with each other for the top paddlers just in Windward Oahu, whereas Hawaiian regularly gets the very best from the entire Valley Isle.
"Between the bigger (OHCRA) clubs on Oahu, we're jockeying with each other all year just to qualify crews, which takes something away," Mahoe said. "The neighbor islands (each) typically have one strong club, so they can qualify all of their crews. This change is super exciting for me as a head coach. Crews that were formerly right on the bubble, now we have a chance of getting them in."
Na Ohana O Na Hui Waa, Oahu's other association, holds its second regatta of the season tomorrow at Haleiwa.