E LAU HOE
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
The women of Team Bradley/Hawaiian headed to shore after a grueling first-place finish with a time of 4:31:46 during the E Lau Hoe women's long-distance canoe race yesterday.
All-Star team gets first win
The paddlers from Hawaiian/Team Bradley had their games sharpened and erasers working at the E Lau Hoe women's long-distance outrigger-canoe race yesterday.
After disappointing third-place finishes at the first two distance races earlier this season, the two-time defending Na Wahine O Ke Kai champions broke through for their first victory this year after coming from behind to erase a lead that Keahiakahoe-Wahine Moana -- which finished second -- had maintained for much of the 33-mile race.
A mix of elite paddlers from across the state, Hawaiian/Team Bradley finished the course in 4 hours, 31 minutes and 46 seconds, with Keahiakahoe-Wahine Moana at 4:33:27.
With only two weeks until this year's Na Wahine -- a race from Molokai to Oahu considered the world championship of the sport -- the victory also helped erase any doubt about the crew's potential of winning the big one for a third straight year.
"We needed this," said crewmember Cherisse Kelii, who is from the Big Island. "We needed to come together and paddle hard, especially in this race, because it's always the longest (besides the Na Wahine). It's just sweet to know we still have it in us, because it's always hard to be the one on top. This race proves we still have what it takes."
Forty-one crews began the race from Maunalua Bay to Nanakuli Beach Park.
Because it was a distance event, there were 10 paddlers on each crew, with six paddling at a time.
In addition to Kelii, crewmembers for Hawaiian/Team Bradley were: Theresa Felgate, Margie Kawaiaea, Dane Ward, Kelly Fey, Mahealani Batlik, Jennifer Binney, Andrea Moller, Lauren Spalding and steerswoman Noe Auger.
Composed of Hawaii and New Zealand paddlers, and racing for the first time together in Hawaii waters in preparation for the Na Wahine, Keahiakahoe-Wahine Moana was in front of the rest of the lead pack as late as Barbers Point.
But it was at this juncture that -- after trailing by as much as approximately a quarter-mile earlier on -- Auger took her crew through the breaking waves while Keahiakahoe-Wahine Moana stayed outside, and the move allowed Hawaiian/Team Bradley to close the gap and then take the lead for good.
The water was mostly flat throughout the course, but the surf-savvy Auger did manage to steer her crew into some small yet helpful swells along the way -- particularly in the Barbers Point area.
"We kind of came together at Barbers Point and battled it out," said Auger, who lives on Kauai. "That's the name of the game -- gamble. It's been a hard season for us (so far) ... but we did our best, and we'll take what we can get -- this one counts."
Said Amy Robertson, one of Keahiakahoe-Wahine Moana's Kiwis: "Considering this is our first time paddling together, we're pretty happy because we did really well. I think we have a good mix, and we'll see (what happens) in two weeks' time. We took one line today, they took another and theirs paid off."
After winning the previous weekend's race on the Big Island, Oahu's Hui Lanakila finished third at 4:36:53. The Waikiki Beach Boys (4:41:35) placed fourth, after having won the women's distance-season opener last month and then finished as the runner-up behind Hui Lanakila in the second race.
Namolokama (4:54:10) of Tahiti finished fifth overall. For the masters divisions, Outrigger of Waikiki won the ages 40-49 title at 5:00:56 -- the seventh-best time overall -- while Kailua took the 50-older division at 5:09:03.
Many of the top women's crews -- including Hawaiian/Team Bradley -- will participate in a race from Maui to Molokai on Sunday as a last tune-up before the Na Wahine on Sept. 23.
The men's distance season also continues on Sunday, when they will cover the same Maunalua Bay to Nanakuli Beach Park course the women did yesterday for the Henry Ayau Memorial Race. The Molokai Hoe -- the men's world championship race from Molokai to Oahu -- is set for Oct. 7.