Saturday, September 26, 1998
By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
The Waimanalo Canoe Club practices at
Ala Wai Canal on Thursday.
Tomorrow's Na Wahine O Ke KaiBy Catherine Toth
is regarded as the Super Bowl
of women's long-distance paddling
Special to the Star-Bulletin
THEY don't want to be called an all-star crew. Even though that's what they are.
The select 10 paddlers from various clubs will compete for Waimanalo Canoe Club in tomorrow's 20th Na Wahine O Ke Kai.
"We want to be called representatives of Hawaii," paddler Donna Kahakui said. "We're definitely not an all-star crew because there's other girls who are strong, bigger, whatever. When it comes right down to it, we're just a combination of individuals and what we bring to this team. So we're basically just representatives. We're people who made the choice to try something, to give it a shot and see if it works."
Tomorrow's 41-mile race across the Kaiwi Channel -- from Molokai to Oahu -- will be the third race for the hand-picked team. They competed in the Takia World Sprints in Fiji in mid-August, winning eight of the nine events. A week later, they competed in the Dad Center Canoe Race for Women, easily winning the 22-mile race.
Tomorrow's competition, which consists of six-person crews, is the world championship of women's long-distance paddling.
"It's very prestigious," Waimanalo coach Steve Scott said. "There's lots of Ironman races, but the one that counts is the one in Kona. There's lots of bowl games, but there's only one Super Bowl. This is, for paddling, on the same plane as something like that. It can arguably be the most demanding conditions at times. If you do win, it's a premiere win."
"It's the only reason we're here," paddler Cindy Nash added. "There's no other choice except to go out and give it our all."
A team from Hawaii hasn't won the championship since 1992, when Outrigger beat defending champion OffShore. The California-based club has won 10 titles in the last 12 years, and holds the record for the fastest time (5:24.32, 1995).
"OffShore is always tough," Scott said. "They win so often because they're good and they have a lot of experience. That's always been one of their better attributes, the experience. They have paddlers who have made every crossing. They're very strong."
But Scott, who coached the 1992 champion crew from Outrigger and has been coaching paddling for more than 20 years, knows what it takes to beat the competition.
"He has a good idea of what he wants and how he wants to do it," said Kahakui, who also was a part of that championship Outrigger team. "He's coaching a bunch of girls who he's never really coached before and it's tough. But I think he's one of the best technical coaches I know, that I've ever been under."
This year's field consists of approximately 70 crews from Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Canada and the U.S. mainland, including OffShore and the defending champion Panamuna Rigaroos, the first Australian team to win the championship.
"Personally, if a Hawaii crew comes in first and it's not us, I'll still party with them," Kahakui said. "It'll still make me happy."
Crew members were criticized when they left their respective clubs to compete for Waimanalo. Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association rules dictate that paddlers must be represented by an official club.
"I think there was initially some resentment, and there may still be some resentment," Scott said. "I told them there was some talent here and that they would do well in distance. I left it up to them individually, so they all made a decision based on what they wanted out of paddling, not necessarily what I was telling them.
"It's always difficult to leave the camaraderie of a club you've been paddling for, but for the most part, I think they felt their chances of doing well, and their chances of being competitive, would be greatly enhanced here with this group."
According to Kahakui, the Waimanalo Canoe Club welcomed the crew with open arms.
"Even though we had a lot of flack in the beginning, Waimanalo just supported us full-on," Kahakui said. "As individuals, you want to be associated with a club that is friendly and good for the community, as well as be associated with a club and not have as much negativity coming at you."
Nash, who paddled for Kailua Canoe Club prior to the World Sprints, said chemistry has kept the crew together.
"We work so well together," Nash said. "Everybody complements each other. There are no weak points. That's why we did this. It's something special and we can feel it."
"It started off as convenience, but I think the girls are intent on representing Waimanalo well," Scott said. "This is one of the better crews I've coached, but we'll see how good they are on Sunday."
Kahakui said the crew has the emotional drive and mental toughness to win.
"I think we're going to fight, and it's going to be who can sustain the fight the longest," Kahakui said. "We're all different types of paddlers, but we've been through so much in our lives and that's given us a base to work from. We're going to push hard and if Mother Nature can just go in our favor we will definitely come across that line.
"We'd like to win it for Hawaii first, Waimanalo second, and of course, for us. We all want to win it for us."