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Hawaiian Canoe Club among favorites at state championship regatta


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POSTED: Saturday, August 01, 2009

Most of the hype leading up to today's Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association State Championship Regatta at Hilo Bay included talk of whether Maui canoe paddling powerhouse Hawaiian Canoe Club could bounce back from disappointment last season.

The only club seemingly not interested in the discussion was Hawaiian itself.

Hawaiian, of the Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association (MCHCRA), won seven straight state titles until falling to Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association (OHCRA) power Lanikai Canoe Club last year by a slim 355-352 margin at Ke'ehi Lagoon.

“;Everybody tries to ask us about (the championship run ending), but we're seriously not thinking about that. It's serving as no motivation for us,”; Hawaiian head coach Diane Ho said. “;You can't focus if you look backwards. Every year is a whole different thing.”;

Today's competition features nearly 3,000 paddlers representing 57 canoe clubs from across the state competing in 39 sprint events in six-person koa wood outrigger canoes.

The AAAA Division (21-39 crews) resembles a four-horse race among OHCRA champion Kailua and runner-up Lanikai, Hawaiian and Big Island champion Kai Opua. The battle for OHCRA supremacy came down to an intriguing power struggle between Kailua and its three-time defending champion and neighbor, Lanikai. Kailua emerged victorious in the organization's championship regatta, outscoring Lanikai 96-81.

“;I don't know if it's redemption, but if we place around the middle of all our races, we have a chance to win,”; said Lanikai coach Jimmy Bruhn of his club, which qualified 10 of its 34 crews high enough to earn spots in the first lane. “;It's great that Kai Opua is with us in the AAAA Division. It makes for some great competition. It's so hard to win, we need to make sure not to have any (disqualifications).”;

Hawaiian enters the state championships after destroying the competition in the MCHCRA championship regatta. The club tallied 162 points, doubling the point total of the next-closest finisher.

While the Hawaiian kids program is as strong as ever, seeing 13 crews qualify for states over nine last season, Ho credits the program's ability to feed itself over the long term for its success. Now, with the adult novice paddlers qualifying crews in all the available races, the club can look across the board for points instead of leaning on the children.

“;The farm system is working,”; Ho said of Hawaiian's effective paddler progression through the various age divisions. “;Before, it was a great thing that our kids were the foundation, but we've been fairly balanced for a while now.”;

Kai Opua won the Big Island's Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association (MHOCRA) by a 234-195 margin over Puna, and will feel right at home in comfortable waters. The club recently completed its second straight undefeated season, and makes the move into the large division after claiming the state AAA Division last year.

“;We would like to finish in the top three, but we're doing this because its on our home island, and we want to allow all the paddlers the chance to race,”; said Bo Campos, president and youth coach for Kai Opua of his club, which qualified 36 crews for competition today. “;If we can win, I'd be elated. It's just one big club and its about preserving the sport of canoe paddling.”;

In Oahu's Na 'Ohana O Na Hui Wa'a organization, Kaneohe won its seventh consecutive league championship, but not without a fight from the Waikiki Beach Boys. Waikiki, which went 36 years without winning a regatta, won three straight events this year, and relied on a burgeoning men's program to supplement its already dominant female paddlers.

After the two duked it out for the Hui Wa'a title on July 18, and Kaneohe emerged with a slim 67-64 win over the Beach Boys, the clubs enter today as serious contenders in their respective divisions.

OHCRA's Hui Lanakila, buoyed by its strong women's program, along with Puna are expected to challenge Kaneohe in the second-largest division.

Waikiki, which competed and finished third in the AAA Division last season, drops down to race 12 crews and compete in the AA Division (seven to 12 crews).

Waikiki Surf Club, OHCRA's small-club champion, and Hui Wa'a A Division champion North Shore are just two of many contenders in the wide-open A Division (1-6 crews) competition, which will feature 36 clubs.