Hawaii teams go all out to catch Shell Vaa


POSTED: Saturday, October 10, 2009

While a record number of crews will start the race as equals, it will take quite an effort for any of them to end three-time defending Molokai Hoe champion Shell Vaa's rampage through the paddling record books.

As Shell Vaa attempts to win its fourth consecutive Molokai Hoe tomorrow, the Tahitian club will be looking to lower its world-record time for the fourth straight year after setting the coveted mark at 4 hours, 38 minutes and 35 seconds last go-around.

“;They're phenomenal,”; said Outrigger Canoe Club head coach John Puakea when asked about what makes Shell Vaa so dominant. “;They paddle so well; they're at another level and that's inspiring. Were trying, our group is young, so maybe in a few years we'll be ready. But Shell's in another league.

“;They put in a ton of miles, they work hard and have young guys. Its not just the training. They're so efficient in the canoe. Their timing is perfect. Here in Hawaii, we can train as hard as them, but I don't see us paddling as well as they do. But who knows, maybe something can happen on Sunday.”;

Tomorrow's race marks the 57th edition of the event, which will feature more than 1,000 of the world's top long-distance paddlers representing clubs from around the world. The 41-mile race—considered the world championship of outrigger canoe paddling—gets under way at Molokai's Hale O Lono Harbor, spans the treacherous Kaiwi Channel and finishes at Duke Kahanamoku Beach adjacent to the pier fronting the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

According to race director Stan Dickson, a record-setting 115 crews were entered in the race as of Thursday, and more could join the field prior to the race.

“;We're amazed that with the economy that so many teams will be out there,”; Dickson said.

The race features six different age divisions: open, 40-and-older, 50-and-older, 55-and-older, 60-and-older and koa canoe (the other divisions use fiberglass vessels). Crews are accompanied throughout the race by a motor-powered escort boat, and team members are allowed to make changes—similar to line changes in hockey—to take advantage of certain paddlers' strengths while allowing others to rest.

One local crew poised to challenge Shell Vaa is Team Primo, an all-star crew of experienced paddlers from Oahu and Maui. The crew raced under the flag of Wailea Canoe Club during the recent long-distance season, and after taking a few races to jell, won the Henry Ayau Memorial Race by completing the 32-mile trek from Maunalua Bay to Nanakuli Beach nearly 8 minutes ahead of runner-up Outrigger.

Team Primo features paddlers in Kai Bartlett, Mike Judd and Mike Pedersen who paddled for Lanikai Canoe Club in recent years, but have since switched allegiances in hopes of finally catching Shell Vaa.

Outrigger is also poised for a strong showing after dominating the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association's regatta season, and winning the first three races in the long-distance campaign: the 21-mile Kaena Challenge from Sunset Beach to Yokohama Bay, the Duke Kahanamoku Race from Kailua Beach to the Hilton Hawaiian Village, and the Kailua Bay Iron Man Challenge.

“;We decided early in the season to sacrifice and put in the extra time,”; said Puakea of the 10 workouts a week that the club members committed to. “;That took (our paddlers) to the next level.”;

Team Paddling Connection from Tahiti features a group of dominant one-man canoe paddlers that will be looking to join their countrymen atop the standings.

Mooloolaba of Australia should contend as well, and the club will look to improve upon its 19th overall finish last year, and its runner-up mark in the 40-and-older division.

The race will be shown live for the first time on the event's official Web site: molokaihoe.org. The streaming video broadcast will be filmed by Ocean Paddler TV from a helicopter, and viewers can follow a live chat session and Twitter updates at the site as well.