THE new year has started off with a dream realized.
OIA paddling is no
longer just a dream
The Oahu Interscholastic Association has finally sanctioned outrigger canoe paddling as a high school sport. It's taken some 20 years of lobbying -- from the school administrations to the state legislature -- but the groundwork laid by Gardner Brown, Sammy Mokuahi and many others has paid off.
Over 1,000 young paddlers, representing 19 schools, took to the waters of Ke'ehi Lagoon this past Saturday. They competed in 16 events at the varsity and junior varsity scoring and non-scoring levels in conjunction with the Na Opio Canoe Racing Association regatta.
Everyone walked away a winner. Even the first-time spectators like Dwight Toyama, the OIA executive secretary.
"It was exciting out there," said Toyama, after attending his first canoe race. "We want to offer more opportunities for our students and improve the extra-curricular activities for them. We want to offer positive after-school alternatives to gangs and drugs.
"I was surprised at the number of participants and production staff. Given the economics, the only way we can do something like this is to have a partnership."
GETTING OIA paddling off shaky ground and into the water was a major joint effort by Na Opio, the Police Activities League and the OIA. The hui got financial backing from Tesoro Hawaii, which donated $12,000 to fund a canoe-building project for the public high schools.
For the past two decades, public school students have been able to paddle under the aegis of Na Opio, beginning as early as fifth grade. Canoe clubs were formed loosely on geographic areas -- such as Maunalua Bay Canoe Club (Kaiser and Kalani) and KaiHeo (Kailua and Kalaheo).
"Na Opio has all the resources so the OIA is piggy-backing on that," said Teddi Anderson, president of the Na Opio advisory board. "PAL pays for the escort boats and the officials, the laying of the lanes and the race-day equipment, like speakers.
"Na Opio has been trying to make this happen for years. The kids are very excited about this. Na Opio is run by the kids with adults in advisory roles. We have 12 Na Opio clubs taking care of the 19 high schools."
Anderson is a relative newcomer to paddling. She moved to Hawaii from California 10 years ago and almost immediately became immersed in the sport.
"I've been paddling for Hui Nalu for almost 10 years," she said. "I heard about this program with the high schools and wondered why Hui Nalu couldn't sponsor a high school team.
"Sammy got it going through Kaiser. It's been his dream for so long to see this happen, especially the canoe building part of it."
FOLLOWING the end of the 2000 paddling season, construction of fiberglass canoes will take place at Kaiser High. This is a hands-on project in which students from each school will participate in building their own canoes, helping perpetuate Hawaiian sport and culture.
The OIA season continues Saturdays through the Feb. 20 championship. All races begin at 8:30 a.m., with the exception of two that start at 2 p.m. to avoid conflicts with SAT and ACT testing.
Last Saturday, the inaugural event was blessed with sunny skies, light winds and fairly smooth waters. For the most part, the program ran on time, with the exception of a delay to pull a shopping cart out of the water near the quarter-mile flag in Lane 8.
"It was really the perfect start," said Anderson. "You have to give so much credit to all the people who have been involved over the years, especially those like Sammy who went down and lobbied at the legislature. This has been their dream."
Cindy Luis is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter.
Her column appears weekly.