Wednesday, January 27, 1999
a perfect fit
The senior steersman is a bigBy Cindy Luis
reason why the Kamehameha
girls' varsity canoe team is
THE ocean is a big puzzle to Ilikea Handley. The wind, the swells, the current ... it all fits together.
The trick is to figure out which pieces go where and when. So far this ILH canoe paddling season, the senior steersman for the Kamehameha girls' varsity crew has solved the puzzle each time.
The Warriors remained undefeated yesterday, edging out Punahou for a fourth straight week. The 3-mile races off Magic Island have been decided by less than 30 seconds each time, including last week's event, which Kamehameha won by 3/10ths of a second.
"It was soooo close, we didn't know if we were going to be happy or sad," Handley said of last week's finish. "We were behind Punahou the whole way. But the girls I paddle with have real strong finishes and they started clicking.
"It's been like that this year. The boat starts moving together as one unit and it feels so good. To steer a canoe is not that hard, not if you have a crew that supports you. We get better together. You can't win by yourself and you can't get better by yourself. There's always someone there to help you and you learn from them."
Handley has had some pretty impressive teachers, beginning with her father, Kalai Handley. He is the consummate paddler: a steersman, coach, paddle maker and canoe builder, as well as the last Hawaii resident to win the Molokai-to-Oahu kayak race (1978).
"My dad has helped me so much," said Ilikea. "Sometimes before a race, he'll talk to me about the water saying, 'OK, keiki, the water is like this. Point the nose there.'
"He picks me up from paddling, he'll take me to practice at 6:30 in the morning. All these years, he's helped me."
And for the longest time, Ilikea fought it.
She steered her first race when she was 11 and "I hated it," she said. "I steered into all the other lanes and it was so embarrassing I was crying.
"I didn't have a choice about paddling. My dad was head coach of the club. I would try not to go to practice, and he'd say, 'You better come down.' "
It was even more intimidating when she went out for paddling at Kamehameha as a freshman and a newcomer to the school. As happens nearly every year, some 180 girls vie for 24 seats in four canoes.
"I was pretty nervous when I first came down," Handley said. "I was so scared."
Warriors coach Rosie Lum never noticed. All she saw was a natural steersman.
"I didn't know who she was, but I could see she knew what she was doing," said Lum, herself an outstanding steersman. "Ilikea is awesome. She is the kind of person that, just by her actions, the rest of the girls have gained her kind of confidence.
"She has a real gift. She knows exactly what to say to the girls to get them motivated. She's so positive and yet so humble. She's been very successful but you would never know it.
"I've had a lot of seniors come and go in my 20 years and this is by far one of the senior classes I'm most proud of. When you look back to why, it's Ilikea."
The 17-year-old would rather heap the praise on the rest of her crew. The members have changed slightly from week to week but the varsity core is made up of Kelly Ueoka, Ku'u Eaton, Kamaka Parker, Kahea David, Robyn Moku and Cassie Hussey.
"The girls are so good, so strong with good attitudes," said Handley. "They're real supportive. And that makes you feel better about what you're doing and gives you more confidence."
She's been on a roll for about a year. Her junior varsity team went undefeated last season and, paddling for Kailua Canoe Club, she steered the girls-16s to a win in the state championship regatta.
"When I see a good steersman, it excites me," said Lum. "Ilikea was born to do this. She's been around canoes forever. But the thing is, she takes all of this knowledge and uses it.
"I'll bark out orders and she'll never question why. She's so good at what she does. She leads in a silent way.
"She was gone to the mainland for part of Christmas break and the crew struggled without her. She came back and this magical thing happened with her in the canoe."
Handley went to the mainland for the first time last month, skiing and snowboarding at Lake Tahoe, Calif. She hopes to move to California after graduation, attend a community college in Santa Barbara, then transfer to UCSB.
She's not sure whether her athletic career will continue. Handley said she might like to try rowing or running track, while pursuing a degree in anthropology or art history.
"I'm really interested in Greek, Roman and Egyptian history, art and myths," she said.
She also wants to stay close to the ocean.
"I like to surf," she said. "I've learned so much about how the ocean works through surfing and paddling. The wind's a certain way, the tide's a certain way ... it all comes together.
"It's a puzzle where you try different things. If something doesn't work, you try something different. But either way, you're always learning."