Saturday, September 25, 1999
Defending champs skipBy Ben Henry
Na Wahine O Ke Kai
Special to the Star-Bulletin
The Olympic dream has been a nightmare for Australia's Riggeroo Canoe Club.
With the heart of its crew competing in a pre-Olympic kayaking regatta in Australia, the Riggeroos will not compete in tomorrow's Bankoh Na Wahine O Ke Kai race, considered the world championship in women's competitive outrigger canoe racing.
With the two-time defending champion Riggeroos out of the picture, a window of opportunity is open for a Hawaii club to regain paddling supremacy for the first time since 1992.
"Everyone's been very sad because they could not come here," said Riggeroo coach Lisa Curry-Kenny. "It's disappointing for us. But obviously, they are focused on the Olympics."
Curry-Kenny, who coached and paddled on the last two championship teams, will coach Australia's Panamuna club team. She will not paddle, in order to make room for all the club's paddlers. "We've got girls who've paddled Molokai seven years ago," she said.
The team, made up of mothers and paddling veterans, is not expected to contend for a title as the Riggeroos would have.
"This is not the Riggeroos team," Curry-Kenny said. "But we set a goal at the beginning of the year (to make the) top 10. Anything can happen in this race. We're focused, we're enjoying ourselves and we can only wait and see."
Just one paddler from last year's winning team will be competing in this year's race -- Robin Singh will paddle for perennial power OffShore of California.
Although Hawaii clubs have dominated race rosters since the event's beginning in 1979, they have not dominated in first-place finishes. Of the 19 races, Hawaii clubs have won seven.
This year, 40 of the 51 clubs registered for the race as of Thursday are from Hawaii.
"We're very anxious," said Waimanalo head coach Steve Scott, who was the coach of the last Hawaii team to win, Outrigger, in 1992. "There's a lot of importance on winning that (for Hawaii)."
Most regard Waimanalo, which finished second in last year's race, as the favorite this year.
"I would imagine, looking at last year, Waimanalo would be a favorite," said Curry-Kenny. "But you can never discount OffShore. I know they weren't happy with their finish last year."
OffShore, a ninth-place finisher last year, has won 10 Na Wahine O Ke Kai races -- more than double Outrigger, the next highest club.
"They just have so much experience, and they're physically pretty strong," said Scott. "It's a matter of time they've spent in the boat together."
The biggest rivalry this year will not be between Hawaii and foreign or mainland clubs, but between two local clubs.
Waimanalo's Scott is wary of Hui Nalu, of Oahu.
"They've put together a collection of athletes," he said.
But he's confident in his experienced crew. Two of Waimanalo's paddlers, Traci Phillips and Donna Kahakui, were on Outrigger's crew in 1992.
And of last year's 10-person crew, six return: Phillips, Kahakui, Makanani Wong, Cindy Nash, Libby Fulk and Lisa Livingston. The team's newcomers are Denise Darval-Chang, Maile Chong, Gail Kaaialii and Carol Jaxon.
Scott says the experience of steerswoman Darval-Chang is key to the team's success.
"She used to be one of the top kayakers here, has a real good feel for the ocean," he said.
Waimanalo is hungry for a win, Scott said, especially after losing last year by less than two minutes.
"When they saw how close they were ... it has really been a motivating factor to get prepared this year so that they'll be in contention," he said.
"There are so many factors, from preparation to strength of crew, to course, to equipment," Scott continued. "It's hard to say with certainty that we'll win, but I know we'll be in contention."
Notes:The event that most of the Riggeroo team is participating in, the pre-Olympic kayaking regatta in Australia, is a kayak race that takes place one year before every Olympics in the host city ... Australia's Olympic team will be selected in April. Depending on who makes the squad, Curry-Kenny said, the Riggeroo team may or may not be in full force for next year's race.
Overall winners, 1979 to present:
What: Women's 41-mile outrigger canoe race
NA WAHINE O KE KAI
When: Tomorrow, 7:30 a.m.
Where: Hale O Lono, Molokai, to Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Oahu
Expected finish: Leaders at 1 p.m.
Year Club Origin Time Entries 1998 Riggeroos Australia 5:54.26 65 1997 Riggeroos Australia 5:35.17 63 1996 OffShore California 6:46.33 52 1995 OffShore California 5:24.32 48 1994 OffShore California 6:00.37 47 1993 OffShore California 5:47.53 37 1992 Outrigger Hawaii 5:49.02 28 1991 OffShore California 6:22.04 28 1990 OffShore California 5:44.13 28 1989 OffShore California 5:59.36 22 1988 OffShore California 6:14.22 20 1987 OffShore California 6:26.25 19 1986 OffShore California 6:31.00 18 1985 Outrigger Oahu 6:50.31 20 1984 Outrigger Oahu 6:12.11 19 1983 Hui Nalu Oahu 6:33.07 17 1982 Hui Nalu Oahu 6:43.38 15 1981 Outrigger Oahu 6:47.11 17 1980 Cancelled due to big surf and strong winds 1979 Outrigger Oahu 6:35.14 10