KEN IGE / KIGE@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Puuloa Outrigger Canoe Club competes as a full-fledged OHCRA member for the first time tomorrow in the season-opening regatta. Coach Mel Kiaaina is at left (with visor).
It's little more than coincidence that Puuloa Outrigger Canoe Club has a name similar to perennial powerhouse Outrigger Canoe Club of Waikiki. It's not much more than a fortunate chain of events, either, that Puuloa's koa canoe once belonged to Outrigger.
Puuloa joins paddling family
By Brandon Lee
Special to the Star-Bulletin
What was a lot more than happenstance for Puuloa, however, was its decision to join the same association as Outrigger, last year's Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association champion and 11-time winner overall.
While Outrigger may be the standard bearer, OHCRA has other clubs that routinely show well at the state championships each year, too. Puuloa and its founders wanted nothing less than membership to OHCRA, the dominant association in Hawaii since its reorganization in 1979.
Five years from its inception, the Ewa Beach Park-based club will finally realize that dream when it races for the first time as a full-fledged OHCRA member in a regatta at the OHCRA's 2002 opener, tomorrow's Clement D. Paiaina race at Keehi Lagoon.
"I'm really proud of our club," said 67-year-old Puuloa president Mary Serrao, who served for 15 years as OHCRA's race director before concentrating on forming her club.
"I give credit to the paddlers. I always tell them the only way we'll make it (successful) is with teamwork. The club is really excited about the race."
Puuloa is the traditional Hawaiian name of the Ewa Beach district, and the club's name is more representative of this than anything else. The "Outrigger" refers simply to the type of canoe that Puuloa and the other 15 full-time OHCRA members use.
Teamwork for the club now involves approximately 40 club paddlers spread among five crews (men's and women's Novice B and Freshmen, and women's Open 4), but it once meant the efforts of only a handful of people.
Serrao, an area resident, spearheaded Puuloa's formation in 1998 because she felt Ewa Beach needed a canoe paddling club to replace Kuakini, an area club that disbanded many years before. Among the very small group initially to join the cause was current head coach Melvyn Kiaaina, also a club paddler and board member.
What: The Clement D. Paiaina Regatta hosted by Healani Canoe Club
Where: Keehi Lagoon
When: Tomorrow, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
How: 16 clubs to compete in 36 race divisions at the opener to the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association's seven-race series.
Other: Na Ohana O Na Hui Waa, Oahu's other canoe paddling association, will hold its second regatta, hosted by Waikiki Yacht Club, at Maili Beach tomorrow.
"It started from a couple people," Kiaaina, 41, said. "And here we are, all still there, plugging away."
From 1998-2000, "plugging away" translated into starting up the club through donations of and fundraising for equipment, and then living as an associate member of OHCRA. Among other support, the former Kuakini coach let Puuloa have a practice canoe, trailer and practice paddles.
As an associate member, the club was able to paddle in distance events, but not during the short-course regatta season. A reason for the associate status was that Puuloa did not have enough paddlers for 10 crews, as the association's leadership initially wanted them to have. But mostly it was because the club didn't have a koa canoe of its own, which is required in OHCRA regattas.
Before the 2001 season, the club was able to secure a koa boat -- one that was given to it by its owners at the time, but was originally in the Outrigger stable and used by legendary Hawaiian waterman Duke Kahanamoku.
Also, OHCRA gave Puuloa the opportunity to compete in regattas on a probationary basis with five crews instead of 10, since as Serrao pointed out to the association, the latter number was not specifically dictated by OHCRA bylaws. After a review of the club's records after last season, Puuloa was granted full-fledged OHCRA membership in February.
"I told our people that we're in one of the best associations in the state," Kiaaina said. "I can only ask them to do their best and not disrespect OHCRA. As far as pressure, they know what they're up against."
The club will compete in the A division for smaller clubs as far as team titles are concerned, but still has to tangle with AA powers like Outrigger, Lanikai and Kailua in individual races. Puuloa's immediate goal is qualifying at least one crew for the state championships to be held in August, while future goals include fielding a Molokai Hoe crew and recruiting more kids to promote the growth of the club.
"I'm pretty confident with our team and with our strategy," assistant coach and Men's Freshman paddler Ernie Silva, 38, said. "If we paddle against the best, it will only make us better paddlers. Our club is young, and we're getting better and better."
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