Paddlers go long
at Perry Memorial

Is there ever a bad day at the beach? Not when the surf is slightly up and the conditions are near-perfect for outrigger canoe racing on Kailua Bay.

A record 91 crews turned out for yesterday's 8th George Perry Memorial Na Keiki O Na Wa'a, the only long-distance event for young paddlers from under-10 to 18. The conditions favored the clubs who use the bay for practice -- host Lanikai won 11, Kailua 4 -- clubs that understood where the surfbreak was and knew where the current ran offshore.

But perhaps the most impressive showing came from a club that practices on Kaneohe Bay, a place malie ke kai me ka makani (the sea and wind are calm), conditions asked for in the day's opening prayer.

Keahiakahoe easily won the day's first race, a 1/2-mile shot upwind for crews 10 and under. The onshore breezes and swells that greeted paddlers yesterday morning didn't seem to bother Danilo Martinez, a sixth-grader at Ahuimanu Elementary.

Neither was he fazed when pressed into duty after the regular steersman had another commitment and couldn't race. Martinez had his mixed crew across the line in 6 minutes and 51 seconds, more than a minute ahead of the other three canoes.

"I'm surprised we were so far ahead," said Martinez. "There was a lot of wind and it was slow at the start. We got hit by another canoe at the beginning and I started yelling (at his paddlers) to go."

It was one of three victories for Keahiakahoe, which has recently dominated the youth division of the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association regatta season.

"The kids train hard, they're the foundation of our club," said coach Nick Cambra. "We have three crews for this age-group (10-under), some are barely 8. We like this race because all the kids get to race.

"This is a positive outlet for them. You know the situation of the area they live, the drug problems, some of their home lives. This is a real out for them."

Keahiakahoe raced in a canoe borrowed from builder Sonny Bradley, an Encore model with gunwales that are lower than on some of the other canoes. Reaching over the gunwales was one of the big challenges for some of the smaller paddlers.

The older paddlers had other obstacles, such as trying to find a line out from the starting buoy to the temporary turning buoy between Popoia (Flat Island) and Alala Point. In distance races, there are no set lanes, no set turning flags and no rules.

One of the Lanikai entries got flipped by another crew during the boys' 4-mile race "probably because they got in the way," said Scott Freitas, a coach at Lanikai. "This is such good experience for these kids and a good tuneup for regatta season.

"The focus today is on the kids. The best part of it is they all get to paddle. Anyone who comes down with a paddle will get in a boat. That's why we brought all of our canoes down for people to use. We sent out chop suey crews, crews with a couple paddlers from one club, a couple from another. The idea is to fill the boats."

Having one's crew name etched on perpetual trophies isn't bad, either. Five paddlers know they played a part in two winning crews each: Kailua's Lianne Malepai (18-under girls and mixed), and Lanikai's Canton Smith (12-under boys/ mixed), Kayla Benali (13-under girls/mixed), and Julian Wicker and Nick Johnson (15-under boys/mixed).

It was also double wins for three Lanikai families. Ian and Haakon Smith steered their respective crews to victory in the 16-under and 12-under boys races; Rene Rausch was in the winning 14-under girls and brother Max in the 12-under mixed, and Ryan Dolan was in the 12-under boys that won with Patrick in the winning 14-under crew.

Two of Lanikai's crews that won at last year's state race served notice yesterday they are more than ready to move up to the next age group. Last season's 16-under champions won yesterday's four-mile 18-under race by nearly four minutes over the next competitor, while the 15-under champs won the 16-under race 4-miler by some 80 seconds.

Despite the windy conditions, there were few hulis (flips). One did occur in the boys 4-mile race, where the 15-18 age groups raced together. The Kailana 18s flipped heading out to the starting line and were bailing water right before the race started; the crew finished second in their age group and fourth overall.

While distance races are unique for young paddlers, so too were the congratulatory leis yesterday. Practicality ruled the day, with bottles of water, bags of chips, gummy bears and M&Ms replacing the traditional flowers.


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