[ PADDLING ]
Ayau race turns
into no contest
Defending champions break
course record in runaway victory
Almost from the start it was a race for second place. That's how well Team New ZealandHawaii was paddling in yesterday's 2nd Steinlager Henry Ayau Men's International Outrigger Canoe Race.
Despite flat conditions, the defending champions broke their own course record by more than three minutes, finishing the 32-mile event from Maunalua Bay to Ko Olina in 3 hours, 29 minutes and 41 seconds.
In the race for second, Outrigger Canoe Club caught Kai Opua off Barbers Point then held off a challenge by the Big Island club over the final few miles. Outrigger, paddling in the canoe named for the late Ayau, finished in 3:31:45; Kai Opua was third 10 seconds later.
"We were running scared at the end," said Outrigger steersman Jim Beaton. "We were lucky we had a little lead on them going into the last (relief paddler) change.
"We were pretty close at that point, maybe a boat in front of them. I try not to look at what the other boat is doing and focus on what we had to do."
Team New ZealandHawaii had already made the turn on the final buoy and was heading back to the finish line about a half-mile away when they watched the battle for second place. Outrigger dropped its relief paddlers in the water right before Kai Opua did, not that far from the buoy.
At that point there were six paddlers in the water, three from each club, and, "It got pretty exciting right there," said Kai Opua stroke Nate Hendricks. "We were pretty close and I though we could catch them. But hats off to them. They chased us the whole way and didn't give up.
"We switched steersmen off Barbers and it screwed up our rotation. We fumbled for about a half-hour. We thought we could catch them since these conditions are our strong suit ... going uphill in flat water. But we couldn't.
"And as for New Zealand. They got a good lead at the start and were pretty much gone."
And pretty much on cruise-control.
"We had a race with no mistakes," said TNZH paddler Kea Paiaina, who started the race at stroke. "The boat felt good the whole way, we had no bad combinations. We had a good start but I was surprised by our lead at the Diamond Head buoy.
"We were ahead by about a minute then every change we'd pick up some seconds. Once we clocked in at two minutes ahead at Barbers Point ... you can't lose a lead like that unless something major happens."
Nothing major did happen as TNZH made its case to be among the favorites in the 52nd Molokai Hoe on Oct. 12. They won in 2001 but were second to Tahiti's Ra'i by 20 seconds last year.
"We did a few things differently today," said winning steersman Karel Tresnak Jr. "We usually have two strokers but we had four. It worked and it creates possibilities for the channel.
"But you can't judge it based on today's race. Today makes you feel good because you know you have the speed and that you're definitely a contender. But you never know what will happen. Last year, this race was the best of the season with great surf. Today, it was flat."
Hendricks said he thought TNZH was the Molokai Hoe favorite.
"Realistically, they are my choice," said Hendricks, whose crew won the Liliuokalani Invitational over the Labor Day weekend in Kona. "Them, maybe Tahiti, maybe us and Lanikai.
"We know we have our work cut out for us. Hopefully, we can be top 5, top 3, and if we have a really good race, maybe we can win."
Fifty-two canoes finished yesterday's event, although the Waikiki Beach Boys II crew was disqualified for using a female paddler. They finished in 4:29:18 and in 46th place.
Division winners were: Hui Lanakila , koa, 3:47:08; Hui Nalu, masters-35, 4:10:20; Namolokama II, masters-45, 3:49:36; and Kailua, masters-55, 4:09:12.