Paddling: Host Kai Opua claims Kamehameha regatta for westside sweep

  • The Kai Opua crew of Dane Enos, Spencer Lavea, Heidi Ruckhaus, Jo Ma, Steve Prestia and Kainoa Lavea surprised the field to take the Mixed Masters (55) race the the King Kamehameha Regatta on Saturday at Kailua Pier. (Rick Winters/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Excitement filled the air as teams competed in the Kamehameha Day regatta at Kailua Pier on Saturday. With a parade kicking off the morning festivities on Alii Drive, the koa canoes hit the water, representing the Aloha State’s deep-rooted culture connected to canoe paddling.

Kai Opua felt the added energy in the air as they hosted the Kamehameha regatta, an honor the westside club has enjoyed for more 60 years. The day also doubled as a celebration of Kai Opua itself, which has been around since 1929.

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“It is special to be apart of this weekend and it is especially nice when we can win our own race during the day celebrating King Kamehameha’s birthday,” said Kai Opua head coach Mike Atwood. “The club also has a proud tradition to uphold and to celebrate that tradition by honoring the great Hawaiian royalty, it adds more excitement to the event.”

For Kai Opua president Bo Campos, adding paddling to the mix of the weekend festivities gives those visiting the island a chance to see something they don’t often get to see.

“Experiencing a koa canoe, that’s a big deal. Not everyone gets a chance to see that,” Campos said. “We had 13 clubs with canoes here today and they are all beautiful.”

Kai Opua made it a clean sweep of westside Moku O Hawaii regattas, claiming the team gold and building momentum as the team prepares to travel east where it will finally have a chance to face a Puna squad at full strength. Puna is the three-time defending Moku O Hawaii champs.

“Anytime we can beat Puna, that’s a good day. But they had quite a few scratches today,” Atwood said. “Now we will prepare for Hilo and see what Puna has to offer.”

A big swell could not slow down Kai Opua during the regatta. The club scored 189 points, finishing 44 points ahead of the second place finisher.

Second place, on the other hand, was a battle with only one point separating three clubs. Keoua Honaunau placed second with 145 points, while Puna and Kai Ehitu both scored 144 points. Puna had one more gold and two more medals than Kai Ehitu.

Kai Opua picked up first place finishes in the girls 14, boys 16-and-under, boys 18-and-under, women sophomore, women 65, women golden masters 55, mixed masters 55 and women open four.

The surprise win of the day came in the mixed masters 55, where the crew of Dane Enos, Spencer Lavea, Heidi Ruckhaus, Jo Ma, Steve Prestia and Kainoa Lavea finished the half-mile course in a time of 4 minutes and 17.90 seconds. They edged out a very game Puna squad by only 1.5 seconds.

“That race could have gone either way,” Atwood said. “That crew has been improving every regatta and to have that pay off with a win today was special.”

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The surf was particularly challenging on the day, adding to the excitement of the regatta. A couple of crews during the early morning races were nearly overturned, forcing the race director to close down the lane closest to the shore.

“In one of the youth races, one of the biggest sets of the day came in. Fortunately the two steersmen were able to see it coming in time because with the swell coming out of the south, it kind of snuck up on them,” Atwood said. “They were not able to make a strong left turn and kind of slid up the face of the wave, but they were able to get through. After that the race director decided to allow clubs who drew that first lane to pick an outer lane.”