Kamehameha paddlers ready to take on the World

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald
    Kamehameha finished second in the women 60 half-mile race to Puna. The crew members are steersman Haroldeen Quintal from left, Donna Herbst, Ellen Okuma, Maxine Magnani, Gwen Kekua, and stroker Marti Banks.
  • Kamehameha paddlers, from left, Marti Banks, Gwen Kekua, Piilani Borges, Maxine Magnani, Haroldeen Quintal, Ellen Okuma, Donna Herbst, and Sammie Stanbro, will participate in the IVF Va'a World Sprint Championships, which runs July 16-26 in Tahiti.

By KEVIN JAKAHI

Hawaii Tribune-Herald

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The veteran but perpetually youthful-looking Kamehameha paddlers enjoyed a moment of camaraderie, the type of friendship not seen on those reality TV shows.

Eight of them — Marti Banks, Gwen Kekua, Piilani Borges, Maxine Magnani, Haroldeen Quintal, Ellen Okuma, Donna Herbst, and Sammie Stanbro — will be spending 18 days together.

Unlike those Real Housewives of Wherever, they won’t get on each other nerves. That’s because they’re always paddling in the same direction, figuratively and literally.

The eight will participate in the IVF Va’a World Sprint Championships, which run July 16-26 in Tahiti, skipping the next two Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association regattas.

Those sitting near a calendar are thinking, “Oh, they going miss the 13th annual Aunty Maile Mauhili/Moku O Hawaii championships.”

Before John Kekua Jr. died at age 62 on Sept. 1, 2010, he spearheaded the effort to bring the biennial World Sprint Championships to Hilo in 2004. It’ll return to Hilo Bay in 2020.

In that span, Gwen Kekua and her paddling buddies have carried John’s legacy and love affair with international paddling. They’ve gone to each one since 2004, except for Sacramento, which is next to the word “boonies” in the dictionary.

The website movoto.com listed the top 10 Sacramento stereotypes that are completely accurate. No. 1 was: People from Sacramento are actually country bumpkins.

There’s nothing but the unvarnished truth on the internet.

In any case, Pirae, Tahiti will play host to the World Sprints, and the place is gorgeous, at least according to the images from Google. It sort of looks like Maui, except for the traffic.

The Kamehameha paddlers got their prep work in.

Kekua, Stanbro, Magnani, Borges, Okuma, and Carol Weir were on Kamehameha’s 65 half-mile winning crew, finishing in 5:01.41, ahead of Puna, on Saturday at their club’s regatta at Hilo Bay.

Quintal, Herbst, Okuma, Magnani, Kekua, and Banks finished second in the 60 race in 4:52.61, behind Puna’s 4:47.61.

Green Pride continues its tradition of picking up steam. Puna scored 192 points to capture its second straight Division A (15-41 events) title, nipping Kai Opua’s 190 points.

It almost feels like a strange thing to call Big Blue an underdog. But that’s when happens when Puna, the former underdog, seizes the last three Aunty Maile/Moku O Hawaii crowns.

“Being an underdog is actually a good place to be,” Kai Opua athletic director Mike Atwood said. “It’s a good challenge for us to increase our work ethic.”

The Kamehameha Eight have a travel log that rivals the late Anthony Bourdain’s adventures. They’ve been to New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and Brazil. They appreciated Canada because it was the best organized and Brazil because the world’s beautiful people are there as Bourdain famously noted: “It’s a place where everybody is sexy, where even the ugly people are hot.”

Before the Kamehameha Eight started talking about their Tahiti trek, they gave a shout-out to coaches Stan Cann and Kenika Kane. The pair isn’t going; someone needs to stay home and steer the ship.

There will be 30 different countries and over 2,000 paddlers at the World Sprints. And everybody there will have a common denominator: a love for paddling.

“You have a feeling that everybody is a brother and sister,” Kekua said. “Everybody is on the same page.”

Stanbro, who’s been to the World Sprints before, is the newcomer. She was with Keauhou for 16 years. Last season, she paddled with Puna and won a Aunty Maile/Moku O Hawaii title in the women 65 race.

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If the Kamehameha Eight ever have a friendly fight, it’ll be a debate about who had the biggest smile on the front page.

“Paddling keeps me young,” Stanbro said. “I’ve always paddled against them. To paddle with them is a privilege. This group of ladies is the sweetest bunch of sisters.”

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