Rodeo: Kalawaia, Foster share zeal for rodeo, all-around saddles

  • The state contingent heading to the national high school rodeo finals next week.
  • Abby Foster with her parents, Ryan and Mariko.
  • Abby Foster, pictured here competing in Tennessee last summer, won her first Hawaii High School Rodeo Association All-Around Cowboy saddle after her freshman year at Hawaii Prep.
  • Trisyn Kalawaia takes the bull by the horns, flashing the form that helped him become All-Around Cowboy at the Hawaii High School Rodeo Association finals in June.

Trisyn Kalawaia and Abby Foster weren’t on their horses long before they were hooked.

Both were thrust into rodeo with the help of uncles, Kalawaia as a first-grader, and Foster a few years back as a sixth-grader. Both, one from Hilo and other Kailua-Kona, used the same three words to describe their affinity for their sport: “haven’t stopped since.”


There are obstacles, of course, but if they are ever thrown for a curve, Kalawaia and Foster get right back on that horse. That’s a big reason why they captured all-around honors at the Hawaii High School Rodeo Association finals last month at Parker Ranch.

Kalawaia, a junior-to-be at Waiakea High, was competing at junior high nationals in Tennessee two summers ago when a horse he rented bucked him off in a practice pen, causing him to suffer a broken arm.

“It was a hard experience to swallow because I traveled all the way to (Tennessee) and was only able to do a couple events before getting injured,” Kalawaia said. “I had to spend the rest of my trip there with a broken arm while watching everyone else compete from the bleachers.”

On top of that, the injury didn’t heal properly, restricting Kalawaia from competing in certain events during his freshman year.

Foster’s recently completed freshman year at Hawaii Prep was going smoothly until school resumed after spring break and she learned she wasn’t eligible for an independent waiver to meet the school’s athletic requirement.

So she took up CrossFit and yoga four days a week after school in Waimea, then would catch a lift to Honalo for practice and horse care, often riding in the dark after others went home. She’d check in with coach Kala’i Nobriga, who’s on the mainland to pursue a pro career, for FaceTime, then head back home for dinner and homework at about 8:30 p.m.

“I think a lot of people don’t know how much work it is,” Foster said. “You don’t just get up and ride. All the equipment, all the practice. It can be all day, every day.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Kalawaia also plays football at Waiakea, so he clearly doesn’t mind contact.

For him, the fun comes from “the energy, pressure, and competitiveness in rodeo.”

“It’s a very humbling sport because I’m not only dealing with my own performance but also having to do teamwork with my partners (in teamed events) and also teamwork with my horses,” he said. “And then on top of that, you’re always dealing with the animal you draw. Sometimes we draw good ones, sometimes not. That’s when the practice you put out before the rodeo shows.

“It’s a family sport that lasts a lifetime.”

Foster, from the other side of the island, echoed many of her fellow champions thoughts.

“I think one of my favorite things is feeling like you’re part of one big family,” she said. “You can’t just do the sport. It takes a team and so many people are involved and that’s what makes it special.”

Foster won the 2017 junior high state title, but her first high school finals brought about some unknowns. Still, she posted top-five finishes in four events, two of which (reining cow horse and cutting) were new to her. Foster won pole bending and took second in barrel racing in snagging the All-Around Cowgirl saddle.

“I didn’t expect myself to win since this was my first year, and it was definitely different,” said Foster, quick to praise others. “My horses did well. They all did their jobs.”

One of those horses provides a link between Foster and Hailey Onaka, who was the state’s top high school cowgirl all four years from 2014-17 before graduating from Makua Lani. This past season, Foster’s parents, Ryan and Mariko, bought Onaka’s reining cow horse.

“She’s one of the best in the state and definitely somebody I look up to,” Foster said.

While Abby Foster passed down a berth to high school nationals, July 15-21 in Wyoming, and will instead travel to Europe with her family, Kalawaia headlines a Big Island contingent that also includes La`I Bertelmann, Camela Haalilio, Tiana Gomes, Westin Joseph, Kaleo Simmons, Ka`ohu Haalilio, Stoney Joseph, Kalaa Andrade, Levi Higa, Micah Miranda, Sydney Wiernicki and Kilihea Mockchew.

“I am looking forward to seeing the competition of the high schoolers from around the world,” Kalawaia said. “I know there is tough competition out there, but to get better you have to compete with them.”

Kalawaia missed out on the trip last summer, in part because of his arm injury, but he looked all healed last month, claiming bull riding, steer wrestling and bareback broncs to earn his All-Around Cowboy saddle. He also combined with Joseph to finish third in tie down roping, but it’s the bareback bronc ride that stood out.

“Our rodeo family recently lost someone special to us, uncle Scott Sadanaga,” Kalawaia said. “He always pulled the flank for the broncs and since he passed, that was the first rodeo back at Parker Ranch arena without him there. It was noticeable that he wasn’t there pulling the flank.”

High school rodeo finals

June 5-10, Parker Ranch

Barrel racing

1. Coryssa Silva, Kauai

2. Abby Foster, Big Island

3. Sierra Matsumoto, Big Island

4. Alohi Blackstad, Big Island

5. Jerikah Valencia-Gomes, Oahu

6. Laura Coflin, Maui

7. Camela Haalilio, Big Island

8. La‘i Bertelmann, Big Island

Goat tying

1. La‘i Bertelmann, Big Island

2. Lehiwa Apo, Maui

3. Kuulei Decosta, Big Island

4. Camela Haalilio, Big Island

5. Winters, Anuhea, Big Island

6. Abby Foster, Big Island

7. Kilihea Mockchew, Big Island

8. Leimaile Tsueneyoshi, Oahu

Team roping

1. Dawstin Hoopai, Jonah Menino, Big Island

2. Micah Miranda, Levi Higa, Big Island

3. Trisyn Kalawaia, Westin Joseph, Big Island

4. Kaohu Haalilio, Stoney Joseph, Big Island

5. Sierra Mastumoto, Leysie Matsumoto, Big Island

6. Jerikah Valencia-Gomes, Lenaia Andrade, Oahu

7. Caleb Santana, Leimaile Tsuneyoshi, Oahu

8. Lehiwa Apo, Dylan Aguiar, Maui

Girls cutting

1. Kilihea Mockchew, Big Island

2. Camela Haalilio, Big Island

3. Coryssa Silva, Kauai

4. Abby Foster, Hawaii

5. Lehiwa Apo, Maui

6. Sierra Gleason, Big Island

6. Kuulei Decosta, Big Island

8. Laura Coflin, Maui

Pole bending

1. Abby Foster, Big Island

2. Kuulei Decosta, Big Island

3. Jerikah Valencia-Gomes, Oahu

4. Kilihea Mockchew, Big Island

5. Coryssa Silva, Kauai

6. Maile Fernandez, Kauai

7. Sierra Mastumoto, Big Island

8. Laura Coflin, Maui

Steer wrestling

1. Trisyn Kalawaia, Big Island

2. Westin Joseph, Big Island

3. Kaleo Simmons, Big Island

Bull riding

1. Trisyn Kalawaia, Big Island

2. Westin Joseph, Big Island

3. Kaleo Simmons, Big Island

4. Koby Jacobson, Maui

5. Chevy Augustiro, Maui


1. Jerikah Valencia-Gomes, Oahu

2. Lehiwa Apo, Maui

3. Leimaile Tsuneyoshi, Oahu

4. La’I Bertelmann, Big Island

5. Coryssa Silva, Kauai

5. Aryka Diego, Maui

7. Camela Haalilio, Big Island

8. Sierra Matusmoto, Big Island

Tie down roping

1. Stoney Joseph, Big Island

2. Kaohu Haalilio, Big Island

3. Dawstin Hoopai, Big Island

4. Dylan Aguiar, MauiDylan

5. Westin Joseph, Big Island

6. Trisyn Kalawaia, Big Island

6. Trey Gomes, Big Island

8. Caleb Santana, Oahu

Reining cow horse

1. Kaohu Haalilio, Big Island

2. Camela Haalilio, Big Island

3. Abby Foster, Big Island

4. Jerikah Valencia-Gomes, Oahu

5. Coryssa Silva, Kauai

6. Sierra Gleason, Big Island

7. Tiana Gomes, Big Island

8. Kilihea Mockchew, Big Island

Bareback broncs

1. Trisyn Kalawaia, Big Island

Boys cutting

1. Kaleo Simmons, Big Island

2. Kaohu Haalilio, Big Island

3. Stanley Joseph IV, Big Island

Trap shooting

1. Ka’ohu Haalilio, Big Island

2. Steven Onaka, Big Island

3. Branden Okubo, Big Island

4. Kayla Miura, Big Island

1A. Alan Brown Jr., Maui

2A Levi Higa, Big Island

.22 light rifle

1. Alan Brown, Big Island


2. Camela Haalilio, Big Island

3. Micah Miranda. Big Island

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