Canoe paddling: Keaukaha would love to make Moku O Hawaii championships a three-team race

  • TIM WRIGHT/Tribune-Herald Crews will take to Hilo Bay on Saturday for the Aunty Maile/Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association championships.

Keaukaha Canoe Clubs’s women’s Novice B crew stayed on land for the first four Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association regattas this season, and its eighth-place debut at the end of June was hardly any more noticeable.

The crew was back in the water a week later when something clicked: Talia Bailey, Shawna Blackford, Erin Funkhouser, Rena Kiyuna, Corrina Publico and Nikola Rodriguez promptly reeled off the fastest time in the state this season.

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“You can never tell who is going to come out,” Keaukaha coach Keahi Warfield said. “They did very well. Sometimes a crew doesn’t find the right plan until midseason or the last race of the season.”

A lot more would have to go right for his club – and, conversely, a lot wrong for Kai Opua and Puna – to upset the anticipated pecking order at Saturday’s Aunty Maile championships. Warfield likely won’t be counting up points after each race at Hilo Bay like Mike Atwood, his counterpart at Kai Opua, but Keaukaha’s recent surge at least makes it a worthy challenger for the Division A crown.

“We trying to pull all the (races) and see what we can fill,” Warfield said Friday as his club prepared to host the championships. “Everybody can race twice so we’ll probably use everybody twice as much as wee can.”

“We’ll see what we can do (Saturday),” he said. “Even if we can make up a point or two, you never know.

“Kai Opua or Puna could have a bad day and that point or two could make a difference.”

The every-point-matters theme has held strong the last two regattas as Kai Opua held off four-time champion Puna by a combined eight points.

Big Blue is trying to break though for the first time at the championships since 2014 and has won all three regattas this season at Hilo Bay and five of six times overall. The biggest shift the last time out, July 6, came courtesy of Keaukaha, which posted a season-high 199 points from 34 crews. Kai Opua (41 crews) scored 227 points and Puna (38) 222.

Quantity is an issue, but Warfield said he’s “happy with the quality.”

Keaukaha’s men’s freshman crew, with Warfield aboard at times, is undefeated, the men’s 65 and mixed men and women also lead the Moku O Hawaii standings and a listing of top-five times in the state for each event this season shows Keauakaha (12 crews) almost has as many leaders as Puna (14) and Kai Opua (13).

The fast times haven’t necessarily translated to winning week in and week out.

“I think if we spent a little bit more time being strategic as far as being a team and stuff like that, but that really isn’t our focus,” Warfield said. “If it happens, it happens, it would mean everybody is moving in the right direction.

“We’ve got the paddlers, but everybody has lives and stuff like that. They’re doing their own things.”

In addition to the club races – Paddlers of Laka will try to repeat in Division B (1-23 events) after going six for six this season – crews will use the championships as a last chance to lock down spots at the state regatta, which is Aug. 3 on Kauai.

Moku O Hawaii will have three lanes at state championships in each event, but Warfield said Keaukaha will only send crews that finish in the top two in the standings.

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As he took time to admire Hilo Bay and the Big Island paddling scene – he feels the venue and Moku O Hawaii are unmatched in Hawaii – Warfield said neither a Division A title chase nor the state regatta will be first and foremost in his mind come Saturday.

“Our primary focus is just to get through the day,” he said. “We treat it like just another regatta.”

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