Canoe paddling: World sprint qualifying begins in Hilo

Heanu Weller has never shied away from doing the grunt work in the third seat for her Kamehameha Canoe Club crew, especially not with the prize that was available to her Saturday.

There will be no shortage of world class paddlers arriving in Hilo in August for the International Va’a Federation world sprint championships. Though Weller certainly doesn’t fancy herself as part of the creme de la creme, she and her five ages 60-and-over teammates earned a spot at the table, advancing to worlds at a Hawaii qualifier at Hilo Bay.

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“It’s wonderful,” Weller said, “it’s something to work toward, and it’s a lot of work. But you’ll have all these elite paddlers here.

“I’m not one of them. I’m between a weekend warriors and elite. I’m in the continuum of things.”

The weather cooperated for the most part as 50-some V1 (one-person) and V6 qualifiers were held, and another long day is on tap Sunday beginning at 8 a.m.

Hawaii Canoe Racing Association president Mike Atwood said 1,006 paddlers were registered to compete over the two days, with roughly half of those coming from the Big Island.

Still, Atwood likely was giving busy giving out restaurant suggestions at the end of the day.

“From an officials perspective, we’re learning to work as a team with officials from pretty much all the islands,” he said. “Our competitions on each island are a little different, but it’s basically all the same.

“It’s the format with the sprints that is really different.”

One big difference Saturday was there was no turning, just a straight shot to the flag. All the qualifiers held Saturday were 500 meters, while a half-mile race during the HCRA regatta season is more than 800.

‘There is a little bit of transition from a sprint stroke to more of a power stroke in the (HCRA) half-mile races,” Atwood said. “But you’r still starting and finishing with a sprint.”

Weller was on a Kamehameha 55s canoe that qualified for the HCRA state championships last summer on Kauai.

The Moku O Hawaii season starts in May, and she called the timing of the world qualifier “perfect.”

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For many paddlers, there is no offseason anymore, especially not with the a world championship looming in their backyard.

“Pretty much year-round for many,” Weller said. “We started earlier because of sprints, and that’s what we’ve been focusing on.”

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