Thursday | November 23, 2017
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Race to the top

For Mychael Singson, a Hawaiian Electric Light Co. lineman based in Kailua-Kona, the inaugural Hawaii Lineman’s Rodeo was not his first. He has competed, with his team, in the International Lineman’s Rodeo, held in Kansas annually since 1984.

“Kansas is a lot bigger than this, but the weather in Kona is a lot better,” Singson said. Competition was halted because of lightning in Kansas. The weather Saturday was much nicer.

The Hawaii Lineman’s Rodeo held at Old Kona Airport Park was the brainchild of Hawaiian Electric Co. President Dick Rosenblum and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1260 Business Manager Brian Ahakuelo. The two have attended the event in Kansas and thought something like it would work in Hawaii.

Rosenblum said the rodeo, which took about a year’s worth of preparation, was helped along by the “community that really opened their arms in the aloha spirit.”

HELCO President Jay Ignacio also credited the county for its support.

HELCO cleared an area of the park makai of Makaeo Events Pavilion and installed 70 utility poles for the event. Within a week, the poles will be removed, Ignacio said, and donated to the county.

The park was chosen for the rodeo because of its beach location. Proximity to hotels was also a consideration. Rosenblum acknowledged it could help boost the economy, which is recovering slowly on Hawaii Island. He said 490 people attended a Friday night luau, and estimated about 2,500 hotel room nights from visitors.

The event drew teams and supporters from Hawaii, the West Coast and Canada. Three-man teams, and individuals participating in an apprentice category, took part in events including the hurt man rescue and the pole climb.

For the rescue, a lineman ascends a pole to retrieve an injured colleague, in this case, a 185-pound dummy. For the pole climb, a lineman carries a bag with an egg to the top of the pole. After dropping a bag already attached at the top, the worker puts the egg in his mouth and quickly descends while keeping the egg intact. If the egg breaks, the participant is charged with a significant deduction.

Competitors begin with 100 points for each event and are judged for safety, technique and time. Singson said, “Speed is not the key, it’s how safe they do it.”

Even minor infractions, such as incorrectly storing rubber gloves or slipping while climbing the pole, result in point deductions.

Ahakuelo said the rodeo is a chance for the community to get an close look at the work linemen do every day. “They’re the ones who do the work. It’s important to recognize that they’re part of the community. Those guys are out there at two in the morning … when it’s cold, rainy, and the wind is blowing, making sure the lights stay on.”

Ahakuelo would like to see teams from the Midwest and East Coast participate in the future as the rodeo grows. He believes the Hawaii Lineman’s Rodeo could become “the largest (such) event across the nation.”

Jake Fotland said he wouldn’t mind a rodeo being held in Hawaii twice a year. Fotland, attending the event with his wife, Lena Fotland, and co-worker Jenn Valentine were supporting team members from San Diego Gas and Electric.

The group praised the aloha spirit of Hawaii and the venue.

Valentine, who compared the Hawaii Lineman’s Rodeo to a similar event she attended in Carlsbad, Calif., said she preferred the ocean view to “looking at a power plant.”

“Team Orange County loves it,” said Jake Fotland.

Singson said linemen have a “lot of respect” for each other. He also was able to meet up with some friends he made at the Kansas rodeo who were competing in Hawaii. Everybody is competitive, he said, but the real prize is “total bragging rights.”