It’s not in the vein of a dog trying to catch its tail, but no Big Island club has ever won the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association state regatta’s Division AAAA (21-40 events) championship — where depth and points are just as valuable as paddles and an outrigger.
Kai Opua, the Goliath of the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association, has come close, finishing runner-up as recently as 2009 to Hawaiian of Maui when Hilo Bay played host, and isle clubs locked down two division titles.
That year, Puna captured Division AAA (13-20 races), and nearby halau neighbor Keaukaha pocketed Division AA (7-12 events). Kawaihae placed second in Division A (1-6 crews), behind Napili of Maui by two points.
It was bummer for the proud members of Moku O Hawaii that Kai Opua couldn’t counter Hawaiian’s points-across-the-board strategy and defend its adopted home turf. (Kai Opua is from West Hawaii, but knows the Hilo Bay waters as well as any East Hawaii club.)
In that 2009 state regatta, Hawaiian made the case that depth is important, but the biggest key — the framework to building an AAAA champion — is based on cherry-picking points in every race. Consider that Hawaiian entered 37 crews, only one more than Kai Opua.
The Valley Isle club — well-known for its endless Maui no ka oi (Maui is the best) slogan and constant chanting — collected 10 medals (four gold and silver and two bronze), compared to Kai Opua’s haul of eight (four gold, three silver, and one bronze).
Keauhou and Oahu’s Outrigger had 12 medals each. Yet Keauhou (26 crews) and Outrigger (28 events) placed seventh and sixth, respectively, highlighting that medals are nice but a monopoly of finishes in fourth or worse are of higher value — at least from a club instead of a crew viewpoint.
Hawaiian is the defending Division AAAA champion. Keauhou is the two-time defending AAA champ. (It’s a four-year stretch for Moku O Hawaii in that division; Kai Opua took home AAA in 2008.) Puna is the defending AA champion, and Na Kai Ewalu from Maui is the A king, a point better than Kawaihae in last year’s regatta.
Kai Opua has only 32 lanes in today’s HCRA state championships at Keehi Lagoon on Oahu, sitting out eight races. Lanikai, the 2010 AAAA champ, has 39 lanes, and Hawaiian is in 34 events. For Kai Opua and fellow Moku O Hawaii clubs, it’s the old big fish in a small pond deal when racing against the bigger sharks from the other islands.
“I don’t know if we’ve got enough numbers to win,” said Kai Opua athletic director Mike Atwood in his usual pragmatic tone, before offering optimism. “But to have a chance we have to paddle at our best, and some crews from other clubs have to not paddle at their level. We’ll get good competition from Hawaiian, Kailua and Lanikai. If we want to do well, we have to paddle well. You never know on race day what will happen.”