HILO — The close-knit Keaukaha Canoe Club’s boys 14 crew continues to clean house, winning regatta after regatta, and learning something new and valuable each time out.
Kumulipo Alapai, Ulu Bueltmann, Keahi Denne-Kimi, Kaimi Iaukea-Ronquillio, Kualono Kaupu and Daniel Nunes captured their quarter-mile race again on Saturday, finishing in 1 minute, 44.64 seconds at the Keaukaha regatta on a windy, overcast Saturday at Hilo Bay.
The boys, who all attend Hawaiian immersion school Ka Umeke Kaeo, nosed out Puna, which clocked a 1:45.38, and Kai Opua, a third-place finisher in 1:49.42, at the sixth Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association race of the season.
Keaukaha placed second to Puna at the Kai Opua regatta two weeks ago, after one of the crew members lost a paddle. Five paddlers used paddles, and one compensated with his hands. It was less a mistake and more a learning experience in coach Keahi Warfield’s eyes.
“Things like that happen, and it’s good to put it in perspective,” said Warfield, a teacher at the Hawaiian immersion school. “I told our crews this morning that when you race you’re vulnerable to make mistakes. But if you make a mistake, it’s just a mistake and move on. You have to be patient. You’ll have your good days and bad days.
“That’s something our crews do well. They get back on track and keep moving forward. I try to keep reminding our crews of that.”
Last season, the Ka Umeke Kaeo Six made zero mistakes, at least at the Hawaii Canoe Racing Association state regatta on Maui. They pocketed gold at the boys 13 event, and jumped up an age division this season.
As the season unfolds, some things remain the same.
Kai Opua won the big boys division, again. The West Hawaii powerhouse piled up 213 points to take the Division A (15 to 40 events) title. Puna was second with 152 points, and host Keaukaha took third with 146 points.
Hui Waa O Waiakea — on the strength of its undefeated boys 15 — claimed the Division B (one to 14 events) crown with 49 points. Paddlers of Laka — with one medal to Waiakea’s four — pulled into second with 41 points. On the homefront, it was a good day for Keaukaha, which had four golds, five silvers and nine bronzes, a total of 18 medals. Kai Opua collected 29 medals, and Puna made sure to grab its share with 21 medals. Kai Opua had 12 golds; Puna won 10.
Besides Keaukaha’s boys 15, the club’s girls 15 and 18, and men’s golden masters (55) also took home gold medals.
“I’m more than happy about today,” Warfield said. “The kids did well and adjusted to whatever they had to, regardless of the wind and rain, to take their points. Everybody did their best and did their part.
“The wind picked up in the afternoon. This morning it was really calm. The wind made it challenging to work up the course and turn around. The wind blew toward the finish line.”
Tough challenges on Keaukaha’s regatta were fitting because crew members also paddled in remembrance of former coach Starold “Bear” Mitchell, who passed away in May 2006. He was 43.
Besides being Warfield’s paddling coach, Mitchell was also a Hilo High football coach. The former student remembered his old coach for the way he carried himself.
“Our 14 boys are committed to practice, and they have that drive to continue what they start. They just stick together, and they’re humble. That’s the key for them.”
It’s Denne-Kimi’s second year paddling with his friends. Denne-Kimi, 14, came out for paddling at the right time last year.
“That undefeated season was something to remember,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. We were the smallest crew. But we paddled together and stayed with each other.”
Nunes, 15, is in his third year with Keaukaha. As one of Warfield’s students at school and the club, he soaked in the life lessons. Then he explained what makes his crew so tough.
Kaupu, 15, is one of the veterans. He’s in his fourth year. Of the group, he’s soft-spoken and thoughtful.
“We always push ourselves, and winning at states last year I was the happiest person in the world,” he said. “I was smiling all day. Being around each other so much, we’re more like a family. We’re connected and more close. It helps us in the canoe.”