BIIF Paddling: Waveriders battle tough winds to win mixed and boys races


Kealakehe senior Kali Holman doesn’t hit the snooze button on his alarm clock because he’s disciplined enough to get up on time, which helps him when it comes to canoe paddling.

During the Christmas break, he attended every practice for the Waveriders paddling team, and that attendance paid off during an all-schools Big Island Interscholastic Federation regatta on a windy Saturday at Hilo Bay.

Holman was part of two winning crews — the boys and mixed — while the Keaau girls won the other half-mile race in kite-flying conditions that made turning around the flag and the job of the canoe holders difficult.

“The conditions were rough. It was hard but we did well,” Kealakehe boys coach Bo Campos said. “We had to adapt to the conditions. It’s our boys’ third win. Hopefully, we can get them to go undefeated. I like that no matter what we throw at them at practice they’ll do it.”

Campos coaches the boys while Mike Atwood heads the girls and mixed crews. They are also the peanut butter-and-jelly combination for the Kai Opua Canoe Club, making everything all good for the West Hawaii powerhouse. Kai Opua has captured the past seven Aunty Maile Mauhili/Moku O Hawaii championships.

Holman first started paddling as a sophomore at Hualalai Academy. He transferred to Kealakehe as a junior and didn’t paddle, but he came out for the team in his last year with Campos’ urging.

“He brings really good energy. He runs 3 to 4 miles to practice,” Atwood said. “He has good attendance at practice, good grades and a good attitude. He’s the type of paddler you’d like to have. He’s really helpful at practice, picking up the wheels (to transport the canoe) and paddles. It was good to see him benefit and be on two successful crews.”

The discipline part for Holman comes from martial arts. He’s a black belt in American karate and taekwondo, and a blue belt in Brazilian jujitsu.

“I look at it as a way to refine my body,” Holman said. “When I first started paddling I didn’t think it was any fun doing the same stroke all the time. But I like it because it’s about constant effort to perfect that single stroke. I came to every practice during the Christmas break. The discipline from martial arts goes to the canoe.”

Haaheo Kaiawe, a senior normally in the No. 2 seat, became the lead stroker after the starter skipped practice during the break. Sophomore Ini Paio, a member of the junior varsity, earned a promotion and paddled with Kaiawe, Holman, Nalu East, Ka‘u Kinin, and freshman steersman Fisher Nitta.

The returning starters are East and Kinin, a pair of seniors, and Kaiawe, a junior. The trio also paddle for Kai Opua during the Moku O Hawaii season.

“All those guys have won titles with Kai Opua,” Campos said. “Haaheo’s a good kid. He’s not really a stroker, but he showed up at practice during the Christmas break and we gave him a shot. He did a good job. We brought up a JV kid, Paio, and they all did well. When you come across the line like that, with that kind of lead you did a good job.

“The rain plastered us in Kona. It was one of the biggest rainstorms I’ve seen in a long time. The kids know if there’s rain we’ll still paddle at practice. It was windy and we had Lori Nakagawa holding the canoe, and two JV boys holding. They had to keep the canoe at arm’s length from the flag and not let it drift into the other lane.”

Nakagawa is a 2012 Kealakehe graduate who grew up paddling for Atwood and Campos at both Kai Opua and during her time with the Waveriders. She’s now helping out as an assistant coach. One of her charges is her sister Leisha Nakagawa.

The younger Nakagawa was on the winning mixed crew, along with Megan Kaipo, steersman Eleashia Kealoha and Holman, Kaiawe and Kinin. That last race of the day was a good one. Parker is the mixed defending BIIF champion, while Keaau won the boys title and Pahoa (not fielding a team) took the girls crown last year.

“Going down toward the flag it looked like Keaau was ahead, but we beat them out of the turn,” Atwood said. “Parker’s the defending champ and has a lot of pride. They came out really strong at the end. The win is good for the kids. They now know they can accomplish something if they work hard at it.”