WAIMEA — The 2014 edition of the Hawaii High School Rodeo Association State Finals kicked off Friday afternoon at Parker Ranch Arena, with 45 of the top cowboys and cowgirls in the state gathering to compete for berths in next month’s national finals.
“The competition is very tight this year. It can really go any way,” Hawaii High School Rodeo Association National Director Tom Richmond said. “There were a lot of nerves out there today, as there always is the first go. I think Saturday everyone will settle in and the competition will be even more fierce.”
The rodeo picks up at 10 a.m. Saturday and will continue into the afternoon.
The riders participate in events including steer wrestling, barrel racing, dally team roping, breakaway roping, tie down roping, pole bending, goat tying, saddle broncs, double mugging, poo wai u, and — of course — bull riding.
The top four riders in each event qualify for the National High School Finals Rodeo, which will be held July 13 to 19 in Rock Springs, Wyo. Sunday, the top eight will be announced at an awards ceremony, with the opportunity falling to the fifth through eighth spots if any of the top four qualifiers decline.
Hawaii Island is represented by 22 riders at the season culminating rodeo. Among those are seniors Kayla Ann Kalauli and Kekahi Ferreira, who will have their last go at the high school level. Kalauli is the reigning High School Rodeo Queen, but will pass her crown on this weekend to one of three new participants vying for the title.
Chase Kahiau Onaka is also among the Big Island entrants. Onaka serves as the association’s high school student president.
“I was born into rodeo, so I have been doing this pretty much my whole life,” said Onaka, who is an incoming senior at Makua Lani Christian Academy. “I try not to make this weekend stressful, but it can be hard because it is very important. This is what our whole season comes down to, so you really want to do well and qualify for nationals.”
On top of voicing the concerns of his peers to the HHSRA board, Onaka’s duties include organizing activities so group members can get to know each other, socialize and build friendships with competitors from other islands.
“The thing I may like most about rodeo is the relationships you build,” Onaka said. “Out there, we are competitive. But after the competition is over, we are all friends.”
Onaka has some time before graduating but said he has looked at some colleges in California that have rodeo teams.
Richmond said the next step for many of the participants who are looking to continue their career on horseback would be college rodeo, but some may try to enter the professional ranks.
“It’s difficult for the kids in Hawaii to break into the (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) because you have to make a lot of connections,” Richmond said. “College rodeo is a great route though, and definitely an option for many of these kids.”
The participants were introduced in a Grand Entry ceremony before the action began, with the 10 seniors in the field being recognized.
The HHSRA also announced Elliot Baisa, of Maui, as its Horseman of the Year for his contributions to the rodeo community. Baisa died March 15, but his family accepted the award on his behalf.