WAIMEA — Hailey Onaka doesn’t sound like someone who just finished her freshman year of high school.
The Holualoa resident speaks with the poise and wisdom of someone much older.
She competes the same way in the rodeo arena.
Onaka, who will be a sophomore at Makua Lani, was honored as the All-Around Cowgirl winner at the Hawaii High School Rodeo Association’s state awards ceremony Sunday.
“I guess the expectation is lower of you to be an underclassman, but it’s good to prove people wrong some times,” Onaka said with a smile. “I like the competition. I’m competing with older people and people who are more experienced. It makes competitors stronger. Nobody wants to lose, so having a higher standard to fulfill, in order to succeed, it pushes you a lot more.”
She found plenty of success at the state event. She won the girls cutting event, finished second in the goat-tying and team-roping competitions, was third in breakaway, and finished fourth in pole bending. Each of those was good enough to qualify for the National High School Rodeo Association finals in Rock Springs, Wyoming, from July 13 to 19, although she will not participate in cutting or pole bending.
Onaka is far from the only Big Island rider heading to Wyoming. Ryan Sanborn, who was the Reserve All-Around Cowboy, leads the boys. The Hilo rider won the steer wrestling and saddle broncs competitions, finished third in double mugging and fourth in tie-down roping. He will concentrate on steer wrestling and saddle broncs at the national event.
Other Big Island student-athletes scheduled to compete in the national event are: Mia Nakachi (barrel racing), Patricia Rincon (breakaway, cutting), Kayla Ann Kalauli (breakaway, goat tying), Pua Kauhaihao (breakaway, goat tying), Kepa Awai (bull riding), Julian Mautz (cutting), Kahiau Onaka (cutting, tie-down roping, team roping), Kelsey Kaniho (saddle broncs), Lexis Andrade (tie-down roping, team roping), Ethan Awa (team roping) and Kaili Brenneman (team roping).
Sanborn, who will be a senior at Kamehameha, has big ambitions for the national event.
“I’m trying to make a name for myself, represent Hawaii,” he said. “I want to try to get a college scholarship to go on rodeo up there.”
While riding broncos hasn’t been a problem for Sanborn, riding a bicycle was a bit more difficult. An accident kept him from doing everything that he wanted to this season.
“My goal was to win all-around but, early in the season, I broke my arm,” he said. “It kind of made it difficult, limited me to certain events that I could do.”
Onaka said it’s important to score in a variety of events.
“To win all-around is all about diversity and consistency, for sure,” she said. “You have to be a strong rider, roper, rider for cutting — cutting is a whole other world. I do cutting, barrels, poles, breakaway, goat tying. Team roping is my favorite, because it’s all against boys.”
Kauhaihao, another Big Island freshman, was Reserve All-Around Cowgirl. Maui’s Kanoa Awai Dickson was All-Around Cowboy.
Devon Richmond won the pole bending belt buckle while Nakachi (barrel racing), Rincon (breakaway) and Mautz (boys cutting) also won individual events. Kahiau Onaka — Hailey’s older brother — paired with Awa for victory in the team roping competition.
Kauai’s Cheyenne Andrade was named the state rodeo queen.