KAILUA-KONA — Reigning seven-time Moku O Hawaii champion Kai Opua Canoe Club races with a large target on its back as the team to beat, and has been pushed by a competitive field this season. But the host club of Saturday’s Kamehameha Day Regatta refused to lose at Kailua Bay, wrapping up a sweep of the season’s three West Hawaii events.
Kai Opua ran away with top honors, recording 190 points, but second place was a dogfight until the final crews crossed the finish line. When the points were tallied, Keauhou Canoe Club (159) edged Kai Ehitu Canoe Club(158) to take second. Puna Canoe Club (129) made a late run to get in the mix — winning the final four races of the day — but settled for fourth.
“We are looking at almost 50 years of Kai Opua hosting this race. It is very important to our club and it’s not one we ever want to lose,” Kai Opua Club President Bo Campos said. “Working as hard as they did to host this regatta, all our paddlers really deserved the win.”
Kai Ehitu, the reigning B Division champion, made the jump to A Division this season and head coach Richard Kimitete has been satisfied with the results so far. “It was a big jump for us,” Kimitete said. “We really didn’t expect it, but with the number of people we had coming out, we wanted to give them all a chance to race.”
Kimitete said the club is in the middle of a rebuilding process for its men and women’s programs, but has seen outstanding efforts from the youth crews early on.
Kai Ehitu has medaled in nearly all of the youth events and the club’s girls 12 crew is undefeated entering the fourth regatta of the season. That crew — Kiana Anakalea, Malie Grace, Hunter Kalima, Maimiti Otare, Nayeli Silva-Kahalewai and Lilei Ynigues — posted a winning time of 2:05.55 Saturday, the fastest time in the state so far this season.
“All the kids and novices are placing and the afternoon crews are doing well filling in the gaps,” Kimitete said. “All our crews are moving forward and progressing every week, which is exactly what we like to see.”
In Kai Ehitu’s absence, Keoua Canoe Club has been the dominant force in B Division. This week, however, Paddlers of Laka dropped down from A Division for the first time, easily outdueling Keoua for the regatta’s B Division title.
Some other undefeated crews to keep an eye on entering the halfway mark of the season are: Keauhou’s girls 13, men masters, and men golden masters; Kai Opua’s men novice A and 65 women; Kawaihae Canoe Club’s mixed boys and girls 12; Kai Ehitu’s women novice B and men masters crews; Keaukaha Canoe Club’s boys 16 and under, girls 18 and under; and Puna’s senior women masters, mixed masters and mixed men and women.
“Because there are only two lanes at states, it is going to be a real battle going forward,” Campos said. “Kai Ehitu and Keauhou have been on us all season. They are doing a great job, but I’m happy we have been able to pull it out at the end.”
With his crews still developing and settling in, Kimitete is optimistic by season’s end Kai Ehitu will prove they belong with the elite A Division clubs.
“We haven’t hit our peak yet,” he said. “All our coaches have done so well developing our paddlers. The men and women are coming up, and the kids have been doing great. I think once everyone gets settled in we will be ready to make a run.”
The Moku O Hawaii season moves to Hilo for the remainder of the season, starting with the Kailana Canoe Club Regatta June 14 at Hilo Bay.