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Moku o Hawaii: Kai Opua captures Keaukaha regatta


Keaukaha youth coach Kawika Lewis believes that best friends make better paddlers, especially those who follow the mauka-to-makai approach.

From toward the mountain to toward the ocean, Lewis, who coaches boys and girls ages 12 to 14, wants each six-member crew to paddle as one.

Lewis and Kai Crabbe’s five children — Makana, Kamaka, Kaaina, Kainalu and Kealoha — all paddle for Keaukaha, the host club for the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association regatta Saturday at Hilo Bay.

Seven-time champion Kai Opua captured the A division (15-40 events) for the fifth consecutive regatta with 198 points, ahead of Puna, 153; Keauhou, 151; Keaukaha, 139; Kai Ehitu, 133; Kawaihae, 113; Kamehameha, 101; and Paddlers of Laka, 64.

Keoua Honaunau took home the B division (1-14 events) with 44 points, ahead of Waiakea, 34; Kailana, 19; Waikoloa, 16; and Hanakahi, 15.

Keaukaha didn’t win the A division, but still had something to throw sunshine on. All three of its undefeated crews — boys 12, boys 16 and girls 18 — kept their perfect marks intact.

“That’s always cool when you hold on to a streak as long as you can,” Keaukaha coach Malani Alameda said. “It was a pretty good day for us.”

The other unbeaten young crews, Kai Ehitu girls 12 and Kawaihae mixed 12, won again. Puna’s senior women’s masters (50), and mixed men and women also remain undefeated.

Last year, the Keaukaha boys 12 took home gold at the Hawaii Canoe Racing Association state championship. That crew moved up to 13 and doesn’t have a clean mark, but that’s probably a good thing.

Kai Ehitu’s 13 boys defended their home waters at Kailua Pier to secure the first three regattas. But Keaukaha has taken the last two at Hilo Bay, including another close one, 1 minute and 49.18 seconds to 1:51.41 under windy and overcast conditions at its host regatta.

“It’s been neck and neck, and we push each other,” said Lewis, a co-coach with Makana. “They had the Kona water and we have the Hilo one. It really intensifies the competition and it’s healthy. It’ll come down to the Moku championships (July 19 at Hilo Bay).

“The one thing I’ve noticed is all the paddlers who are close friends on land seem to do well in the water because they all want to back each other up. How you act on land will determine what happens in the ocean. You have that bond, one foot on land, one foot in the ocean.”

That’s not only something Lewis preaches, but it’s a way of life for his family. Lewis looks at Hoekahi Paddling Co., his family’s ocean wear business, and its products, available through Facebook and Instagram, from the same perspective.

“We’re a traditional family living in the modern day. We grow our own food at our farm in Paukaa,” he said. “It’s paddle as one, but we want to promote sustainability and what you do on land affects what you do in the ocean. That’s why we hit it from mauka to makai. Basically, you can look at it as we’re a family research project. We use Hoekahi and the products as message tools.

“Part of our success is because the paddlers incorporate life lessons into the canoe, teamwork, commitment, dedication and appreciation, and head coach Malani Alameda provides great leadership. One of the famous quotes we tell the kids is, ‘Appreciate what you have as a club and in life because you could always have less.’ But the kids also have good training sessions and work hard — cardio, calisthenics, swimming and other aspects to succeed in the canoe.”

Alameda dedicated the regatta to longtime Keaukaha resident and community member Richard “Piggy” Kaleohano, who died Friday night. He was one of the helpers who set up lights at events, such as the Merrie Monarch, and involved himself in the neighborhood.