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Moku O Hawaii: Manny Kawaihae’s Veincent succeeds in the waves of change

June 22, 2014 - 12:05am

Kawaihae Canoe Club coach Manny Veincent is the Cal Ripken Jr. of paddling, holding his own type of ironman streak, and the same guiding principles for more than four decades.

When the club first formed in 1972 and started competing in the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association the next year, Veincent was there and he’s never left the paddling scene.

The longtime coach and Big Island Hall of Famer is also part of another streak. From 2005 to ’12, the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association captured at least one division championship during that span. Veincent’s club won five times during that stretch.

Moku O Hawaii’s eight-year reign was snapped last season. However, Kawaihae, an annual A division (1-6 events) contestant gave it a good run. Maui’s Napili took the title with 51 points; Kawaihae had 50 points.

Kawaihae won four consecutive A championships from 2007 to ’10, and the last one in 2012, a remarkable accomplishment considering its isolation. The club draws paddlers from North and South Kohala and Hamakua.

“We just try to find the top six crews. It’s all about points,” Veincent said. “That’s all that it really is. We’ve done it with the top kids crews.”

That’s sort of the curveball Kawaihae keeps hitting out of the park.

For one thing, Kawaihae’s closest club competitor is Waikoloa, about 10 miles away. That means Veincent’s club, which has about 75 members, won’t likely catch a lot of transfers. Kawaihae even bought two buses to transport youngsters to practice.

The club entered 40 races and finished sixth in the A division with 113 points Saturday at Hilo Bay, where brief splashes of sunshine appeared. Kai Opua won the A title with 198 points.

What Veincent, 81, has noticed lately is that the club will develop youngsters and they’ll race in the 12, 13, 14 age brackets. Then one summer later, poof, they’re gone. Most of his keiki jump into another sport, putting the youth program into a constant rebuilding mode.

“At ages 11 and 12, we’ll get good paddlers, but by 13 and 14 soccer will take them,” he said. “Hilo and Kona have a surplus of kids. They’re both confined to one area. We’re spread out and it’s really hard.”

Mehana Spencer, 11, steers for the girls 13 and 14 crews. She’s a rising seventh-grader at Waimea Elementary, who joined Kawaihae four years ago. She’s got a pretty busy schedule, playing basketball year-round and volleyball.

“Paddling is fun and it’s a soothing place for me,” she said. “I’m hoping to go to Kamehameha for high school. I’m a point guard for basketball and want to play basketball and volleyball in high school.”

Veincent pointed to Spencer as Example A as Kawaihae’s revolving door of youngsters.

“That’s the way it is for us,” he said. “We have to use a young kid for older ages.”

Still, Kawaihae produces a new crop of Moku O Hawaii title-contending crews every year. The unbeaten mixed 12 — Laif Showalter, Kuaho Kane, Keenan Pahio, Mikaela Chong, Megan Chong and Julie Salvador — won their quarter-mile race in 2 minutes and 6.40 seconds.

Veincent remembers the good old days when some of his paddlers walked to practice at Kawaihae Pier from Waimea. He called that “toughness.” It’s also the way he coaches, a life lesson that hard work is the best reward.

Well, that and all the aloha spirit shared on the beach and over decades.

“My way is all about discipline and training,” he said. “I’m a fanatic about training. There’s no easy way out. We’ve got some of the top caliber paddlers right here in the state. I just love the sport and all the people involved. There has been a lot of good people I’ve met over the years.”

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