Kauai women set to race in 40th Na Wahine O Ke Kai

  • Photo courtesy Dana Miyake

    Members of Hui O Mana Ka Puuwai stop for a photo during last year’s Na Wahine O Ke Kai long-distance canoe race on Oahu. Pictured: Bobby Puakea, Debbie Green, Liz Hagen, Anuhea Herrod, Annette Fernandez, Nalani Pierce, Ajia Gabriel, Liz Steiner, Dana Miyake, Stephanie Siaris, Heidi Low and Keone Miyake.

Paddlers from the Garden Isle are taking part in what was described as the Super Bowl of women’s long-distance outrigger canoe races.

The 40th running of the Na Wahine O Ke Kai is set for Sept. 23.

“This year is actually the 40th anniversary for the women, so it’s a special year for the women,” said paddler Dana Miyake, who will paddle in the race for the 15th time.

The course is 41 miles long on open ocean from Molokai to Oahu.

“The Kaiwi Channel, it’s the channel from Molokai to Oahu. It’s considered the most challenging channel,” Miyake said. “Just to be able to do it is a big accomplishment, which is why they call it the Super Bowl of paddling. It’s what everybody trains for all year long.”

She added: “It’s challenging because of the conditions. There’s so much variation, and a lot of times, it is just very grueling. The seas can get very big out there.”

Miyake will compete with her team members from local canoe club Puuwai. Puuwai members taking part are: Miyake, Aija Gabriel, Annette Fernandez, Nalani Pierce, Kate Enoka, Liz Steiner, Ku’ulei Smith and Debbie Green.

Paddlers from San Francisco, Shari Kidani and Stefanie Gerstbacher, will join Puuwai for the race.

A couple paddlers from Kauai will compete for crew Team Bradley — Alana Goo-Frazier from Princeville and Kristen Foster from Wainiha.

For Goo-Frazier, this will be her 10th time paddling in the race and seventh time with Team Bradley.

“It’s always an honor to paddle the channel. To have the help to do it, to have the time to train, to have the support of my family, how lucky can you get?” Goo-Frazier said. “We don’t see each other a whole lot. We’re scattered around, but they’re some of my closest friends. We’ve got this connection, not just in the canoe, but we enjoy being around each other outside of the canoe, too. That spirit carries over. It’s a really great team.”

Team Bradley has won the last two Na Wahine O Ke Kai races. Both Goo-Frazier and Foster were part of the winning crew last year.

“If anything, I feel like every year, maybe we are defending champions but it doesn’t guarantee we’re going to continue to win,” Goo-Frazier said. “You need to work hard together. You have to do your homework. Winning is never a guarantee. In racing, things can happen that are out of your control, especially when you’re out in the elements in the middle of an ocean between two islands.”

Nancy Williams and Nancy Vaughn, both from Princeville and both members of Hanelei Canoe Club, will team up with paddlers from California.

Williams said this will be her third time crossing the channel.

“It’s grueling, it’s terrifying and it’s exhilarating all at the same time,” Williams said. “For us, especially here in Hawaii, it’s the pinnacle of each new racing season. It’s also what you aspire (to do). I moved out here in 2012 and starting paddling with Hanalei Canoe Club. I heard about the race and saw videos from previous years, and that became my goal.”

Williams added this go-around will be different but she’s grateful she can still be out on the water.

“It’s the first time I’ll be paddling not with the Hanalei Canoe Club ladies. Because of the floods (in April), we lost our canoe club (hale) and a majority of our canoes. Our training this year was really diminished,” she said. “For me, just to be able to paddle was a goal and to be able to find somebody to race with. … In general, every year my goal is to have a successful and fun time with the ladies I paddle with, and to be able to finish — that’s always the No. 1 goal — and to do as best as we can in our category.”

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Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or ncelario@thegardenisland.com.

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