Organizers hoping to boost race popularity

HANALEI — From first to last, paddlers in Saturday’s 35-mile Na Pali Challenge

outrigger canoe race say it was an experience not soon to be

forgotten.

Capturing first place, Hui’o Mana Kapuuwai Canoe Club raced

across the finish line in Kekaha four hours and forty-four minutes after a

start in Hanalei that required a 20-yard beach dash to competitors awaiting

canoes.

“The best part was going so fast surfing those swells,” said Mary

Brewer, a member of the winning crew. “I felt like I’d never gone that fast

before. It was like flying.”

Brewer should know. She’s a veteran

long-distance paddler and member of the winning crew from last year’s Na Wahine

O Ke Kai, the legendary 41-mile, inter-island race from Molokai to Oahu.

“I

felt like I’d paddled Molokai, but this was a lot more fun,” said

Brewer.

Race organizers of the third-annual Na Pali Challenge like to hear

those comparisons. With few funds to promote their race, they are relying on

word of mouth to eventually create a following much like the Molokai to Oahu

race, and the largest international canoe competition in the world, the Queen

Liliuokalani Long Distance Canoe Race held in Kona.

“It’s a local-style

effort,” said Dennis Chun, one of the founders of Na Kalai Wa’a O Kauai, the

non-profit organization for which the Na Pali Challenge is a fund-raiser. “Over

the long run, popularity for the race will grow.”

Word is already

spreading. Saturday’s race posted 16 entries, three from off island, including

Oahu, the big island and the state of Virginia.

Undoubtedly, the race

course and race regulations, which are unusual, add to its popularity.

“The

course retraces an ancient trade route from Hanalei to the west side,” said

Chun. “It connects the whole island. The scenery is just awesome.

There’s a

lot of feeling along the Na Pali Coast, too.”

The Virginia crew must have

felt it; they say theyll return next year.

Throughout the race, crews of

six women and six men took turns paddling in 30 minute intervals. Escort boats

carried non-paddling crews who used their off time to re-hydrate and re-fuel

their bodies and cheer on their teammates. Crews had five-minute windows to

complete their water changes.

“The co-ed relay brings unity between the

men’s and women’s crews of the same club,” said Chun.

A crew from Kaiola

Canoe Club experienced this unity first-hand. After a disastrous start, their

boat crossed the finish line dead-last, long after the beach crowd dissipated

and only worried family members remained.

“Without all of us, we wouldn’t

have been able to do it,” said Zena Seeley,the women’s steersperson for Kaiola

Canoe Club’s No. 4 boat. “It took all 12 of us.”

While this crew from

Kaiola Canoe Club crossed the finish line in last place, they certainly weren’t

losers. They won many hearts with their courage after huli’ing (flipping) some

15 minutes into the race and, due to difficulties, were towed back to shore

where they bailed the canoe of water and started out again an hour after their

first attempt, at the same point another crew might have called it

quits.

“The guys asked, Are we going to do this? and we said ‘Yes,'” said

Seeley. “I’m glad we finished. How often do you get to paddle that coast in a

six-man canoe? I give my crew all the credit; they did such a killer

job.”

It helps to know the waters along the Na Pali Coast. Brewer said

she’s paddled that coast countless times and, because there’s a counter current

close to the coast, stays far outside to catch big swells and fast

currents.

“Our game plan is always the same,” said Brewer. Get out in front

and stay there. Then, cover the competition.”

Brewer said they kept an eye

on Hanalei Poi Boys behind them and stayed in their line the entire time, so

they would paddle in the same water conditions and eliminate any edge the

second-place crew might have gained with a more favorable current.

Reading

currents is what Na Kalai Wa’a O Kauai is all about. The non-profit

organization was created to offer Kauai an educational and cultural opportunity

through Polynesian sailing canoe voyaging. The organization is currently

constructing a 70-foot-long, double hull, non-instrument, voyaging canoe and

hopes to sail to Micronesia within the next few years relying only on the sun,

the moon, the stars, and the water to navigate.

Official race

results

In the Open Division, Hui’o Mana Kapuuwai Canoe Club placed first

in a time of 4:43:32, Hanalei Hawaiin Civic Club placed second in a time of

4:49:14 and Kaiola Canoe Club ended third in a time of 4:50:10. The remaining

teams in the Open Division finished this way: Hanalei Canoe Club (4:59:07),

Koloa Canoe Club (5:18:02), Kaiola Canoe Club (5:25:01), Mid Atlantic Paddlers

(5:36:32), Hui’o Mana Kapuuwai Canoe Club #2 (5:40:09), Kawaikini Canoe Club

(5:41:19), Niumalu Canoe Club (5:48:30) and Kawaikini #2 scratched.

In the

Master Divisioin, Hanalei Canoe Club finished first (5:00:47), Kaiola Canoe

placed second (5:10:33) and Kona Athletic ended third (5:21:03). Kaiola Canoe

Club was the only other finisher in the Master Division (6:54:18). Hui’o Mana

Kapuuwai suffered broken equipment and could not finish.

Special to

The Garden Island

Canoe Team members churn through the waters during the Na

Pali Challenge canoe race Saturday.

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