HANALEI — More than 3,000 paddlers from 64 clubs statewide went head-to-head for bragging rights as the best in the state.
“I’m surprised that so many people came out, because we were having so much difficulties in getting here with the airlines, the costs and stuff, but we did very well,” HCRA Race Commissioner Lawrence “Uncle Bo” Campos said on Saturday. “We’re here and we’re here in force.”
Kauai canoe clubs took several top honors during this year’s annual Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association State Tournament.
The tournament, held Saturday in Hanalei Bay, marked the first time in six years that Kauai was selected as a venue for the statewide event.
All of the 11 canoe clubs on the island, including the fledgling West Kauai, Kukuiula Outrigger and Hokualele Canoe Clubs, were represented.
Namolokama O Hanalei Canoe Club, which came out on top in the AA category with a total of 130 points, received top honors throughout the day, including a few close calls in key races.
In the fourth race of the day, less than a second prevented Namolokama from capturing second place in the Men’s Masters 55 years and older half-mile course.
Namolokama men came in third, in that race, at a time of 3 minutes, 54.79 seconds — just short of the second place finished secured by the Keauhou Canoe Club at a time of 3:54.13.
But Namolokama teams rebounded and secured two second-place finishes in the Men’s 65 and older half-mile race (4:6.66) and Men Golden Masters half-mile race (3:57.93).
The key wins for the Hanalei-based canoe club, however, came in two of the day’s last events.
Namolokama paddlers Alana Goo, Katie Curtis, Kristin Foster and Loretta Toth took the top spot in the Women’s Open Four half-mile race with a time of 4:24.89.
Then, in the next race, Namolokama men Jody Simpson, Mark Frazier, Eric Rafter and Bret Deblin captured the top seat in the Men’s Open Four half-mile race after finishing with a time of 3:49.21.
“We couldn’t be happier, especially in our home field,” Rafter said of his club’s win on Sunday following the Garden Island Canoe Racing Association Na Pali Challenge in Waimea. “We have a home field advantage but we still got all of these clubs from Oahu who are levels above us and what we do, so for us to hold our own is pretty exciting.”
Throughout the day, several other Kauai outrigger canoe clubs captured several top ranks in a number of races.
Puuwai Canoe Club took the top spot in the men’s freshman one-mile race with a finish time of 7:30.48.
Led by coach Luke Evslin and paddlers Kawika Moniz, Jonah Enrique, Tiloi Alapa, Parker Keawemauhili Smith and BJ Aiwohi, the effort continued into the Men’s Junior one-mile race, where the 7-men team garnered a third-place finish with a time of 7:30.13.
“It just took us by suprise,” Evslin said on Saturday after his team finished the Men’s Junior race. “You never know how you’re going to do when you’re racing here. We really had no idea — obviously we wanted to do well, but there were no expectations.”
Hanalei Canoe Club also secured two top finishes in the Mixed Boys and Girls 12 and younger 0.25 mile race and the Senior Women Masters 1.5-mile race.
In the first race, the club’s boys and girls team secured a third-place finish with a time of 2:15.22. Later in the day, the Hanalei women finished second with a time of 4:19.46.
But there were also a number of close calls and near misses throughout the day.
In one of the later races, Kaiola Canoe Club paddlers in the women’s golden masters race made a strong effort throughout the half-mile course to claim a win but came up 69 milliseconds short of a third-place finish behind Hui Nalu with a time of 4:41.75.
Kaiola men and women then made a comeback in the Mixed Masters half-mile course, where they finished third with a time of 3:39.75.
Then, in the second to last race of the day, the women from Kukuiula Outrigger Canoe Club made a push for a win in the Women Masters one-mile race and secured a second-place finish with a time of 8:51.72.
“It’s nice to see us all represented,” GICRA President Mia Pauletto said Saturday of the Kauai canoe clubs that participated in this year’s tournament. “The 14 crews (in each of the races) are the best in the state no matter where you look at it. Just being able to race in that event is an achievement.”
• Darin Moriki, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0428 or firstname.lastname@example.org.