LIHUE — Sara Funtanilla, a sophomore at Waimea High School, is one of the youngest team leaders in the 35-year history of Mokihana Aquatics.
“Being someone that the younger generation can look up to is really important to me,” Funtanilla said. “Not because I want their admiration, but because I want to be able to look to the future and say that Hawaii will be in good hands. If there’s anything that Mokihana Aquatics has taught me, it’s that where we come from is directly related to who we are.”
Mokihana Aquatics is marking its 35th year, and to celebrate will be hosting a benefit concert at Smith’s Tropical Paradise on March 25.
The party kicks off at 5 p.m. It will feature HAPA, Na Hoku Hanohano award winner, and Kauai musician Lady Ipo.
Throughout the night, there will be raffle drawings, silent auctions and T-shirt giveaways.
The party is a celebration of the community, said Orlando “O” Anaya, Mokihana Aquatics coach.
“In the last 35 years, we’ve serviced from Haena to Mana,” he said. “For 25 years, we were the only swim team on the island.”
During the party, Anaya will recognize the current team, which at 21 members is the smallest one in those 35 years, he said.
The original plan was to have a party for swim team alumni, but when HAPA got involved, Anaya wanted to open it up to the community.
“This is not about making money,” he said. “You get a nice Hawaiian dinner and a concert from an award-winning group — this is a community celebration. The community allowed us to get to this point, and we just wanted to give back with a nice celebration.”
Anaya moved to Kauai in 1979 to teach at Hanalei School.
“I was too young to be called ‘mister.’ So when I started coaching, I became ‘Coach O.’ That’s how people know me,” he said.
Funtanilla has been swimming with Mokihana Aquatics for at least 10 years. Her family joins her by pitching in as volunteers during the club’s major events like the annual Fun Meet.
“I have been swimming for so long, I don’t remember how long I’ve done this,” Funtanilla said. “Swimming is my life.”
Funtanilla, who was home-schooled through her elementary years, said the club has been her family.
“They never treated me like I was a little kid. They taught me that, no matter who might be on your team, to treat them with respect and they will show it back to you in time,” she said.
Over the years, Mokihana Aquatics has coached more than 1,000 competitive swimmers. The club has placed higher than any other swim team on Kauai at Hawaii state championships, and has produced more high school swimming all-stars than any other program.
“I am now the oldest swimmer on the team,” said Funtanilla, who also swam for the Waimea High School swim team. “It frightens me a little to think that I only have two years left with these wonderful people that I have come to think of as my family.”
Tickets for the 35th anniversary are $35 and are available at the Hanalei Surf Company, Vicky’s Fabrics in Kapaa, JC’s Flowers, Kauai Electronics, Progressive Expressions and Jojo’s Anuenue in Waimea.
Proceeds will go toward water safety programs and education on Kauai.