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Getting past the drama

NAWILIWILI — The Niumalu Canoe Club 12 Girls completed a successful year by winning the 2017 Hawaii Canoe Racing Association State Championships in Lahaina, Maui, over the weekend.

The victory was only one of two gold medals reaped by Kauai paddling teams, and led the Niumalu showing which included a sixth finish in Girls 13, fourth in Girls 14, sixth in Girls 15, fourth in Girls 18, 11th in Boys 14, 12th in Boys 16. It also capped an undefeated season for the team.

“We’ve been through a lot,” said Neva Burkart, the No. 1 stroker said. “There was a lot of drama. We had to get through that. At one point, we were getting irritated with each other; you know, just a lot of drama.”

Kean Cruz held the No. 2 seat; Tita Asano, a Kawaikini Public Charter School student, anchored No. 3; Mekayla Finch had the power seat No. 4; Eleiah Gouveia-McCarthy filled No. 5; and Karlie Carvalho, a four-year paddler, did steersperson duty.

“This is pretty much the same team who finished second-to-last at the 2016 championships,” said Paris Racca, one of the team coaches. “They came back after that tough finish, determined to do better this year. Look at this (Racca pulled out his smartphone which contained video of the eventful race) — look at them! It gives you chicken skin when their canoe just poke through the line — even if the race was on Saturday.”

Burkart said there were some new members to this year’s crew.

“We have some different girls,” she said. “But we all got stronger and developed better strokes.”

Burkart said the girls were scared and nervous ahead of the start. Not only were they on Maui to do just one race, the 12 Girls was the first event of the day.

“We were all crying,” Cruz said. “Big tears, too. Coach Jurel Bautista looked at us and he started crying, too, earning the nickname ‘Crybaby Coach’ for the rest of the races. But when we got into the canoe, we all got ready.”

Cruz said the other competitors in the age group were bigger than they were.

“The Maui girls were huge,” she said. “Even the Oahu girls were big. We were the smallest girls, but we didn’t look at them. Coach said, ‘Just look down and forward. No look over.’”

At the starting flag, the Niumalu girls were in third place.

“We had to catch up,” Burkart said. “I had to push myself. We could hear Coach Jurel call for the big push. We were all yelling, and somebody was calling the 4-10s — one stroke.”

Cruz said Burkart and Asano were usually the ones calling.

“I wanted to yell — we all wanted to yell — but nothing came out,” Cruz said. “At one point, I was laughing and let go my blade … it hit me on the head.”

The girls said they saw coaches Racca and Bautista watching the finish from shore.

“Coach was crying,” Burkart said. “We were all crying as we hit the finish line. We were so tired. My arms felt like jelly.”

Coach Herman Nunies, the land coach who helps get crews in and out of the canoes, said he’s seen it all.

“This was the first race of the day,” he said. “There were thousands of people on the beach, and they were all yelling. We’ve won races before, but never something like this. We didn’t know what to do, how to act. These girls are the fastest in the state in their age group.”

With the season over, the 12 Girls were on hand to support the young men who will be participating in Na Pali Challenge this weekend.

“My family was talking about a family vacation for next year,” Cruz said. “My older brother flipped the canoe when he first came out, but he came back. I think we all want to come back next year.”

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