WAILUA — The Voyagers will once again take to the water.
After years of absence, Island School will field a paddling team for the upcoming Kauai Interscholastic Federation season. The first regatta is scheduled for Dec. 2 at the Wailua River beginning at 9 a.m.
“I was super excited,” said Island School coach Luke Evslin during Thursday’s practice at the Wailua River.
Island School hasn’t had a paddling team compete in the KIF in about 10 years.
Evslin, who’s also a coach for local club Pu’uwai Outrigger Canoe Club, said he’s wanted re-establish the Voyagers program and inquired with the school every year since he moved back home to Kauai in 2010.
“I didn’t even talk to the A.D. this time around. I just heard two months ago that they were interested, finally. I told them I would still love to coach,” Evslin said. “All I know is that they suddenly called me after seven years of asking. They said they would finally do it.”
Island School Athletic Director Charles Woolfork said Friday when the chance to start up the paddling program came, it wasn’t a hard choice to make.
“We want to be competitive in as many sports as possible over at Island School. Paddling was one of the missing links that I saw could be filled with a great coach like Luke Evslin,” Woolfork said. “He’s a national champion, and one of the best paddlers alive. I’ve heard that from plenty of people. When he said that he would be willing to coach, I just banded the troops together. The kids all clamored around it and were willing to go out there and paddle. So, it was easy for us.”
Voyagers paddler Sasha Rovinsky said Thursday prior to joining the school’s paddling team, he had limited experience.
“(I joined because) it’s a little bit of cross-training, and it’s definitely fun and satisfying to paddle,” said Rovinsky, a junior at the school. “We started the first week of October. … It’s definitely a learning process. And I can see every time we’re at practice, we get better. Just first getting into the boat, there’s a lot moving parts you got to figure out. But Luke’s one of the best teachers.”
Evslin said numbers have been small mainly because a lot of the student-athletes do multiple sports. At the team’s first practice, six showed up. Now, they have 16.
“We were hoping for more people. Just the small numbers is challenging because if were going to make a boys, a girls and a mixed (crew), we have basically just the right amount of people,” he said. “We don’t have any room for anyone to get sick or not show up.”
In addition, most of the paddlers had little paddling knowledge before joining, but starting from the ground-up has made the experience more worthwhile.
“Of everybody we have, there’s two kids who’s been regularly paddling since they were little. The other ones have pretty intermittent experience,” he said. “It’s more fun, I think, when you’re starting from scratch. One: it’s easier to coach people who’ve never paddled before. They don’t have any bad habits from other years, so it’s easy to get them into whatever stroke you want them to do. It’s also just neat to have people who have never paddled and expose them to outrigger canoeing. From that sense, I’m excited that these are all new paddlers.”
Woolfork doesn’t expect the program to be on a season-by-season basis.
“I expect excellence as far as teaching the kids life lessons and being a great mentor to them,” he said. “I expect longevity to where we have a team and it won’t go from one year to the next. I expect to build a program and to eventually win some championships with the program.”
As for the upcoming season, Evslin said he hopes the team will do its best and gain experience.
“We want them to be competitive, for sure. But the main part is that we don’t have any seniors here,” he said. “Most of them are freshmen and tenth graders. So the main thing is that they come out next year. That’s my main goal — expose them to it, have them excited and hopefully have them continue paddling next year and for the rest of their lives.”
Rovinsky hopes the season will be the launching point of the Voyagers program.
“I’m definitely proud to be one of the first paddlers, but also nervous because how we’ll leave our mark is how we’ll be remembered as the first paddling team in a long time. So if we can do good, that can push it for more years to come,” he said.