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Molokai Hosts State Regatta

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

They’ve practiced for months, spending hours on the water perfecting their technique and timing. They’ve raised funds for air travel, food and lodging. They’ve put their best paddle forward, earned a qualifying time, and are ready to test their speed against the state’s best crews. Thousands of paddlers of all ages are off to the Hawaii Canoe Racing Association (HCRA) State Championships this Saturday on Oahu.

For more than 60 years, the HCRA has held the state paddling championships. The organization, made up of six paddling associations, represents athletes from all islands, carrying on the Hawaiian tradition of outrigger canoe racing. Each year, paddling associations trade off hosting the event, and this year, it’s Molokai’s turn.

The Molokai Canoe Racing Association hosted its first state race in 2004, then again in 2010, hosting the event’s 60th anniversary race. Normally the venue rotates based on which island is hosting, but Molokai doesn’t have a race location large enough to accommodate the thousands of paddlers competing. So the HCRA and the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association (OHCRA) are kind enough to assist with both organizing the event and holding it at their venue, Ke`ehi Lagoon in Honolulu, said Race Director Bo Campos.

“It’s costly to host it, it’s costly to travel [for outer island paddlers] but everybody pulls together and we do it,” said Campos of the event. “To everyone that worked so hard all year to get to states, congratulations. It’s about these kids and adults that worked so hard to get here.”

Holding the event is a huge undertaking, said Molokai paddler Penny Martin. Scaffolding must be set up for officials overlooking Ke`ehi Lagoon; portable bathroom facilities have to be arranged; tents are erected for vendors, clubs and food booths; race officials and official boats have to be organized and ready to assist. According to Martin, the Molokai Association is responsible for race programs, organizing opening ceremonies, obtaining and distributing trophies, announcing races and assisting with race set up and clean up.

Molokai’s Liko Wallace said this year’s trophies will be in the shape of paddles, hand carved from koa wood by Molokai’s own Donovan Keliipuleole. Molokai vendors will also sell locally-made clothing and crafts at the event, including Kainanea Designs’ sportswear, Hula Lei jewelry and Kupu A`e wearable art.

While attending the state race can be a logistical challenge for Molokai crews — which have to fundraise for travel expenses — preparing themselves to face the competition can pose its own hurdles.

“It is a challenge to keep a canoe club going with limited population and number of paddlers, and remain competitive,” said Martin. “Some races [on Molokai, in preparation for the state race] we have no one in our division to race against. There’s not as much pressure to perform, whereas other crews on other islands with larger clubs have to fight for their seats.”

But despite some of the disadvantages, Molokai excels when the pressure is on.

“Even with our limitations, we have been able to put out some really good crews,” she said. “We’re proud of our little island and what we’ve been able to accomplish with limited resources.”

Good luck to all paddlers at the 2016 HCRA State Championship, and especially Molokai’s 10 crews

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