Paddling to glory, Molokai style

Molokai makes presence at HCRA State Championships

By Léo Azambuja

Molokai outrigger canoe paddlers came back from the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association State Championship Regatta, held on Kauai this past weekend, steeped in glory. Three Molokai clubs competed in 17 different races, placing well overall.

Molokai clubs competed in age divisions ranging from 12 to 55 years old. Everyone did excellent. On the Women 55 race, Wa’akapaemua Club nearly won, taking the silver. The 16-year-old boys from Kukui O Molokai Club pulled their weight, bringing home the third place.  

But Molokai’s pride and joy in the tournament were the Wa’akapaemua Girls 13. Last year they took first place in the Girls 12 race. This year the teenagers bumped up an age division and were still the team to beat.

“I was scared before my race,” Kiani Dudoit said. She and her team stayed at Hanalei Canoe Club hale, where they were able to meet some opponents before the race. “This one girl had massive arms,” she said. “I asked her how old she was, and she said 13.”

After the race, Kiani and the girl with the “massive arms” cried, but for different reasons. Kiani has been paddling for four years. On her first state championship three years ago, her team nailed the 6th place. The following year, she came home as the champion. Last week she and her team successfully defended their title.

Jasmine Borden paddled with Kiani in the winning crew. She was also part of last year’s winning crew. She said all the girls were crying after the race.

Jasmine said she didn’t even know that she had won the race, until she looked at the Molokai supporters and saw them running and screaming. The 2nd place team came only one second behind Jasmine’s team.

Twin sisters Lynn and Leigh Dudoit competed in the Girls 12 race. Leigh steered her team to an excellent 4th place. The twins have been paddling for 3 years, but it was their first time competing in States.

Paddling for the fourth time in a state championship, Kevin Dudoit raced twice in this year’s championship. He placed 7th in the Boys 14, and 9th and Boys 15.  It’s also the fourth year he has been paddling outrigger canoes.

Kevin’s teammate in the Boys 14 race, Ryan Dudoit, started paddling less than a year ago.

The large amount of Dudoit family members involved in paddling is family tradition. Mervin Dudoit, 65, started paddling over 40 years ago. He said he competed in the Molokai-Oahu race for the first time in 1963, when only 10 or 11 canoes competed. He competed in the race six more times after that.

Perhaps one of the most amazing things about Uncle Merv is the way he and his team used to practice. They used heavy paddles, which were the standard type at his time. They also had to improvise. “We never had enough paddles,” he said. Some of the team members had to use small shovels to paddle with.

The old boats were also something for the record books. “When we were paddling … we had a plywood canoe, flat bottom,” Uncle Merv said. “I no kid you, plywood.” 

Many say Uncle Merv’s son, Mervin Jr., is among the best steersmen in Hawaii. But Uncle Merv’s daughter, Tanya Koholoa, also deserve praise. She is the coach who brought the winning team to victory this and last year.

Next year, Auntie Tanya expects her girls to come on top again. “They are very dedicated and disciplined,” she said.

If Kiani’s life goes as she plans, she will keep the Dudoit family tradition alive. “I’m going to coach one day,” she said.

Most of the children who competed in the States have never been to Kauai. They were amazed by the beauty of the island. They said the water was beautiful. They jumped from Hanalei Pier, paddled up the river, and just hang around the water. “The whole time we were there we just swam,” Kiani said.

Hanalei Canoe Club made sure the children had a great time. They stayed at the club’s hale, which is by Hanalei River. Club members even cooked for young Molokai paddlers. “A lot of food!” Lynn said.

Wa’akapaemua Club participated in 11 races, and came home with the 5th place overall in the AA division.

Kukui O Molokai Club competed in four races and took 7th place overall in the A division. Its best result was 3rd place in the Boys16 race.

Molokai Club competed in two races, tying for 19th place overall in the A division. But Molokai Club had a stronger showing than its overall placement suggests. They took 8th place in Girls 18 race and 13th place in the Men 50 race. 

With the confidence of a veteran, the young Kiani said she plans to win again next year. She said she wouldn’t do anything different. “We already train super hard,” she said.

Auntie Tanya thanks Waikiki Surf Club and Keahiakahoe Club for letting Molokai’s clubs use their koa canoes. “That is really nice, because those boats cost up to $60,000,” she said. Clubs competing in State regatta races must use koa canoes. No team on Molokai has one of those canoes.

The children thank Auntie Tanya, Mikiala Pescaia and Tiana Levi for their coaching and support throughout their practices and competitions. They also thank Hanalei Canoe Club members for their extended aloha.


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