Courtesy West Hawaii Today
By Karen Davis
As the sun rose above Mauna Loa, it appeared to be a postcard perfect clear and cloudless morning. Gazing out across the blue Pacific, it seemed the mighty ocean would merely cradle the canoes about to start the AJ McDanold Long Distance Canoe Race. So much for fairytale endings.
As 30 canoes lined up for the start of the women’s and mixed crews eight-mile race, the change in conditions was right in front of them. After less than one-mile, the seas began to churn with 2-3 foot swells. These were soon met with strong headwinds, sometimes gusting to 20 mph. Suddenly this simple eight mile race would seem like 20.
Off to a quick lead was team #2 from Kai Opua in a non-koa, followed by Kai Opua’s team #1, also in a non-koa. As these two battled each other and the elements, the next pack of non-koa boats had crews from Puna, Keauhou and Kai Opua playing cat and mouse to the turn-around boat. The first koa boat to appear was from Puna and they continued their quest for first.
After gripping tightly to their paddles and bailing water from the canoes, the lead changed at the turn, with Kai Opua’s #1 team pulling ahead, followed by a mixed crew from Keoua and Kai Opua #2. The battle between Puna and Keauhou, both junior masters (35 and over) crews continued, as they headed back to Keauhou Bay.
With the wind now at their backs, the teams were thinking the trip home would be a snap, but the ocean tossed and turned the canoes further, now testing mental conditioning along with physical endurance.
The first canoe to cross the finish buoy was Kai Opua #1, in a time of 1 hour, 9 minutes and 15 seconds, claiming first overall and first non-koa. Close behind was the mixed crew of Keoua, with a time of 1:10:42. Finishing the top three overall was Kai Opua #2 at 1:11:03.
Four minutes later, two canoes ran literally nose-to-nose as they headed for the finish, both junior masters crews. Edging ahead for victory was Keauhou at 1:15:03, with Puna just three seconds behind for second place at 1:15:06. Third place in the junior masters division was Waikoloa at 1:20:08.
The koa canoes had their own battles, with the crew from Puna placing first with a time of 1:17:04, followed by Keauhou at 1:19:29. Third belonged to Keaukaha at 1:20:41.
The senior masters (45 and over) division was won by Keauhou at 1:21:43, followed by Keoua at 1:27:54.
The malia boats seemed to have the most difficult time with the conditions but had a close race with each other, with Keaukaha placing first malia with a time of 1:31:49, followed by Keoua at 1:35:21.
As the 30 men’s crews readied for their 10-mile race, conditions remained challenging. Off the front went Kai Opua #1, Kai Opua #2 and Keauhou junior masters crews, all in non-koa canoes. Into the wind they forged with waves continually trying to fill their boats.
Close behind in the next group was Kawaiihae, Puna’s junior masters, Kai Opua #3 and Waikoloa’s senior masters. Now was the time for those cross-training hours to come forward and leave the sprinters behind. Only keen steersmen and crews would work the swells whenever possible to get any advantage in this contest with Mother Nature as well as each other.
Once completing the turn around near the Kailua pier the men, as the women, hoped for a push from the tailwind that had challenged their grips and timing the first five miles. The wind would cooperate but not the sea. Swells continued their quest to fill the canoes and bumps from behind were all but stopped by a cross-current or swirling ocean.
Strengthening their lead, the men from Kai Opua #1 took off from the turn and began to move further ahead with every stroke. The battle for second, however, changed back and forth with Keauhou’s junior masters pulling ahead once and for all about ½ mile after the turn.
In the end it was Kai Opua #1 finishing first with a time of 1:20:07, winning first overall and first non-koa. Next across the line and first in the junior masters division was Keauhou with a time of 1:21:24, followed by Kai Opua #2 at 1:22:04 taking second non-koa. Rounding out the non-koa division was Kaiwaihae in fourth place overall at a time of 1:23:04. Placing second in the junior masters division was Puna at 1:24:05, followed closely by Keoua in third junior masters with a time of 1: 25:56. Finishing an impressive seventh overall and taking first place honors in the senior master (45 and over) division were the men from Waikoloa, finishing with a time of 1:25:24. Keauhou senior masters came took second in this division at 1:28:58, followed by Keoua at 1:31:18.
For the koa canoes, it was Keoua taking top honors with a time of 1:26:02. Second place in the koa division was Puna with a time of 1:32:44. The koa crew from Keauhou placed third.
The close battle between the kupuna (55 and over) men that occurred every race during regatta season continued in this 10-mile test of strength. With the lead between these teams going back and forward throughout the race, it was Waikoloa coming in first with a time of 1:39:33, just edging out second place Kai Opua, with their time of 1:39:50. Placing third in the kupuna division, less than a minute behind, were the men from Keauhou at 1:40:45. Not doubt this battle will be one to watch as the distance season continues.
The malia division only had one entry, which was won by Keaukaha at 1:40:09. Back in Keauhou Bay, the day ended as it started—a cloudless sky, whispering winds and the sun shining. The usual excellent food and fun followed the race, provided by the always gracious Keauhou Canoe Club who honored their beloved lifetime member AJ McDanold with a spectacular event. Next up, Keoua’s long distance race on Saturday, August 17 beginning in Honaunau.