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Lanikai dominant in OHCRA opener

As it looks to extend a dominant run of four straight Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association championships, Lanikai Canoe Club launched its “Drive for Five” on Sunday at Keehi Lagoon with a convincing victory amid a lively opening day ambience at the annual Clement D. Pai‘aina Regatta.

Many paddlers along the shoreline commented that they were happy to be back for another summer of racing, including some who had switched teams and others who returned to the sport after long layoffs. For Lanikai head coach Scott Freitas, who noted that his large club was still working to register paddlers even with the season now underway, he’s still “figuring out the matrix” when it comes to crew combinations.

“This was a big surprise today — it’s amazing how many races we won,” Freitas said. “The kids did a fantastic job early on and really got things going for us, then our open men and women and masters paddlers carried us through the rest of the day. It’s all about how much strength you have by the end of the regatta, and who has more left in the tank.”

Lanikai, the four-time defending OHCRA champion and winner of three straight Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association state titles, claimed the AAA division (31-45 crews entered) and overall titles as the club amassed 230 points and racked up a regatta-high 22 victories. Hui Nalu (158 points) came in second, while Kailua (139 points) finished third, thanks in part to seven race wins ahead of Outrigger (105 points) and Keahiakahoe (92 points) in the large division.

Through the regatta’s first 25 races, Lanikai had already established a comfortable advantage. It won 14 of the day’s first 24 events en route to a 139-83-65 lead over Hui Nalu and Kailua.

The green-and-white-clad paddlers leaned on their keiki program, which netted 10 early wins, then maintained the momentum by winning seven of the eight open adult races.

Lanikai’s senior women posted a victory in the prestigious 1½-mile race. The crew of Laura Ediger, Joey Foti, Aulani Hall, Hamasaki Harbottle, Ingrid Seiple and Laura Young completed the five-turn race in 13 minutes, 42.83 seconds and finished comfortably ahead of Hui Nalu (14:01.18), Kailua (14:10.25) and Outrigger (14:15.84).

Lanikai also dominated the senior men’s race as the crew of Matt Crowley, Ryan Dolan, Nick Foti, Raven Pokini, Igor Sobreira and Karel Tresnak Jr. crossed the line in 11:24.47 and bested a talented Outrigger (11:51.83) squad by more than 27 seconds.

Leeward Kai (47 points) won the event’s final two races to claim the AA division (16-30 crews) in come-from-behind fashion over Waikiki Surf Club (44 points) and Healani (41 points).

Kai Oni (22 points) secured the A division (1-15 crews) hardware, holding off Koa Kai (21 points), Hui Lanakila and New Hope (20 points apiece).

The event is named for Healani Canoe Club’s former president who died in 1991 after 40-plus years of leading the organization. Healani, which means “heavenly mist” in the Native Hawaiian language, was originally formed in 1890 as Healani Boat Club; it eventually became one of OHCRA’s founding members when the organization was established in 1979.

Healani’s paddlers wore hand-crafted lei haku on their heads, welcomed each crew back to shore after races and spruced up the aging park’s pavilion and club tent with foliage and Hawaiian flags to enhance the cultural experience.

Paddlers enjoyed calm conditions, cool breezes and clear skies as more than 3,000 competitors ranging in age groups from 12-and-under to 70-and-older represented OHCRA’s 18 member clubs in 45 races spanning a ¼ mile to 1½ miles. Winning crews earned 7 points toward the team standings, while second-, third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place finishers were awarded 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 points, respectively.

In addition to battling for gold medals in individual races, crews earned cumulative points toward qualifying for the HCRA State Championship regatta scheduled for Aug. 5 at Hilo Bay. The top four crews from each OHCRA event earn automatic berths in the state competition based on points collected over the six regular-season regattas.

“It’s all about keeping this going as long as we can and qualifying as many crews as possible without making mistakes,” said Frei­tas, who helped steer Lanikai’s men’s masters 60 crew to a four-second victory over Kailua. “We’re trying to stay one step ahead and fix all the little things along the way.”

OHCRA crews return to action Sunday at Kailua Beach Park for the King Kamehameha Regatta.

Na ‘Ohana O Na Hui Wa‘a will hold its second event of the season with the Kalihi Kai Regatta on Saturday at Keehi Lagoon.

Source: Star Advertiser