Puna Canoe Club made some waves at the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association’s Aunty Maile Big Island Championships held Saturday, at Hilo Bay finishing second overall in team standings.
Puna head coach, Afa Tuaolo, used strategy in moving paddlers into various divisions to find the right combination to challenge for the team title.
“We’re having a pretty good day as we haven’t let mistakes hurt us,” Tuaolo said.
Early in the day the Puna boys 14 got things rolling by capturing first place in what was a perfect season for the youngsters.
The boys crew of Hapa Aki, Keola Sumera-Lee, Colby Nicolas, Kalae Ke III, Chance Agpoon and Lono Leasure-Lucas capped off their unblemished season by capturing the Island championships.
Aki, who sat in seat one and did the pacing setting for the canoe, was confident in pulling out the victory. “We got out to a fast start by using long, hard strokes and I knew we were going to win,” he said.
Keaau Middle School student, Leasure-Lucas, steered the canoe during the quarter mile race. “I like being the steersman as I get to boss the crew around. I tell them when to paddle hard, if their timing is off or if they’re looking around,” he said.
But life as a young steersman isn’t always so easy. “I accidently flipped the canoe right after we won our first race of the season and I got into trouble for doing that,” Lucas-Leasure said.
Four members on the island championship crew, Aki, Sumera-Lee, Ke III and Leasure-Lucas helped capture the boys 13 state championship last year and are experienced under pressure. The same four entered the boys 16 and were joined by Leasure-Lucas brother, Luke, along with Aimoku Johansen and another gold medal.
“In the 16 race we do a half-mile and there is only one turn,” steersman Lono Leasure-Lucas said. “We have raced with this crew four other times and never lost.”
Boys coach, Joe Kalima, had high praise for his youngsters. “They have a good chance of repeating for the state title if they stay together and paddle as one,” he said.
“These boys work hard and they will get together on their days off to work on other things in order to perfect their unity,” Kalima said.
Puna had a big win from their novice and sophomore women’s crews led by stroker, Michele Gunderson and steersman, Cherie Kauahi.
“The women’s program is really strong,” Gunderson said. “We break down our strokes and get out fast in the beginning. We make the strokes longer and deeper as we reach out. Our coaches work on us blending together.”
Kauahi, who is in her third year of paddling felt stressed steering the canoe. “It’s a very stressful seat, but when it works out its rewarding,” she said.
“I think the turns were good today, but the coaches will tell us later what they thought,” Kauahi said.
Puna won the Novice A women event using Gunderson, Kauahi, Shannon Johnson, Rose Calumag, Kanani Yockman and Aimee Kama, then returned later to win the women’s sophomore race by switching out Kama and using Raina Santos.
“The Novice race was a half-mile and the sophomore race 1-mile,” Gunderson said. “The stroke count changes slightly in the two races, but basically we try to get out fast and continue to use a deep stroke, not top water.”
“Statistically, the women are the backbone of Puna,” said paddler, Leilani Norman.
Norman may have been correct as later in the day the Senior Women were notching another victory for Puna.
“This is the longest race for the women in the regatta,” paddler and women’s coach, Cherisse Agorastos said.
“We only do this race during the island and state championships and it’s one and half-mile long,” she said. “Lane one is running pretty nice and we like being in that position as it allows us to take the turn wide, which makes a big difference.”
Head coach, Afa Tuaolo echoed the same idea about lane choice. “Lanes often depends on the tide, if it’s dropping then (lanes) three and up gets kind of sticky.” “Inside lanes always going to do well at Hilo Bay,” he said.
Tuaolo’s master’s men went on to win the one-mile race with Tuaolo sitting in the number two seat. “We just kind of got this group together and when we first got this crew in the canoe it just felt good,” Tuaolo said of his master’s crew victory.
“Our steersman, Bryan Peterson, did a good job and deserves a lot of credit along with the other guys in the canoe,” Tuaolo said. “We hit between 75 to 80 strokes at the start and during the race stayed between 60 to 65. We use a semi traditional Hawaiian stroke with everything up front.”
The women are doing good today,” Tuaolo said. “We were hoping to finish in the top three for team standings and it looks like we’re going to do that today.”
Tuaolo’s wife, Beverly, also sat in the number two seat in helping her Senior Master’s Women to victory. “Everything came together today. It was our last chance to make it happen,” she said.
Puna went on to win the final two events of the day, the open 4 men and the mixed open, to finish second overall in team standings.