Celebrating 40 Years Of Kailua Greatness

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - August 24, 2011
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Kailua’s perpetual King Kamehameha Regatta trophy

One by one, some of the biggest names in modern-day outrigger canoe paddling quietly walked through the doors at Heeia State Park. It was like stepping back in time and looking at a snapshot of history.

Most in attendance knew they were among greatness. But on this night, the living legends were simply a part of an enormous, extended family that spanned several generations. Everyone shared a common bond. They were here to celebrate a special anniversary and reflect back on a vision that started 40 years ago.

In 1971, Jimmy Marciel and Cliff Ornellas planted the seeds to what would become one of the most dominant canoe clubs in Hawaii, Kailua Canoe Club. The experienced watermen and coaches started with only 50 paddlers who had been paddling with the Kailua Hawaiian Civil Club. Today, Kailua Canoe Club is one of the largest clubs in the state.

Robbie Cates was only 10 years old when the club first started.

“In the last 40 years, I’ve seen it all,” said an emotional Cates to the large crowd on hand. “The people who started this club had a dream and a vision to be something special, not only for the sport but for this community. We’ve accomplished that and so much more.”

The estimated 500 people in the building grew silent as Cates continued, his voice cracking as he spoke

from the heart: “I guarantee you those early leaders had no idea that this would become the club it is today. Their vision has grown into something above and beyond anything they could have imagined. Not only have we produced top-of-the-world paddlers, we have developed amazing citizens, and that’s what’s important. Yes, we have great paddlers, but we also have great people.”

And with that Cates, a captain with the Honolulu Fire Department, quietly walked off the stage with tears flowing down his face. Veteran paddler Stew Kalama was there to comfort him and the men shared a long and emotional hug. If you didn’t understand the significance of the club’s history before the night started, you got it at that moment.

Since its humble start, Kailua Canoe Club has produced worldclass paddlers such as Sam Hoohulu, Kamoa Kalama, Beanie Heen, Pat Erwin, Tommy Conner, Hank Leandro, Kathy Erwin and Carleen Ornellas.

There also are family names synonymous with local outrigger canoe paddling including the Bruhns, Coelhos, Cavacos, Handleys, O’Haras, Tannehills, Pachecos, Youngs and, of course, Aunty Joan Malama. The list is endless and many of those names were in the house that night sharing stories, laughs and even tears.

In the past 40 years, Kailua Canoe Club has been victorious in numerous Oahu, state and world championship canoe regattas and races. The club has grown from 50 paddlers to more than 350 dedicated members. It owns a fleet of fiberglass canoes and two koa canoes all the tools to be successful.

But as Cates said, it is the people that make this organization great. It is a special blend of men, women and children from every race under the sun. There are police officers, attorneys, construction workers and executives, along with kupuna and Hawaii’s next generation. It is no doubt a special group of winners even when they don’t win.

And to think, it all started with a vision shared by two men four decades ago. As a member of the Kailua Canoe Club ohana, I say mahalo nui loa, gentlemen. Thank you for dreaming big. Hawaii’s official team sport is better off because of your wisdom, guidance and aloha.

And to anyone who has paddled for the blue and gold, congratulations and happy anniversary!

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