Never Too Early To Think Molokai

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - September 02, 2009
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Lanikai Canoe Club powering to the finish line at Duke Kahanamoku Beach

It’s that time of the year again. Summer is rapidly coming to an end and fall is quickly approaching - a time when diets change, schedules are altered and training kicks into another gear.

No, we’re not talking football.

For canoe paddlers, the start of September means the long-distance outrigger canoe racing season is here and “Molokai” is just over the horizon. Sprints are replaced by long runs and a crew’s mile time is no longer the focus. When you’re training to paddle 41 miles from Molokai to Oahu, you’re preparing for a marathon, not a mad dash.

The annual Na Wahine o Ke Kai and Molokai Hoe canoe races are considered the world championships of long-distance outrigger canoe races. The men have been crossing the Kaiwi Channel since 1939, the women since 1979.

There are dozens of tune-up races all across the globe including several on Oahu. It’s a chance to find the right combinations and an opportunity to size up the competition. And if the results of the regatta season and the first few races are indications of the battles ahead, it may be a year of surprises.

On the women’s side, the race for gold may come down to four horses, all from Hawaii.

Team Bradley will look to defend its title and was impressive Aug. 23 in the Dad Center Long Distance Race with a convincing victory. But the dark horse on Sept. 27 may be the women of Waikiki Beach Boys. The Oahu-based club dominated during the Hui Waa Association regatta season and carried that momentum into a powerful performance during the state championships in Hilo.

Waikiki Beach Boys quickly proved it had the guns to go long. The women finished first, second, fifth and seventh in the Duke Kahanamoku Race in Kailua. Hui Lanakila and Outrigger Canoe Club of Oahu will no doubt be in the mix.

The Tahitians will be the favorite on the men’s side after several years of dominating performances. But don’t be surprised if Outrigger Canoe Club of Waikiki sneaks up on everyone. Outrigger had a phenomenal regatta season and is off to a blazing start in the long-distance racing season, with wins in the Kaena Challenge, Duke Kahanamoku Long Distance Race and the Kailua Bay Iron Man Challenge. It’s been a decade since the men from Outrigger have been in the winner’s circle at the Molokai Hoe. OCC of Oahu has won the prestigious race 16 times - the most of any team, but its last win was in 1999.

Team Primo, Hui Lanakila Canoe Club and Lanikai Canoe Club will be among the leaders Oct. 11 when the men leave Hale o Lono Harbor on Molokai.

But while much of the focus is always on the lead pack, there are dozens of races within the race. One division to keep a close eye on in 2009 is actually a new one. Molokai Hoe race organizers added a new division for paddlers over 60. Forget 50 being the new 40, many 60-year-olds and beyond are some of the best-conditioned and most-competitive athletes in the ocean.

Trust me, these men are in incredible shape. I’m not ashamed to say several of them regularly blow by me on long runs from Hawaii Kai to Ala Moana. Hope I’m still hammering at 65.

So if you’re a friend or family member of a canoe paddler who has their goal set on the Molokai race, don’t be surprise if they ease off on the macaroni salad or decline that extra scoop of rice. When you’re training for the unpredictable Kaiwi Channel, sacrifice is the name of the game. “Molokai” demands it and accepts nothing less.

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