Steamboat’s Dream Comes True

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - March 12, 2008
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Samantha Mokuahi Moikeha and brother Micah Mokuahi
Samantha Mokuahi Moikeha and brother Micah Mokuahi with a photo of their father, Sammy ‘Steamboat’ Mokuahi

Samantha Moikeha tightly grips her walkie-talkie as she and other race officials stare anxiously at a makeshift playback monitor. At stake is a high school canoe paddling state title, and this photo finish is too close to call. “We were just saying ‘no, no, we don’t want a tie - please, somebody pull ahead,’” says Moikeha.

The video replay reveals the mixed crew from Konawaena High School inches ahead of Kamehameha-Oahu at the finish line by just 16-hundredths of a second. The slight surge gives the Wildcats one of three titles at the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Canoe Paddling State Championships. The announcement of the winner triggers a wild celebration at Keehi Lagoon and stirs emotions in Moikeha.

“Daddy would have been so happy to see the smiles and the hugging,” she says. “This is what his fight was about.”

“Daddy” is the late Sam “Sammy Steamboat” Mokuahi Jr., who died in May of 2006, two days before his 72nd birthday. While many remember the “Handsome Hawaiian” as a world-famous professional wrestler, others may recall the caring side to this gentle giant. Mokuahi had a passion for canoe paddling and spent decades searching for opportunities for Hawaii’s keiki to enjoy the sport he loved. Moikeha said although her father was a multi-sport letterman at Roosevelt High School, he never understood why canoe paddling was not offered as a high school sport.

“Dad always believed canoe paddling could and should be a high school sport, but for years administrators were reluctant because of liability fears,” says Moikeha, Steamboat’s oldest daughter. “My dad said not everyone wants to play football and basketball - many student-athletes are sand and air kids. He fought hard for this to happen.”

In 2002, Mokuahi’s persistence paid off when the HHSAA sanctioned the sport. The state championships have grown ever since. “He believed he could reach those kids through paddling and provide them with structure and discipline they need to be successful,” says Moikeha.

This year’s championships were even more meaningful for Moikeha. While juggling logistics and keeping crews on schedule, she found herself watching the progress of Kapaa High School and one of its coaches - brother Micah Mokuahi.

“It was like my dad being resurrected,” says Moikeha of her brother, who is a Kauai firefighter and a spitting image of his famous father. “I hear the way he coaches and it’s just like my dad. I kept asking myself, ‘Am I really hearing my brother?‘It was like hearing and watching Dad. I’m so glad Kapaa did well.”

Many in the paddling community still credit Mokuahi for making the state prep championships a reality. Moikeha understands why after witnessing her father’s tireless efforts to get the sport sanctioned in public high schools. It is one reason why she continues to volunteer her time and efforts.

“My dad would always say it’s not who is right, but what is right. Watching this and being a part of this feels so right,” she says. “Dad pushed hard for this to happen, and I want to keep his dream alive.”

Thank goodness for dreams.

Kalaheo and Konawaena make history:

The Kalaheo boys and Konawaena mixed crews made state tournament history at this year’s event. The Mustangs became the first Oahu Interscholastic Association team to win the state boys title. The Interscholastic League of Honolulu had won the previous six crowns. Kapaa of the Kauai Interscholastic Federation finished second in the boys competition, followed by Maryknoll.

Konawaena’s victory over Kamehameha-Oahu in the mixed crew event was the first paddling title for the Big Island Interscholastic Federation since the sport was sanctioned by the HHSAA in 2002. Maryknoll finished third in the event.

Punahou girls win again:

The Punahou girls won their second title in three years beating Kapaa by just two-tenths of a second. Baldwin of Maui finished third. The ILH has won all seven girls titles.


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