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Keaukaha youth represent hometown at world championship of canoe paddling in England

Female paddlers in blue Team Hawaiʻi shirts cheer on fellow Hawaiʻi paddlers racing in outrigger canoes on Dorney Lake in England.
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
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HPR
Members of Team Hawaiʻi cheer on fellow Hawaiʻi paddlers racing in the 2022 World Sprint Championship on Dorney Lake in England.

More than 1,500 of the world’s best paddlers descended upon England’s Dorney Lake last week near Windsor Castle for the international championships of outrigger canoe racing.

Outrigger canoe paddlers line-up at the flag for a race at Dorney Lake in the background with the 2022 International Vaʻa Federation World Sprint Championship sign in the foreground.
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
/
HPR
More than 1,500 of the worldʻs best outrigger canoe paddlers representing 19 countries competed in the 2022 International Vaʻa Federation World Sprint Championship at Dorney Lake in Windsor, United Kingdom.

The largest contingent of paddlers came from Team Hawaiʻi. The several hundred paddlers from Hawaiʻi included a dozen or so young competitors from the coastal community of Keaukaha on Hawaiʻi Island.

"We usually paddle in open ocean waters where there’s a lot of things to take into consideration like current, wind, and we’re used to being able to use these things to our advantage. But in such a lake, it's really different," said 18-year-old Cother McKeague-La’a.

"The water over here is like real heavy and the wind too, it pulls in. So while you’re paddling, you have a lot of pressure on you, so you just gotta hold onto your paddle just in case it falls down," 15-year-old Malakai Laititi told HPR.

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Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
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The young paddlers traveled 7,200 miles to compete in the 2022 International Vaʻa Federation World Sprint Championship in Great Britain.

"It’s a lot more quicker pace. We have to walk like twice as fast just to keep up with people. And it feels like you’re almost being rushed," said 18-year-old Noah Pila.

"Countryside here is dry. Train stations I’ve never been on. Subways, it’s really hot. My house (hotel) like here is the biggest I’ve ever seen. The biggest I probably will ever see," said 16-year-old ʻEha Kiyuna also of Keaukaha.

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Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
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Coach Keahi Warfield hopes his paddlers grow from this experience — win or lose.

"You learn a lot through going through the experience... as far as getting ready, even getting to the line-ups on time, being on time, equipment, I mean thereʻs so many different variables but if you donʻt have the experience you donʻt have the growth," Warfield told HPR.

In Keaukahaʻs first team race, the junior 19 women were off to a good start ever so slightly trailing the young Māori wahine of Tiare Ki Tai.

Kenny Mays of host Great Britain Outrigger says the field includes the world’s best.

"A massive contingent from Hawaiʻi which really just adds to the authenticity. Quite a lot from New Zealand, the Brazilians, the Chileans, a lot from South America, plenty from Europe, USA, Canada, Australia. Everywhere. The big guns are here," Mays said.

For 20-year-old Leimomilani Nāone of Waiʻanae, representing Hawaiʻi at World Sprints is about more than just the sport.

"No nā poʻe ʻē aʻe manaʻo lākou he poʻe ʻAmelika ʻoe, akā ʻaʻole ma ʻaneʻi. Aia mākou ma lalo o Hawaiʻi ma ʻaneʻi. He mau poʻe Hawaiʻi e hoe ana nō Hawaiʻi a he mea hoʻohauʻoli i ka puʻuwai."

Nāone says everywhere else she’s considered American, but not here. Here she paddles for Hawaiʻi, and that makes her proud.

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Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
/
HPR

As Keaukaha Canoe Club’s junior 19 women’s crew approach their final turn, they realize their competition – the Māori – have lost a paddle and take every opportunity to bring home the win. Pakelakahiki Kaʻawa, 19, is the crewʻs steerswoman.

"A win for Hawaiʻi is a win for everybody and especially in a community like Keaukaha there aren’t as much opportunities so like something like that is just going to make everyone more proud," she said.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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