Saturday’s six-man race at the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Canoe Paddling Championships won’t faze Punahou’s Aukai Manson and Hunter Pflueger one bit.
The two Punahou seniors, who along with the rest of their Buffanblu teammates will try to complete an undefeated season by winning Punahou’s third consecutive boys state canoe paddling title, have already put together an impressive resume of water sports events.
Manson, who along with Pflueger paddle for Hui Nalu and train with Ka Lahui Kai, competed in the ICF Junior Canoe Sprint World Championships in Minsk, Belarus, last summer and spent the previous summer training in Portugal.
Not to be outdone, Pflueger, who this summer will compete in the IVF Va’a World Championships for distance paddling in Tahiti, spent last September participating in the Lifesaving World Championships in the Netherlands, which is a combination of swimming, prone paddleboarding and surfski.
He also competed in a surfing event in Fiji in November.
“It was crazy to see how big the sport was from how little I knew about it,” Pflueger said. “Experiencing such a different culture when I was there was a great experience.”
Their love for the water is what has brought the two together. Although Manson said they’ve known each other since they were toddlers, their mutual interest in water sports is what has kept them close over the years.
Manson was roughly 10 years old when he started paddling after watching his brother take up the sport. Pflueger said his father got him into the sport at around the same time and the two began to compete for the same club team.
With so many different water sports to choose from, Manson has grown to like kayaking above the rest. Although there is not a state championship for kayaking, the ILH does allow it as a sport in the fall.
“I like the flow of the sport and I like how hard it is to master the technique,” Manson said. “It’s very strenuous but there’s also a nice rhythm to it that’s hard to explain, but something I really enjoy.”
Together, they crossed the Molokai Channel together for the first time on prone paddleboards when Manson was 12 and Pflueger was 13. Manson has crossed it an additional 10 times since using a kayak surfski, a one-man canoe and a six-man canoe.
Pflueger has also done it on a two-man canoe. On a prone paddleboard, it took him over six hours to cross and was by far the toughest.
“My dad has told me, because I’m very competitive, that first you have to beat the course before you can beat the competition, so I was pretty nervous (the first time) just to finish the race. When I realized I could get (to the end), it was just the best feeling in the world knowing I was going to accomplish getting across 32 miles of ocean with some of my best friends.”
Pflueger says he’s primarily a prone paddleboarder now but both are willing to compete in any sport, even surfing, in the water — especially if it means getting to compete for a state title.
The two have helped the Buffanblu win a state canoe paddling title as sophomores — winning a close race against Kalaheo — and then again as juniors besting Seabury Hall.
Favorites to win it this year, Manson says the goal is to break their previous mark of 3 minutes, 30 seconds.
“That’s what we’re looking for. This will be my last state regatta for six-man canoe paddling,” Manson said. “We’ve got a really good group of guys and we’ve been breaking our records during practice every day so it really has been a great training experience for me.”
Pflueger has many more races in his future but said they won’t ever be quite the same as the ones he participates in on Saturday at Keehi Lagoon.
“I’ll definitely miss competing for Punahou,” Pflueger said. “I’ll still be able to represent my club in the future, but being able to represent Punahou with all of my friends is a real honor.”