As Punahou wrapped up its stellar sweep of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Canoe Paddling Championships in the wind-whipped waters of Maui’s Kahului Harbor Saturday afternoon, Kamehameha-Maui athletics director Blane Gaison said calmly “Give ‘em a broom.”
The former Kamehameha-Kapalama athletics director, pro football player and current canoe paddling enthusiast has become familiar with watching the Buffanblu excel at the state level in Hawaii’s state sport dating back to 2002 when the state competition was sanctioned. So, too, has the rest of the prep paddling community that watched Punahou methodically roll through the preliminary heats before turning in near-flawless final races to claim the boys, girls and mixed competitions and becoming just the second school in state regatta history to sweep all three titles (Kamehameha also did so in 2011).
Perhaps most impressive was the Buffanblu boys’ claiming their first title since 2012 by knocking off a veteran Kalaheo squad that had rolled through the OIA East as well as fending off ILH regular-season champion Kamehameha and a scrappy Seabury Hall squad competing in its home waters. Punahou battled choppy conditions to finish in 3 minutes, 38.82 seconds—nearly four seconds ahead of Kalaheo, which finished third in 2012 and 2014 after winning the boys’ crown in 2008.
“Coming back (upwind), Kalaheo was leading, but we had the right amount of firepower; we need to keep coming to the outer islands!” said Punahou skipper Rocky Higgins, who last guided the Buffanblu to state gold at Hilo Bay in 2012. “I told our guys to be one, feel the boat and just let it all hang out and this was the result.”
Added junior stroker Ethan Lewis: “This means everything; Coach Rocky has been here a long time and it’s nice to win it for him and for each other. We worked really hard this season. It’s so satisfying to see the work paying off, we want to get this feeling again next year and we’ll come back even hungrier.”
Lewis was joined in the winning boys’ canoe by Hunter Pflueger, Aukai Manson, Kimo Brown, Kaiko Manson and Steven Falatea.
Punahou’s girls also emerged from the rough waters as victors, claiming their fourth state crown in event history and first since 2009. In one of the day’s closest finishes, the Buffanblu (4:23.70) edged Seabury Hall (4:24.84)—the 2013 girls’ state champion—and Kamehameha (4:26.01) to send the throng of onlookers on the beach into frenzy as the canoes crossed the finish line.
Steerswoman Cassie Ingram explained that she took the race’s lone turn “wide and held it long, and we came out really well” as the wind essentially pushed the canoe through the turn. Emalia Eichelberger, Madison Francis, Ka‘onohi Lapilio, Bailey Monick and Daena Smith rounded out the victorious crew
“I was stoked, especially last year after coming up short (to eventual champion Kamehameha),” said Eichelberger. “It’s a different type of adrenaline, especially coming from home, bonding and being together as a team on this trip.”
Paddlers from 33 schools and five leagues representing Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Maui and the Big Island were treated to choppy ocean conditions spurred by stiff breezes. Crews competed on a ½-mile course, which featured a turn at the ¼-mile flag.
Competitors had to adjust to the oncoming waves, which rolled from the harbor’s mouth perpendicular to the race course. The swells built near the finish line and made for eventful endings to races as crews attempted to remain upright.
The regatta began with preliminary and semifinal rounds composed of two heats apiece. The top two crews from both prelims advanced directly to the final round, while the top two finishers from each semifinal race also advanced to the championship races.
Kamehameha entered yesterday’s regatta as Interscholastic League of Honolulu champions in both the boys and girls divisions, and as the league runner-up in the mixed (three girls and three boys) class behind champion Punahou. The Warriors and Buffanblu combined to win five of the six preliminary heats and were fast-tracked to the finals with Punahou earning their choice of lane by virtue of notching the top qualifying times in all three events.
The Buffanblu ended the day with a dominant victory in the mixed race, crossing the line in 3:56.23 and finishing comfortably ahead of fellow ILH representative Mid-Pacific (4:02.90) and Konawaena of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation. Punahou relied on Eichelberger, Lewis, Falatea and Pflueger (paddlers were allowed to race in two events) as well as Summer Caster and Caitlin Green to power the winning canoe and complete the sweep.
“Punahou and Kamehameha have a friendly yet competitive rivalry going on,” said Kamehameha boys head coach and mixed co-head coach Napali Woode. “We love paddling and that’s why we do it. The competition at this level is just really tough and I know we gave it our best shot. The cards fell where they did and we’re very proud of what we accomplished this year.”
>>>Thanks to the rougher-than-ideal conditions and unpredictable swells, Punahou’s boys state championship record established with a blistering mark of 3:29.605 at the 2012 HHSAA championship prelims in Hilo Bay remained intact.
>>>Kamehameha, Punahou and Pac-Five have combined to win 13 of the 14 girls’ state championships in Hawaii history with the Warriors claiming seven crowns during that stretch and the Wolf Pack notching two victories. A model of consistency, the Kamehameha girls have finished within the top three at all 14 state regattas except one (2008).