Team Bradley regained the title of the best women’s paddling team from the Waikiki Beach Boys on Sunday in a tumultuous 34th annual Na Wahine O Ke Kai race.
Rough conditions for the 41-mile race across Kaiwi Channel slowed the winning time to 6 hours, 14 minutes and 47 seconds. Team Bradley, made up of paddlers from Oahu, Maui and Kauai, was almost a full hour slower than the world record of 5:22:05 it set in 2008.
The Waikiki Beach Boys broke the six-year streak of victories for Team Bradley at last year’s event. This year they finished in second place in 6:17:13.
The lone Molokai team entered, Team Boomski of Wa`akapaemua Canoe Club, finishing in 14th place out of 71 boats in a time of 7:02:46.
But the real drama occurred before the start. Canoes battled 8-10 foot high waves at Hale o Lono Harbor to make it out to the start line by 8 a.m. The wave sizes closed out the channel, forcing boats to take on the surf directly.
“The pre-start was intense as the crew studied and watched the sets roll in,” according to observer Clare Mawae of Molokai Outdoor Activities. “There was not much time between the sets.”
Apparently, the boats in front made it out while many of the trailing boats were pounded by the waves. “The first crew to get pounded were bailing constantly and worked their way back into the harbor and then did their change,” said Mawae.
While 10 boats were swamped by the surf, only one was so badly damaged that it could not compete. The Kailua team broke its ama. One member of the team took a hard impact from a wave and had to be transported to Molokai Hospital with shoulder and rib injuries.
“The composure on the beach (of the Kailua team) at the disappointment for not completing the race was quite a sight to see,” Mawae explained. “The women of Kailua perhaps took the biggest hit out of all the canoes that got swamped at the harbor entrance … it just goes to show their huge spirits and courage. Not only did these woman of Kailua take the wave head on, they continued on as far as they could go with a duck tape as a friend, but, alas, had to turn around.”
Lauren Turnbaugh, a paddler on the Kai Opua Canoe Club’s white team, describes the action at Hale o Lono.
“I remember the yellow canoe flying back towards my head,” Turnbaugh wrote. “I grabbed left hard and thankfully it was as if someone from above lifted that yellow canoe out of our way and let us continue our path through the wave, only to meet two more giants behind — the second one we had to punch through with only five paddles, our stroker had lost her paddle.
“Off to a great start,” she went on, “then at first change we had to pull out of the race due to escort boat issues — what an experience! The only thing I wished was the start perhaps should have been delayed to remove the urgency of paddling out to the line. It would have saved a lot of canoe damage.”
Local paddler Kawika Crivello describes the action from an escort boat: “I was a few yards away when these bombs came rolling in. This Na Wahine O Ke Kai will be talked about for a looong time. Crazy! But at the same time beautiful. Their grandkids are gonna hear about this one.”