Hui Nalu Riding A Wave Of Success

Hui Nalu Canoe Club Girls 12-and-under crew paddles to gold in the Kamehameha Regatta at Kailua Beach: (from seat one to six) Honu Nichols, Sierra Burgon, Olivia DeTurk, Ashton Cummings, Jaida Burgon and Brooke Matson | Jennifer Cummings photo

Several years ago, leaders at Hui Nalu Canoe Club had a vision: Build a program with a strong keiki base and success will follow.

The plan was carefully executed, and the young paddlers were groomed and nurtured. The hard work, sacrifice and patience have materialized into a phenomenal start to the 2013 Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association summer regatta season.

“It began when we started taking kids who were really young, many were under 12,” says Hui Nalu Canoe Club head coach Denise Darval-Chang. “The fruits have ripened, and now we are benefitting from the commitment we made to those same kids. Our 12-year-old girls, for example, are undefeated this season, and that sets the tone early in the day.”

And the rest of the crews have been able to maintain that energy. The Hawaii Kai-based club has won the first three regattas of the summer and appears to be the team to beat in 2013.

“There is pressure, pressure on our coaches and our paddlers, but we don’t focus on what others are saying,” says Darval-Chang, who now is in her third year as club head coach.

Hui Nalu long has been known as a family-based club with several generations of paddlers. It is rich in tradition and heritage, and in 2013 it now has the numbers and the quality to make a run for the state team championship.

“We had 500 paddlers sign up this year – that’s the highest we’ve had in years,” says Darval-Chang. “We have many new faces, but we’ve also seen many former paddlers come back to the club. They’ve come back home.”

Darval-Chang praises her coaches and credits them for the early season success. She says veteran paddlers such as Reney Ching, who coaches the girls 12 crew; Raven Aipa, who has coached the open women for three years; and Evan Rhodes, who moved over last year from Outrigger Canoe Club, have done great things to improve the quality of the club.

“I have complete trust in the coaches and the decisions they make,” says Darval-Chang, who also is the Department of Education s Honolulu district resource teacher for health and physical education. “Our coaches take ownership of their crews and they’re committed to the club. We have fathers coaching sons, moms coaching sons, and daughters and kids, who grew up in the club, who are now coaching, too.”

Darval-Chang compares the summer regatta season to a marathon chess match between coaches. Many races have come down to less than two seconds between first and second place.

“It s a puzzle, and our job is to fit the right pieces in the puzzle,” she says.

“We strategize via computer, checking crew lists, who is available or can anyone move into a different division. We can’t let our guard down for a second.”

Despite enormous numbers and the desire to win regattas, Darval-Chang says one of the club’s main goals is to have as many paddlers as possible experience racing.

“We have a club policy: If you attend every practice, you will race in at least one race,” says Darval-Chang. “We want everyone to participate, but they have to come to practice. Our girls 13-and-under division has 70 girls fighting for six seats – that’s bigger than some of the smaller clubs.”

Darval-Chang says one family in particular reminds her of the impact Hui Nalu is having on the community.

“One of the girls brought her dad out, and he has since lost 70 pounds and is chiseled like a rock,” she says proudly. “He’s obsessed with paddling, and to think it started when a daughter brought her dad to practice. We are a family, and it’s about the bigger community, and it starts with the kids.”