Representing Ewa In The Kona Heat

'Ewa Pu'uloa Outrigger Canoe Club team won gold in the annual Queen Lili'uokulani Long Distance Canoe Races off the Kona coast. PHOTOS COURTESY KEHAULANI PUOU

‘Ewa Pu’uloa Outrigger Canoe Club team won gold in the annual Queen Lili’uokulani Long Distance Canoe Races off the Kona coast. PHOTOS COURTESY KEHAULANI PUOU

Those who’ve competed in the Queen Lili’uokalani Long Distance Canoe Races have heard stories of mermaid sightings in the calm waters off the Kona Coast.

Myth … heat exhaustion … or?

Whatever the source, one thing is certain: The races off Kona are some of the most challenging long-distance races in the world. Crews from across the globe travel to Hawaii island every Labor Day weekend to race along the beautiful Kona Coast and the historic bays of Kailua, Keauhou, Kealakekua and Honaunau.

Conditions always are brutal, with very little wind, almost no surf and baking temperatures. The women start the races by paddling 18 miles from Kailua Bay to Honaunau. The men then bring the canoes back, oftentimes upwind. It is a true test of physical endurance and mental toughness.

This year, several junior teams took part in a shorter, 6-mile iron race including two 16-and-under crews from ‘Ewa Pu’uloa Outrigger Canoe Club on Oahu. The club’s head coach says the boys and girls crews trained extremely hard for this event.

“During (the summer) regatta season they would participate in regular regatta practices Monday through Thursday and early-morning Saturday training,” says Pualani Serrao. “For those who were not in summer school or summer fun, they would participate in field trips on Fridays, which included a variety of hikes.”

Serrao says the trip to Hawaii island started with a lesson on culture and resource management. Club members and their parents flew into Hilo and drove to Hawaiian Legacy Hard-woods, where they spent the day learning about Hawaii’s precious koa.

“Each paddler, chaperone and parent planted a koa tree,” says Serrao. “The people at Hawaiian Legacy were awesome and very passionate about what they do, which left a lasting impact on our paddlers.”

From there, it was off to Kona. For many paddlers, Serrao says, it was their first race off Oahu and the first time the club sent junior paddlers to compete in Kona.

“Because it was a first for all junior paddlers, we wanted them to take everything in,” explains Serrao. “We took the paddlers to Kamakahonu Bay for the start of the wahine race on Saturday, and we also went to Honaunau to watch the wahine come in and the kane start their race. That’s when it really sank in for our paddlers. They were in awe!”

The following morning, it was race day for the juniors, and Ewa paddlers delivered big time.

“Both Ewa crews won gold, taking first place in their divisions!” says an excited Serrao. “Bringing home gold was just sweet icing on the cake. It was a very emotional time for all — tears, happiness, hugs and cheering. As a coach, to see the paddlers and ohana feel such great pride in the sacrifices, hard work and dedication they made this summer was overwhelming!”

Serrao hopes to see more opportunities for junior paddlers to compete in long-distance races.

“I think it would be awesome to have a few more races out there for juniors as a stepping stone for larger races,” says Serrao. “I do believe we are heading in that direction, with the growth in the drive and passion we are seeing with junior paddlers from all over the island. They love it!”

As far as mermaid sightings, Serrao says crews were prepared.

“Definitely their Hydroflasks were on the packing list,” she says. “Making sure water was readily available and everyone was hydrated was very important. I would have to say training in the heat of the Ewa plains conditioned our paddlers for the Kona heat.”