Hawaii teams Team Primo and the Waikiki Beach Boys Canoe Club showed why they are some of the top paddlers in the world winning the men's and women's long course iron races at last weekend's 12 International Howe Sound Outrigger Race in Gibsons.
Primo, who raced in Gibsons for the first time, won the men's race Saturday in a time of 1:44:36 - a full three minutes ahead of Meatheads in second and the False Creek Racing Canoe Club in third. A total of 27 teams took to the waters for the men's race.
Primo have been racing all over the globe this year racing in New York and at last week's World Spring Championships in Calgary.
"The experience has been insane," said team spokesman Kai Bartlett. "With the sprints in Calgary it worked out great for us to come here. We decided to drive from Calgary to Vancouver. The Canadian Rockies were unreal, so we had to take it all in. This is a beautiful part of your country. It's different and something we don't see everyday, so we're just trying to take it all in."
Bartlett said the team was happy for the win, but admitted it took a bit to get into gear.
"We're on vacation, so we're enjoying ourselves, so it took us a while, about an hour to get into our groove," he said. "We're actually pretty stoked today. We thought it would be a bit of an easy day, but the teams here were top notch, some great crews. Once we hit the first turn, we knew we had to pick it up a bit because we had to show that we came here to paddle and represent."
He said he would love to come back again for the next race in 2014.
"The travelling and the paddling and representing Hawaii in different areas and who we are is fun for us," he said. "From a stranger looking inside to the outrigger world, it's a big world, but for us, it's a small community. We're all good friends, but it's unreal because we're all from different countries. It's almost like the slogan one world - that's the outrigger world."
In the women's iron race, Waikiki Beach Boys Canoe Club finished first in a time of 2:05:33 followed by the False Creek Racing Canoe Club in 2:11:02 and Skribe's Tribe in third in 2:13:27. Koa Kai from Australia, another top team, came in sixth.
For the Waikiki Beach Boys Canoe Club it was there first time racing in Canada. Team spokeswoman Kaui Pelekane said the sprints in Calgary and now racing in Gibsons has made for a memorable couple of weeks.
"It was a great experience. The scenery is unbelievable. We're very happy to win, but we're even happier about being here for the experience," she said. "This community is just very friendly and inviting. The water was a little cold for us, but once you get your heart rate going, and paddling it was OK. The competition was good. There were a lot of good crews here."
Race director Donna Harrison said she was thrilled with the event.
"Primo was amazing to watch. They are just plain fast and certainly are the golden boys of Hawaii," she said. "But not only are they great competitors, they are just genuine and real nice guys. And what can you say about the girls from the Waikiki Beach Boys Canoe Club. They were just so strong and put on a great show."Harrison said the local teams did manage to hold their own against the powerful Hawaiians.
"Being challenged by Primo and Waikiki Beach Boys Canoe Club is a great thing for our local teams," she said. "The other teams can say how can we paddle like them, so it just amps up the competition factor. The whole weekend has just been fantastic. It has been fantastic for the community to have 300 paddlers here for the weekend. The racers have loved it. The Australians have already said they want to come back in 2014 with five teams. They all love the water and the mountains and the quaintness of Gibsons, so it's a huge boost for this event."
Another major coup for organizers was the presence of outrigger paddling legend Nappy Napolean.
The 70-year-old from Hawaii is considered to be one of the icons of the sport.
"Everyone really admires him. We're overwhelmed. To have Nappy at our event is the ultimate. It truly is an honour," said Harrison.
And Napolean was in turn, honoured to race in Gibsons.
"I was expecting things to be freezing here, but the water was really nice. It was a good day today," he said. "Back home we're so used to the big surf, so it was nice to be in some different water conditions.
"A good friend of mine Gaylord suggested that we come up and race, so we came. I enjoy seeing different races. This community has just been terrific. What can I say - good food, good people. I'd love to come back in 2014 and hopefully bring my son and grandson too. I always say to my friends that I'm the luckiest man in the world. And I am. This sport has given me so much and I love giving it right back."
Another veteran, Earl Shaw returned to the waters after four years away.
Now 81 years of age, Shaw started paddling in his early 70s after moving to the Coast from Montreal in 2002.
"This was his first race in about four years. He looked pretty good out there, so I think he still has it," said Harrison.
And for Harrison, people like Napolean and Shaw are what outrigger racing is all about.
It's not all about winning. It's not all about youth. It's about family. It's about the spirit of the sport," she said.
For more on this year's race including full results, check out www.canadianoutrigger.com.
© Coast Reporter