Publisher: Ropati Hebenstreit
Writers: Meg Blaser, Cheance Adair, Harvie Allison, Gaylord Wilcox, Cheryl Skribe, Liko Wallace, Cara Mazzei
Photos: Peter Caldwell, Brian Vestyck, Harvie Allison, www.photo-ducos.nc, Jon Brunk Photography: Ropati Hebenstreit
Proof reader: Amy Hebenstreit
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By Gaylord Wilcox
In late May most of the world’s best outrigger paddlers from fifteen of the International Va’a Federation’s Member Areas gathered on the clear waters of Anse Vata Beach in the French speaking capital of Noumea, New Caledonia for the fourteenth Va’a World Sprints Championships. Veteran organizers Sandra Lavigne and Jean Bernard Fukui, who organized the 1996 Sprints at the same location, stepped up to take over the hosting when tiny Wallis-Futuna had to drop out due to logistical reasons. The course was fair for all lanes, the organization was good, and this year’s races were blessed by good weather for the 945 paddlers who attended, the smallest turnout in over a decade. The relatively poor turnout can be blamed on the remoteness and expense to travel to New Caledonia in a tough world economy. But it was good to see our European stalwarts Germany, Italy and France (with good performances in the Kayak exhibition events) as well as paddlers from Oregon, California, Rapa Nui, Fiji, the Cook Islands, and Wallis & Futuna.
The sport’s powerhouses – Tahiti, New Zealand, Hawaii, Australia and Canada – were all represented. As usual Tahiti led the way, with 28 of the 48 gold medals and 62 of 144 medals overall. Next came New Zealand, which fielded the most paddlers, taking home 11 gold medals and 42 overall behind strong Junior and Master efforts. Canada showed up with a big and strong women’s crew that swept both the Open 500 (straightaway) and 1500 meter (5 turns) V6 races, run in Bradley canoes. Australia did not show up with any of their top Open paddlers, but their Masters won 17 medals, including 6 of gold. The New Caledonians managed a silver and two bronzes, but they placed many finalists and eight 4th places.
Apart from Master Women, Tahiti is nearly unbeatable in the V1 race, a 500 meter sprint in a rudderless canoe for a single occupant. Of those nine races in play, Tahiti won 8 firsts, 8 seconds and 5 thirds. In the Men’s Open, Junior Men 19 & Junior Men 16 they are overwhelmingly dominant, as they swept all the medals and placed all 6 of their allotted entries into the 8-man finals. In the Women’s division, the two-time defending champ Evangelique Tehiva came up 3 seconds short to 22 year-old 2006 Junior champ Hinatea Bernadino, daughter of 1990 Men’s champion Philippe Bernadino. Taaroa Dubois was also a 3 second winner in the Men’s division, and it remains to be seen if this prodigy can match the record of 5 wins by his great countryman Karyl Maoni. He is off to a good start, with his second gold at 21 years old, having won both the Junior 19 and Open in Sacramento.
Few & Close
With less than 50 paddlers on the water, this was Hawaii’s smallest contingent since the last time the Sprints were held in New Caledonia; and most of these were Golden Masters (ages 55+ for women and 60+ for men). These senior citizens garnered 7 of Hawaii’s 11 official medals, but as in New Caledonia in 1996, there were no gold medals for anyone. However, the Men’s and Women’s Open crews performed well.
The women’s crew started out to be a Team Bradley crew, but after some dropouts, it ended up a Kauai (Na Molokama), Oahu (Waikiki Beachboys), Maui (Lauren Bartlett) crew, and they took a silver (1,500) and a bronze (500). These are Hawaii’s first Open Women’s V6 medals since Hilo in 2004, but not near the domination of 1998 and 2000.
The men, five Mauians from Team Primo plus Nanakuli’s Alfred Van Gieson, were more impressive with two second places against the Tahitians, who fielded 3 top V6 crews. In the 1,500 meter race, Primo hung close and looked in striking distance coming out of the last turn, but faded a bit in the last 250 meters to 2.6 seconds off the pace. The 500 meters was another close one, with a sea of red Tahitian jerseys broken up by Hawaii’s yellow. First to fourth were 1.56 seconds apart, with Primo’s 2nd place missing being the 1st Hawaii crew to ever win this race by a mere .43 seconds.
Of interest were the age differences in the top crews. The youngest Primo Paddler was older than the oldest Tahiti I paddler, and all 3 Tahitian crews averaged 25 years old, while Hawaii averaged 34. The difference was more pronounced between the Canadians, who averaged 40 years old (5 were eligible for Masters) and the top two Tahitian crews at 23 and Hawaii at 30.
With 2006 V1 bronze medalist Mike Judd at home recuperating from a neck injury, Mael Carey was the closest to making the Men’s V1 final, missing by a half second, with Alfred right behind him to rank 10th & 11th out of the 63 entrants. Lauren Bartlett, 2006 silver medalist, hoping to challenge the Tahitians, was leading her heat when she got off line as she approached the finish line. She tried to correct, then stopped with the nose almost over the finish line in the correct lane (she would have moved on if she had let the nose cross the finish line and then knocked over the flag with the iako), backwatered, corrected and finished last. Alana Goo, in her first go at the rudderless, managed to keep it in her lane and did make the Women’s final, finishing 8th. Only 3 other Hawaiians made a final, with Kauai Golden Master Kawika Goodale beating Tahitian rival Alain Tuahine in both the heat and semi-final, but getting 2nd in the final after being left in the blocks at the start. Paddlers are looking forward to the next edition of the Sprints to be held in Calgary, Canada in August 2012.
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