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Second annual Canoe Race stirs up the waters of the PCC lagoon

Four members of a canoe team navigate the waters of the PCC lagoon

A hearty “aloha” kicked off Seasider Sports and Activities’ second annual Canoe Race on Saturday, Feb. 8 at the Polynesian Cultural Center where team Laie Social took home the trophy with a final record-breaking 1:58 race time. The race kicked off events for BYU–Hawaii's 65th anniversary.

Moments leading up to the race saw students taking selfies and flashing shakas. Crowds surrounded the sign-in table as students named their teams and participants swung their paddles through the air to get a feel for them before the competition.

Seasider Sports Representative McKinnon Meyers, a senior from Colorado studying graphic design, said, “Last year we had 10 teams, and this year we were expecting 20 teams.”

Meyers said last year’s event was packed with action. “Teams were dragging their canoes underwater, running into walls. I thought there’s no way the PCC would let us do this again, but here we are,” she added, laughing. “There’s a lot of energy at this event.”

Feeling confident before the races, Kealoha Gariki, a junior studying information technology, said he and his team were “feeling very good.” Gariki said winning would “be a piece of cake, but we’re also just here to have fun.” Gariki said in his homeland of Tahiti, paddling is “the No. 1 sport.”

The race went down the lagoon and back, and teams were required to switch places halfway through their run. The final count amounted to 29 teams after an upturned canoe in the Second Round resulted in a nosebleed and the teams were lowered from 8 people to 6 people for safety reasons.

Participants rearranged their teams, and some even formed new teams. Students named their teams anything from Wet Bandits to Female Empowerment. Other team names consisted of Team Tide Pods, and Hakuna Matata.

The team Shakin’ Bacon, despite not winning the event, shared they still had a ton of fun, according to Nala Bacon, a freshman from Kauai studying music. She confirmed the Shakin’ Bacon team had been named after her and said she was still feeling “stoked” after their race.

Seasider Sports Supervisor Gavin Baker, a sophomore from Colorado studying communications, said, “I think this has been our biggest event. I think next year we’ll need to start earlier so we can have more teams.”

Baker said they have employees who have experience with canoeing. According to him, the event started as a “crazy idea,” and it took off after they were approved from the Polynesian Cultural Center. “We were excited last year and even more excited this year.”

Three drummers, referred to as simply “the amigos,” escalated the tension between racing teams, whose pre-race interactions ranged from friendly smiles to tense glances seconds before the whistle blew to begin the final race.

And no one escaped the splashing water. Spectator Kahaia Liebregts said her No. 1 tip for competitors would be to “close your mouth. Unless you want to drink lagoon water,” she added, laughing. Liebregts said she grew up in Laie, and she and her family are all paddling fans.

Liebregts said competitors needed to “listen to the steerer in the back, he’s the one who can see. He’s the most important. He reminds everyone to lean the right way and paddle in unison.” The job of the person in the back, Liebregts explained, is to help the team, which is vital to the team’s success.

Will Strong, a member of the winning team and a junior from Wisconsin studying business finance, agreed. “The biggest thing is rhythm,” he said. “It’s so important. Our second race, we weren’t as fast because we were all just paddling, and we weren’t in unison. Just rhythm, and stride and a lot of heart.”

Ryan Pacaham, a freshman from Idaho studying marine biology and a member of the winning team, introduced Laie Social as “just a great group of guys” who put on social events in order to get students more involved.

The group is not officially affiliated with the school. Pacaham also mentioned how the Laie Social team members had not done any training prior to the race. “Just a lot of mental preparation,” he said, laughing.

Pacaham added, “We’d like to thank Seasider Sports and Activities for putting on this great event, and we’re looking forward to next year.”