The 19-and-Under Girls Crew from the Lokahi Outrigger Canoe Center is headed to Hawaii this Labor Day weekend, where they’ll represent Petaluma in the world’s largest long-distance canoe race and experience a culture they’ve studied for years.
The Queen Lili’uokalani Long Distance canoe race is named for the last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom, and was originally held on the Queen’s birthday, Sept. 2. Since its inception in 1972, the race has expanded to four days of competition, and now draws more than 2,500 paddlers from all over the world to share the ancient Hawaiian practice of outrigger canoe racing.
“I think going to literally the heart of where this sport that we love came from, the origin of it, I think that’ll be a really awesome experience for us,” said Ella Reyes, one member of the six-person crew. “I’m really excited.”
Megan Reilly, 16, and Heidy Bremauntz, 16, sit in the front of the canoe in the No. 1 and 2 positions. They’re the pacesetters. Makana Dudoit, 18, Keara Reed, 17, and Kylie Tubbs, 16, sit in the 3, 4, and 5 spots; that’s the area of the canoe that is most responsive to power strokes and is considered the canoe’s “engine.”
Reyes, 15, is the steer-person and sits in the back.
Reilly, Bremauntz, Tubbs and Reyes are juniors at Casa Grande High School. Reed graduated from Casa last year.
Most of the crew has been paddling together at the Lokahi OCC, which is based at the Petaluma Marina, for more than three years. They’ve been training for “The Queen’s Race” since May, and their final preparation includes three local races in August. The crew has already won the Round the Rock Challenge held in San Francisco Bay.
This is the first time Lokahi has sent a youth crew to Hawaii in the club’s 25-year history. Lokahi OCC co-founder Sam Madeiros saw this crew’s potential in the Northern California Championships last year. He said his crew was in a sprint race against an elite opponent and met the challenge.
“They’re beating us, race after race, but the second to the last race and the last race, we ended up beating them,” Madeiros said. “The last race, I watched our girls kind of really beat up that crew and I said you know these kids have really good potential.”
Many top canoe crews have members from different clubs that join forces to create an elite unit, and practice year-round. The 19-and-Under crew from Lokahi practices seasonally every summer.
But the Queen’s Race is different. Six miles in length, and with multiple turns, there are no lanes to separate the 43-foot-long canoes like in a sprint. Crews compete to find the best line.
“Supposedly they’re very competitive and they’ll ram into (the canoe),” Tubbs said. “They’ll try to spin you, and it can get super competitive. We don’t have that here.”
Another thing the crew doesn’t have here is an abundance of Hawaiian culture. The Hawaiian culture and its ancient practice of outrigger canoe racing are thriving at the club. But at the Queen’s Race, the crew will be in the thick of what they’ve studied.
“Just seeing how everything we’re taught about actually is over there, I think that will be very cool,” Reyes said.