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Wahine 70-Plus Paddlers Head to World Sprint Championships

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The Wahine 70-plus age-group outrigger canoe crew with Waikoloa Canoe Club practice at Anaeho‘omalu Bay. (Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now)

It was a clear, sunny morning Tuesday when six women with the Waikoloa Canoe Club took to the waters at Anaeho‘omalu Bay as they continue training for the International Va’a Federation World Outrigger Canoe Sprint Championships this summer.

The Wahine 70-plus age-group outrigger canoe crew qualified for the world event at Hawai‘i State trials this past February. The championship will be held in Great Britain at Lake Dorney, a man-made lake built for Olympic-level competitions.

Crew member Gail Quitevis said they are not coming home without a medal — that’s their goal.

“Sometimes I tell the ladies, pick an animal, be an animal, a ferocious animal,” Quitevis said. “You’re racing like that — be that animal.”

“It’s about the medal but when you get over 70, it’s like, the camaraderie is like chicken skin,” Sherri Carney said.

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Carney will be the crew’s steerswoman for the competition. The 71-year-old has been paddling since her 30s. She started doing sprint racing in 2006. She joined the team after suffering from a stroke eight months ago.

“I’m a fighter,” Carney said. “I think all paddlers are fighters.”

After spending a month at the Life Care Center in Keauhou for therapy, she returned to paddling as a way to help her recover.

“I started paddling with the recreational paddlers, with people who are learning, and then I started teaching steering and I would do it in a double hull,” Carney told Big Island Now. “That’s how I got my stability, how I got my strength back, but I couldn’t talk very loud.”

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Carney was invited to lead the Waikōloa women’s team into competition. She said when she started paddling with the crew, she was quiet and was barely able to walk up the beach with them after their training sessions.

“I’m still trying to put my words together, move, think, steer and learn all new ladies,” Carney said.

Training for this sport is difficult.

“It’s hard trying to get six minds to do the exact same stroke, the exact same pace in a canoe,” Carney said. “It’s a mental thing in how the women bring themselves together. Physically, we need to get stronger. It’s doing different drills to make everyone do things at the same time.”

When they travel to London, the crew will be provided a canoe to compete in, which is “very different” than the vessels in Hawai‘i, Carney said.

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“Their canoes are more for a straightaway so they don’t turn as fast as these canoes do,” Carney explained.

With this difference in vessels, the women work hard to train within the parameters they will have in August.

The women not only enjoy the sport, but the camaraderie it has brought along with it.

“There’s nothing like racing with a crew of women who are like-minded, who can paddle well and have the same excitement that you do,” said 73-year-old Victoria Serrao.

Robina Browne, 77, started paddling in her late 50s or early 60s. She said the club was always friendly, welcoming and inclusive.

“It’s a great group of women, and men too,” Browne said. “Women here are just incredibly marvelous.”

Marcie Davis, 75, said she joined Waikoloa Canoe Club specifically because she heard it was a welcoming group.

“Through paddling, I met so many people who extended my activities on the island,” Davis said.

The crew now has two months to focus before heading to London.

“I think we try to compete at the highest level we can,” said 70-year-old paddler Lillian Lim.

Another reason the women love the club is that it perpetuates paddling culture.

Founded as a nonprofit in 1984, the Waikoloa Canoe Club started out with a handful of people who raced. From three fiberglass canoes, Lim said the club has built up its fleet, which includes a traditional racing koa, used in regatta season throughout the islands.

The Wahine 70 Crew has set up a GoFundMe to help fundraise money for their trip. They are also looking for sponsors. The event in August runs for 10 days, including giving teams a couple of days to allow practice.

Click here to donate.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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