Kayakers Hone Skills at Olympic Center

Nov. 13, 2008, 7:02 a.m. (ET)

Six Interscholastic League of Honolulu kayakers recently trained at the U.S. Olympic Training Center for canoe and kayak in Chula Vista, Calif. For four days at the Olympic facility, they practiced alongside kayakers from other states and worked out on the same land and water as the national team.

It's an opportunity that provides a bigger view of the sport and allows national coaches to identify potential kayakers to compete at national and international competitions. The ILH is the only league in the state to offer kayaking and unlike basketball or football, few colleges offer opportunities to compete collegiately. But the possibilities are endless outside of Hawai'i. Unlike it's more popular water counterpart — outrigger canoe paddling — kayaking is an Olympic sport.

"It taught me how to use technique, get faster and also showed me where I am compared to the other girls," said Kamehameha senior Nahoku Keala, who finished second at Saturday's ILH distance championship. "The Hawai'i girls made an impression."

Shawn Kaho'okele (Mid-Pacific), Ridge Souza (Kamehameha) and James Casken (Pac-Five/Maryknoll) attended the training camp in mid-October. Keala (Kamehameha), Leilani Doctor (Punahou) and Giulia Anderson ('Iolani) took part following the boys' trip.

During the fall season, kayakers train in the mornings with the Hawai'i Canoe Kayak Team, in addition to afternoon practices with their respective schools. HCKT's affiliation with the national body has allowed for ILH kayakers to train at the Olympic facility the past two years.

"Going in the mornings has improved my technique," said Casken, who won the ILH boys distance championship. "It's really helped my endurance and performance."

The National Development training camp is held twice a year, and high school kayakers qualify based on their performance at the summer U.S. Nationals and at a spring trials event. Anderson was the only Hawai'i kayaker to qualify, but national coaches allotted additional spots for Hawai'i paddlers. Anderson, an 'Iolani senior who won the ILH distance championship, is a member of the national team.

Kamehameha coach Blane Chong said the trip provides a glimpse into the potential and possibilities out there.

"Sometimes when you're getting up at 4:30 in the morning to train in the cold, darkness on the Ala Wai, it's hard to envision what you're doing it for," said Chong, who accompanied the girls to the training center.

During their stay, kayakers had intense workouts in the water, weight room and track, assessing their skills, fitness and strength. In the water, they worked in different combinations in K-2 and K-4 kayaks. In ILH competition, they paddle solo (K-1).

"At the training center, you meet Olympians, it was a pretty good experience," said Punahou junior Rachel Fujita, who won the ILH sprint championship and went to the training camp last year. "I met friends from outside of Hawai'i."

Fujita and then-Maryknoll senior Ryan Dolan went to the training camp last year. Dolan, a possible future Olympian, has already had strong performances in international events, most recently winning a silver in the 500-meter K-1 at the Moscow Junior International Regatta.

"It's an amazing environment, it makes you want to be an athlete," said HCKT head coach and program director Robyn Singh. "The discipline, feeling and vibe you get when you're there, it's really motivating. It makes you want to go and achieve, strive to be the best you can be."

HCKT will host an open day on Sunday at the Hui Nalu Halau at Maunalua Bay in Hawai'i Kai. The day will offer an introduction to open ocean kayak racing, as well as racing and training tips. It is open to all ages and starts at 8:45 a.m.

"A lot of kids are extremely talented and natural paddlers," Singh said. "It's in their body and blood. Our job is to identify who they are and show them a pathway if they choose to step on it. It definitely opens up many opportunities."

Reach Stanley Lee at sktlee@honoluluadvertiser.com.

A link to the article, as published, can be found by clicking here.