East Coast Crews Regain Podium

| June 23, 2014 | 0 Comments

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East Coast crews took seven of the nine top spots at the 2014 Hawaiian Airlines Liberty Challenge in New York City on Saturday, June 21.

What was once a race consisting primarily of East Coast teams, the Liberty Challenge has since drawn crews of high caliber from around the world over the past few years. In fact, traveling crews have made up the majority of Liberty Challenge teams since 2012 often pushing crews of the East Coast out of the top spot. However, East Coasters are not known to back down from a fight. Undeterred by the rising competition, East Coast outrigger clubs fought hard this year to successfully stand atop the podium in the majority of divisions.

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The women of Washington Canoe Club from Washington DC, consistently one of the strongest women’s open crews on the East Coast, have placed in practically every Liberty Challenge in recent memory but have not taken the top spot since the 2010 Liberty Challenge. That all changed this year as the Washington Canoe Club Women win the open division with the time of  2.16.57. As they were the fastest women’s crew in the spec canoe division, they win the grand prize of 10 round trip tickets to Honolulu and entry into the 2014 Hawaiian Airlines Na Wahine O Ke Kai to race September 21 as the Official Women’s Champion of the Hawaiian Airlines Liberty Challenge.

They out paddled the second place finishers of Hawaiian Airlines Team Kokua from Hawaii consisting of airline employees and the third place finishers False Creek Wahines of False Creek Racing Canoe Club, an internationally recognized force based in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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The men of Philadelphia Dragonboat Association Team Independence from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania picked up the prize as the fastest men’s crew in the spec canoe division as winners of the men’s open division with a time of 2.02.57. They win the 9 round trip tickets to Honolulu and entry into the 2014 Hawaiian Airlines Moloka’i Hoe to race October 12 as the Official Men’s Champion of the Hawaiian Airlines Liberty Challenge. Always a fierce competitor, Team Independence traditionally raced in the Mixed Open division in a long-standing rivalry with New York Outrigger. While there was no showdown between the two crews this year, Registration Director Carol Choi made mention of the rivalry as she presented at the awards ceremony with good sportsmanship, congratulating the men of Team Independence stating “We may be rivals but I’m glad it was you. You guys deserve this.”

They beat out strong competition from the men’s open crews of second place finishers Washington Canoe Club  from Washington, DC. Third place went to Panama Outrigger Club‘s Cayuco Culture, a group of accomplished paddlers straight from their big Ocean to Ocean Cayuco Race across the Panama Canal.

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The masters men of Manu’iwa Outrigger of Milford, Connecticut reclaimed their top spot since the departure of Blake Conant, their longtime steersman and founder of the club as he returned two years ago back to Kauai. Even so, they have remained a group of masters men proving themselves with their time of 2.05.31. Their fourth place overall finish was only minutes away from the top open crews.

Second place masters finishers Heine Wa’a from Honolulu, Hawaii and third place masters finishers Philadelphia Dragonboat Association from Pennsylvania rounded out the podium.

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East coast clubs swept the mixed open division with the always impressive Washington Canoe Club Mixed Crew from Washington, DC with a time of 2.05.16 to win the division, followed by NCA Outrigger of Washington, DC in second place and host club New York Outrigger Big Apple Ohana in third place. They beat out some amazing crews from Hawaii, Canada and Germany.

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The introduction of an Unlimited division at an exhibition level put on public display the potential of unlimited canoe racing on the East Coast. Kai Aniani Canoe Club from Clearwater, Florida took the top spot in the Men’s Division with the fastest times of the race at 1.57.25 in their Unlimited Vortex OC6 by Outrigger Zone. Racing against New York Outrigger‘s newly received unlimited canoe by Pure Canoes, this race became the first competition of unlimited canoes in a major race on the East Coast.

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Some of the men of Kai Aniani Canoe Club jumped right back in to race the Mixed Unlimited division where they also came in first overall at 1.54.58. While only on an exhibition level this year, it is our hope that it will expand in upcoming years as more and more clubs on the East Coast make the determination to invest in these new types of canoes.

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The Australian and New Zealand contingent rounded out the top spots. Word must be spreading in the southern hemisphere as the Liberty Challenge hosted three crews from Australia and New Zealand as compared to 2012 when Australia sent their first team to represent the continent. This year, the powerhouse of Outrigger Australia from the Gold Coast won the Women’s Masters division with the time of 2.34.52 and fifth place overall outpaddling the second place winners Lanikai Canoe Club and third place winners Kailua Canoe Club, both from Oahu, Hawaii. PaddleNZ from Auckland, New Zealand is the first team to represent that country. They had a very respectful inaugural paddle coming in fourth place in the Women’s Open division. There is also no counting out the women of Malmo KanotKlubb from Malmo, Sweden with a very strong fifth place finish in the open division.

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Finally, the Australian mixed masters team The Explorers of Mooloolaba/Northern Beaches  proved age doesn’t matter as they overtook all of the Mixed Open crews to win the new Mixed Masters division with a time of 1.58.09. Philadelphia Dragonboat Association from Pennsylvania took the second place position while New Hope Canoe Club‘s Masters Crew raced strong to a third place finish.

All the athletes from around the world paddled a hard and grueling race in New York City, one filled with hulied canoes, swift currents, stiff winds and constantly changing conditions. The waters of New York Harbor is quickly being recognized as an international venue of unique challenges that can only be called urban outrigger canoeing. The best paddlers from around the world are taking notice and with it comes an increased level of competition. But perhaps the best lesson learned from this trend is that the level and quality of outrigger paddling is increasing outside of the traditional Polynesian centers making outrigger canoe paddling on its way to being a sport recognized and participated in worldwide.

Congratulations to all athletes who participated and survived this year’s Hawaiian Airlines Liberty Challenge. Whether one leaves with a shiny piece of hardware or not, there is no doubt that every paddler will return home with a great story to tell.

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