It’s been two years since the Pac-5 paddling team launched their boats into the ocean. With COVID-19 surging in 2020, many school sports were cancelled and Pac-5’s paddling team was one of those. Now as the team regathers for a new season, many things have changed. With some paddlers returning from the 2019 season and many who are joining the team for the first time, the 2021 season is a fresh return for the Pac-5 team. 

Some of the new paddlers this year include junior Josh Kusuda. “I joined paddling because the boys did it,” he said, referring to his group of junior friends. He added, “I love my teammates. They’re my brothers.” So far, Kusuda says the team is doing great and making good progress. But with the sudden surge of Covid cases, things have not gone very smoothly. “A lot of our team had to quarantine so we don’t always have everyone,” said Kusuda. However, the team has still managed to enjoy the season.  A favorite memory of Kusuda’s is when his friend fell into the Ala Wai canal. 

Junior Zach Oka is a returnee. Like a number of his teammates, Oka also decided to join because of his friends and because he wanted to do a water sport. Comparing the 2019 season and this one, he said, “This year compared to the 2019 season is different because we have a lot less people and specifically returnees, so the juniors had to step and take initiative.” Having been on hiatus for more than a year, Oka added, “ It’s been tough physically because I haven’t been in shape, but also very fun.” Oka, who is a steersman for the canoe, says he feels a strong connection and bond to his teammates. The Ala Wai canal, where practice is held, holds one of Oka’s favorite paddling team memories–when he jumped into the Ala Wai from the bridge. Oka loves being in the ocean and said, “Being able to get out in the ocean for a school sport is a rare opportunity.”

Another returnee to the Pac-5 team is junior Zachary Ihara from Assets School, who also began paddling during the 2019 season. “I returned to paddling because I like the sport and I am also getting ready for baseball season,” Ihara says. The Pac-5 paddling team holds practices almost every day throughout the week, working on different things in order to get everyone on the team to be prepared before competition. “We’re improving every practice. We’ll see how Saturday’s practice goes,” he added. Like his fellow crew members, Ihara also notices changes involving the team from previous years. “Covid has affected the team’s progress because we have 12 people going to practice since last Thursday, which is very few,” Ihara said. The paddlers have not yet been separated into divisions and like many paddlers, Ihara is facing the challenge of not having paddled in a while. “It’s been super hard because I am out of shape and rusty because I haven’t paddled for a couple of years.” 

Last Saturday was their first race of the season and both Vars 1 and JV 1 crews ended up finishing in last place. “It’s very unfortunate, but we are still going to practice hard. It’s disappointing since we’ve trained pretty hard in the weeks we had practice,” Oka said. The paddling team will continue to play and train throughout the 2021 season.