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The teamwork begins before they even hit the water.

Before every race, members of the Lokahi Outrigger Canoe Center crew have to lash the outrigger and booms to the hull, using a 50-foot length of cotton rope. It’s an intricate process that involves teammates passing the rope between them, leading it through holes in the canoe, securing them in a traditional formation, and tightening it down.

A poor job can lead to an unsteady ride or even an overturned boat.

“It’s a team effort. Not one person can do it,” said Brandon Browning, a board member for the club. His stepdaughter competes on the under-19 crew. “It’s trust that you and I as crew members are going to make sure this boat that we are putting together, that it’s going to stay afloat.”

And it’s an ancient process. Even so, some teams have moved on to using less traditional, and perhaps faster and easier methods — vinyl and winches and such. Not at Lokahi.

“To me, it’s a bonding process. To me, it’s attaching yourself to that canoe. It’s spiritual,” said Sam Medeiros, co-founder of the paddling club.

“The way they lash the boats, it’s the same lashing that has been done for thousands of years,” he said.

Medeiros said paddlers put their mana — their inside spirit — into the boat when they tie.

“Wherever we are from, we all have that power within us, we just have to expose it at times,” he said. “Some people bring it out, some people don’t. Some people don’t know they have it.”

The six members of the U-19 crew have it.

They will compete in Hawaii this weekend in the annual Queen Lili’uokalani Canoe Race, the world’s largest long-distance outrigger canoe race. Events, including a torch walk and stories from veteran paddlers, started Thursday and racing runs through Monday. The Lokahi crew race Sunday.

“I play a bunch of different sports but paddling is one of my favorites because of my connection and history. A bunch of my family paddles,” said crew captain Makana Dudoit, a first-year student at Santa Rosa Junior College and Browning’s stepdaughter.

Both Medeiros and Dudoit said process is as important, if not more so, than winning in the Lokahi paddling philosophy. Both are Hawaiian and emphasized the aspects of paddling that are not affected by winning or losing — the teamwork, the preparation, the feeling of ohana, or family.

Dudoit said that will be a special part of the trip for her.

“I grew up in Hawaii. I grew up in the culture and a lot of them didn’t,” she said. “I am just excited to share my culture with a lot of my teammates.”

They feeling of ohana is a key part of paddling, even in competition.

Dudoit said that in a recent race, a rival team flipped its boat. But everyone in the race slowed and cheered them back into the boat before racing on.

“Instead of one less competitor, we kind of cheered them on so we could all finish together,” she said.

But I had to ask. Did they win?

“We did win,” she said.

So while culture and experience will play a big role over the weekend, they still want to win Sunday.

“For me, it’s not about the trophy or medals or whatever they are going to win,” Medeiros said.

Notice he said they will win.

“I hope they win,” he said.

The crew has momentum behind them. They won the U-19 category of the Round the Rock Alcatraz Challenge. And they are coming off wins against all-star crews that used to best them at Northern California races.

That signaled to Medeiros that this squad was ready for both the competition and the culture of the Queen Lili’uokalani race.

Sending the U-19 crew to the race in Hawaii is a first for the club.

They have sent adult teams, but never a youth squad.

Queen’s race veteran Robyn Sasaki was brought in to prepare the crew of Dudoit, Ella Reyes, Heidy Bremauntz, Megan Reilly, Keara Reed and Kylie Tubbs, Medeiros said.

A key to their preparation this summer was increasing the distance the team covered. Used to 1,000-meter sprints, the Queen’s race will be 6 miles in a crowded field.

And the heat and open-water feel of Hawaii are hard to replicate on the waters of the Petaluma River, Medeiros said.

“There are no waves unless some boat goes speeding by,” he said.

Sunday, the Lokahi crew hopes they are the boat speeding by.

“You definitely want to win,” Browning said. “But when it all comes down to it, we are all family.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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