Kailua-Kona, HI - If Howard Cosell had covered this event, you might have thought it was Mike Love and the Beach Boys against Mike Huckabee and the Little Rockers in a private surf contest.
Howard might say: “It was a rare meeting of the pecuniary and the eleemosynary. Two great leaders and their bands locked in pure, human competition. Duking it out in a remote environment only added to the complexity of the encounter as it caused a dearth of spectators. Attestation that the battle even occurred – and – corroboration of evidence as to the victor, was only rendered through photographic evidence of suspect quality and source. This was due to the maritime zone of conflict, and the rules of the engagement stating that each side document their own score.”
Howard, at this point, might offer a resounding “harruumph” and resign himself to dutifully go on to clarify that this was not a celebrity surfing contest. But, that it was indeed, just a semi-normal day in the world of big game tournament fishing – albeit at the “elite” level.
Two of the most experienced big game skippers in the world were working the same swarm of blue marlin hanging around a buoy on the edge of Hawaii’s wildest channel – the Alenuehaha. The captains and their sloggy, bait bloodied crews were bashing back against waves and spray, matching each other catch for catch – as they vied to secure for their anglers the Champion’s Crown of the Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series.
Angler Steve Spina on Rod Bender
Steve Spina, an entrepreneur from Malibu, California was the defending champion angler from last season. He fished on his boat with Skipper Kerwin Masunaga. Kerwin is former commercial fisherman who has earned his living from fishing – one way or another – his whole life.
Angler Charlie Helscel on Ihu Nui
Charles Helscel is a businessman and Sunday school teacher from outside Tulsa, Oklahoma. Going into this tournament, he was a two time Champion of the Series, but his fishing interests are aimed only at competition its ownself. If Charles has any desire to triumph for financial gain, piety supercedes it. He just likes to win. His skipper, McGrew Rice is a descendent of the old missionary families who came to Hawaii in the 1800’s. He also likes to win, but his desire for financial gain supercedes piety because, like Kerwin, he has pretty much made a living from fishing his whole life.
Spina had some money invested and stood to win a sizable purse. Technically, it was possible for Spina’s Rod Bender crew to win 100% of the purse – with the right catches and score.
Helscel paid only the basic fee to gain entry into the competition. This entry level qualified him to win a maximum of only 17 percent of the total purse. Helscel could catch a marlin the size of the Statue of Liberty, and he could still win no more than 17% of the purse. Obviously, he was not in it for the money.
They had started the second day of the three day competition tied with one marlin each, tagged and released the opening day.
Team Ihu Nui tags a blue
Before the start of Day Two, Rice was tipped off to a congregation of marlin, and raced past “the Grounds” where both teams had scored the first day. Up at “Otec,” Team Ihu Nui quickly scored two tags before it sank in to Kerwin and Spina – back at the Grounds – what was going on.
It was now 11:30 AM on that second day and Kerwin was down 3 to 1 to Rice, but another all pro team on Anxious had topped their first day tag with a marlin in the boat at almost 500 pounds. Skipper turned angler Mike Holtz had caught what would turn out to be a 482 pound blue on the deck and which would pose a serious threat to the other teams on the board.
Rice had 600 points on Ihu Nui, Anxious had 682 points and Kerwin was looking at a total of 200 points and the tournament was almost half way over.
Rod Bender was fishing midway between the other two boats. Kerwin’s Grounds were just not happening. He looked around and calculated.
He made a move, and ran to Otec to go head to head with Rice. In the world of professional sports, strategy is a part of any play. Kerwin doesn’t talk too much of what he did, or why. He’s not that type.
SO, here is what Cosell might have surmised if he were doing a play by play, “In regard to this competition, one must remain cognizant that there are 5 other teams on the field in a similar situation as Capt. Kerwin and his crew on Rod Bender. This is Kona and these are the elite, the aristocracy. Every single fisherman on the ocean today could earn the fishing equivalent of the green blazer at the Masters…..the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, or even a Super Bowl ring. However, one must remain equally cognizant of the fact that Kerwin and crew are the defending Champs, and this fact alone often affects the mind and strategy of defending champs to the point where often they create elaborate efforts that generate outcomes either black……or white. One may reminisce of Vince Young’s dash to the goal line when UT beat USC, or one might think of Tiger Woods when his wife taught him what it felt like to be the golf ball. Champions do not always make the right call. Let’s get back to the game, and witness what could become victory, or infamy. Frank, can you hand me my glass……I’m getting too old to pontificate so”.
What Cosell missed was another part of the strategy of the game. Although Anxious and Ihu Nui were both ahead of Rod Bender by points, at noon on Day Two the only other boat with points was Marlin Magic I, and they, like Rod Bender, were in all the optional entry categories – and thus – Kerwin’s competitor for the purse. Neither Ihu Nui nor Anxious were in the cash departments.
Kerwin’s decision to run to Otec to go at it Mano a Mano with Rice for the Championship was coupled with the strategy that he also had a better chance at winning the money by tagging mutiple marlin from that swarm than Marlin Magic did by trolling for the “big one’ down south.
When you look at it like that, Rod Bender HAD to run up and face Ihu Nui in the wind and the spray. Some decisions are made for you. Just look at Harry Pottter and his wand. Case closed.
But when Kerwin arrived alongside Rice up in big wave country, it had to have been disheartening for the Rod Bender crew to stand wetly by and watch Ihu Nui tag two more marlin, while they caught nothing.
Team Rod Bender tags a blue and closes on Ihu Nui
Finally, at just after 2:00 pm, things started to click for Kerwin and company and they quickly tagged and released two marlin in just over an hour. Down south in the calm water, the radios were quiet.
At the end of the day, Ihu Nui held a commanding lead with 1000 points from 4 tags on Day Two alone. Anxioius held tight with 682 and Rod Bender moved up to 600 points. The only other boat with points was Marlin Magic with 200.
“I’m not leaving if you’re not leaving” is what Capt. Rice told Capt. Kerwin on the third and final day.
The Grounds had gone dead the day before, so Kerwin’s wand had made the right call.
After both teams beat their way back to to the Otec buoy amid “Victory at Sea” conditions, they slugged it out again.
While no team down south caught a fish, neither the defending champion angler Spina nor two time champ Helscel – the Malibu beach dude and the Sunday school teacher – would leave the deck and chance missing a strike. Both stood side by side in the spray and wind and gore with their crew, until the final bell.
On Ihu Nui, the lone mate Carlton Arai rigged every bait, twisted every wire and felt every wave.
Rod Bender was more heavily armed. Kerwin had his son and daughter team of Heather and Brent along with Kevin Shiraki. Heather actually angled the first marlin while Spina ambled over to Hawaii from California.
When the salt had settled, Rod Bender outscored Ihu Nui on that final day – two marlin to one. All were tagged and released.
Final score, Ihu Nui 1200 points, Rod Bender 1000 points, Anxious 682 and Marlin Magic remained at 200.
2010 Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series Champions - Team Ihu Nui - Mate Carlton Arai, Captain McGrew Rice and Angler Charlie Helscel
Charlie Helscel became the second angler to be crowned Champion of the Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series – for the Third Time – and as mentioned, earned 17% of the purse for he and his crew with their $7500 First Place check.
Team Rod Bender - Kevin Shiraki, Brent Masunaga, Heather Masunaga and Kerwin Masunaga with Tournament Director Jody Bright
Steve Spina lost the crown, but found $26,586.00 in his pocket that came with Second Place PLUS all his optional entries. This turned out to be some 64% of the total purse, not as much as if he had swept the thing, but then again – he was Second. Even Howard Cosell can’t make Second Place sound like a Sweep of anything.
Anxious took Third and earned $5,934 and Marlin Magic quietly pocketed $1,260 by splitting a daily prize.
Overall, the Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series has paid out about $700,000.00 in the past 4 weeks, so the total Championship purse of $41,280.00 – although not inconsiderable – was the smallest of the four events,
As was the field of competitors.
In order to fish the HMTS Championship, you had to earn your invitation by scoring points through the season, so the best competing against the best is usually fewer than with the rest. That is just common sense.
Funny thing about the final outcome though. Capt. Kerwin, Spina and the Rod Bender crew could have won the same amount of money without returning to the rough waters of the Alenuhaha Channel to go head to head with the Crew of Ihu Nui.
Likewise, Helscel, Capt. Rice and company could have won the Championship and the same amount of money by taking the third day easy.
But as one did, so did the other……….even though between them, the only difference was the Crown, not the money.
That, is the essence of competition.
Howard, back to you.