While regatta paddling is a microcosm of life – sometimes the grittier aspects (see my previous blog), long distance paddling is pure joy and love of being one with the ocean.
I can’t remember the last time I paddled during the long distance season – maybe 2000? I paddled pre-season races this year but those races are only 6-8 miles. The first real race of the long distance season for women is the Dad Center race, which is 25 miles. The season culminates at the end of September with the 41 mile crossing of the Ka’iwi Channel between Moloka’i and O’ahu. With these kinds of distances, it’s a huge commitment to paddle, from a rigorous training schedule to everything else that goes along with racing, including loading and rigging canoes the day before the race to the expense of entry fees, escort boats and inter-island travel. For the first time since I last paddled the Ka’iwi Channel we had a masters crew, and without committing to the entire season, I decided to do the Dad Center race this year, which to me is the best race of them all. The course from Kailua Bay to the Outrigger Canoe Club on Waikiki Beach is challenging, there is spectacular scenery along the rugged side of the O’ahu coastline and it finishes at the Outrigger, where hot showers and an excellent lunch are served, not to mention the cool pareaus they gave out this year instead of t-shirts!
Paddling out in the deep blue of the ocean in a six man canoe means leaving everything else behind. There is only one task at hand, and that is to follow the blade in front of you. It doesn’t mean that one becomes oblivious to everything else, on the contrary, all senses are heightened. The color of the water, the speed and direction of the wind, the direction and pull of the current, the wave action, these are all details of the environment that one processes while paddling because one must be ready for anything, like rogue waves. Yet the experience is purely meditative. There is a rhythm, and one’s entire body moves in sync with it. Training means pushing oneself, though, so with each practice the runs get longer and the paddling more intense. Lower body is as important as upper body strength as all muscles are used. Being able to pull oneself into the canoe quickly during an ocean change is critical, as a slow or bad change can cost valuable time in a race as other canoes take full advantage of others’ mistakes.
Another great aspect of long distance outrigger paddling is the bonding among crew members. Everyone is in this adventure together, and so share the same determination, love of the ocean, and attention to maintaining a healthy and strong body. It is a different microcosm of life than regatta paddling because there is the addition of a survival element of paddling on the open ocean, and we must all watch out for each other. The politics are gone, we are women of the sea.
All this to say that we had a great race this past Sunday. It was a beautiful day and ocean conditions were perfect. There was excitement along the way as we paddled through breaking waves, nearly huli’d at least once and passed other canoes when we flew through our home waters from Hawai’i Kai to Waikiki. The water was spectacular shades of blue along the way and everyone had a great time. It doesn’t get much better than this.