I left the house at 6:45 AM. A cardinal was singing. They're relatively rare here and when they appear I am always reminded of my father. This was helpful this morning as I made my way with a bit of trepidation and excitement to the Moanalua Bay and the Hui Nalu Canoe Club for the race. We'd left the club last night in the dark, after rigging the boats. This morning when we arrived, there was still rigging to attend to--The surf report included small craft advisory warnings with high winds and waves. And as one of my very experienced paddler friends said, after the race, if this had been a sanctioned race, it would have been called off. But it was a race traditionally run every year at this time, called, "Choose your Weapon Race" which means it's a race for one-man, two-man, six-man canoes and even jet skis. This year it was to raise money for a canoe paddler in need. The canoe community is very giving and often comes together to help one of their own.
I was in a mixed-crew of three women and three men. Heading to the starting line with all the other canoes reminds me of walking up the steps to a stage in a crowded auditorium to perform--a similar kind of energy. What helped me get over a paralyzing stage fright was to realize that the energy coming through was exactly that, energy to help. I had been wrongly turning it into terror. It's like electricity.
The race started before we even made it to the line up. I could feel the collective agreement to throw our minds like a net over what could have been demoralizing. Instead we paddled hard and kept going. Once we were out of the bay the ride began. How do I describe being in a relatively small outrigger negotiating capricious wind and waves? At least the wind (mostly) was at our backs. And the deep blue of the water was beautiful. I say this part after the fact because for most of the race we were concentrated on keeping moving despite whatever was thrown at us or rolled under and sometimes over. There were several points we paddle air not water because the boat was lifted up. The turning point was at Diamond Head buoy, literally and figuratively. Here we turned toward Waikiki, and here were relative giant waves we flew on and from. It was terrifying and exciting. Then we headed with a smaller push all the way to the end of the race. It took about two hours of solid race pace paddling. And we made it, with a good time, good crew and a steady pace.
Still, you can't help but notice the water; it's beautiful here. But eventually (at moments) you quit thinking about it. You become part of it.
In these races every seat counts. The most difficult seats are the stroker, in number one, and the steersperson, in seat six. Lurline McGregor was the stroker in our boat and she kept excellent pace, no matter the conditions. Her paddling was solid and consistent from the first stroke to the last. The steersperson is the director of the boat, and keeps it on course and calls out directions to all of the seats. We have to be ready to do whatever needs to be done to keep moving well, to keep from flipping, etc. . It's the position with the most responsibility. I'd wondered about our steersperson. Lisa Chang seemed so slight and unassuming. She was awesome. This was some of the most difficult water even the most experienced paddlers had been in, and we moved surely and consistently. I sat in seat four, called the power seat. The responsibility of seat four is to watch the ama (the balance to an outrigger, to watch means to lean on it and keep it from flipping up, which means then the boat will fly over) and to bail. With the kind of conditions we had today there was plenty of action on both accounts.
Making it to the finish was very emotional. We stopped after getting out of the way of other finishers. Some jumped in and went swimming, then we paddled to Anuenue to pack up the boats. Most of us sat there in awe. I am still in awe of the process of such a test of the body and spirit, and of the force and power of these seas. I always learn something from the water.