Paddler’s Brew …
Two parts coffee … one part Bailey’s … one part Kahlua and stir. Ahhhh, a salve to the weary, ocean faring soul.
I am six days removed from one of the most incredible paddling experiences to date, and I doubt much will top it any time soon. The adrenaline has almost completely worn off - I am officially wrecked and feeling the 35 plus miles on the ocean, and about 10 leaps from water to canoe, to escort boat and back. However, true to paddler form, I have no regrets, every memory I’ve been able to hang onto is emblazoned in a bright, shiny platinum trim, and there is no doubt I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
It is currently late afternoon Hawaii time and I am back in California, although my mind is still on the Islands. But, I am doing my best to ease the inevitable transition back to normalcy with a nice cup of “Paddler’s Brew” (see recipe above for the official drink of OHW). This spirited concoction traces back in history to the early days before we were even Hoe Wana’ao – the traveling canoe team created to race the Na’Pali Challenge. As the tale goes, Hoe Wana’ao was created after a sunrise paddle on a cold winter’s morning in San Diego, over spam and eggs, and yes, you guessed it, a nice warm cup of Paddler’s Brew.
Hoe Wana’ao made a go of the Challenge in 2014, aiming for a great run down the Na’Pali Coast, but an unexpected guest, Hurricane Iselle, decided we weren’t quite ready and put her foot down in the form of 40+ mph winds and sideways rain. We made better than the best of the situation and took the opportunity to soak up what the Kaua’i paddling community selflessly offered to us – insight into true paddling mana and a new beginning. After a year filled with some heartache, difficult decisions, but mostly a boat load of tenacity and determination, planning, paperwork, and kevlar backbones, 2015 brought us Outrigger Hoe Wana’ao, a fledgling club and self-made channel for all of our paddling hopes and dreams, including, with some prompting by Hussein Sayre, another run at the Na’Pali Challenge.
This brings us to 2016 and an alternate recipe for Paddler’s Brew. Add one part SoCal … one part NorCal … one part Pacific Northwest and a smidge of Canada … and stir … ta daa, another salve to the weary, ocean faring soul and two full crews ready to race the Na’Pali Challenge.
Although a large part of our two crews had only met through FaceBook introductions, turns out our mix couldn’t have had more potential with so much paddling experience, knowledge, perspective, youthful apprehension, good old fashioned gumption and fearlessness. But we also needed people willing to be open to learning, to teaching, trusting, accepting, and seeing with our eyes a common end. I think we hit the jack pot.
I listened once to a wise Auntie who said, "even if you did not know before those you paddle with, once you take your place in the canoe, you become sisters and brothers ... the children of the canoe. You may struggle together, but that will only allow you to find your way together, to honor and care for one another by doing all you can, journeying over the ocean hand in hand, and arriving as one."
For me, a large part of the beauty of the race was witnessing the common struggle. To see every level of paddler, from novice, to Molokai Hoe and Na Wahine veterans, to those in their first open change race, working tirelessly together to find a singular rhythm and vision to get each crew through to the end…to arrive as one. Was it perfect? Not a chance. The stories told through laughter, winces, eye rolls, and giggles will tell you some of it wasn’t pretty. But there were many successes along the way, without a doubt, moments that will remain and encourage us to be stronger and understand that the ocean always wins, but your outcome is a matter of how well you allow her to show you the way.
In the end, the OHW ohana is honored to have been invited to momentarily paddle where the Gods reside, the Na’ Pali Coast, and bask in the feeling of amazement.
As a group we were blessed to have four steers who committed to their crews, and committed to their lines, and drove the heck out of the canoes: Kristina Lei, Lance Mamiya, Jillian Del Rosario, Chad Kawamura. To the men of Crew No. 1, your fight to right the ship and keep us in the game, and using the women’s paddles instead of your own, was impressive beyond belief. To the two novice paddlers, I hope this was a life changing experience for you - and yes, it does get easier after a while. To our long time brothers Fred, Marvin and Chad, thank you for always being willing to support OHW and come along for the ride. For those whose first change race, and first time steering an Open change race, was the Na’Pali Challenge 2016, I wish I was as unafraid. To the kane and wahine of both crews, simply put, you all seriously kick butt!
Crew 1 – Kane
Hussein Sayre (NorCal)
Pai Defaii (NorCal)
James Stolp, Kilohana Outrigger Canoe Club (NorCal)
Russ Hedgpeth, Ho’okui Outrigger Canoe Club (NorCal)
Graeme Galves (Canada)
Lance Mamiya (Pacific NW)
Crew 1 – Wahine
Linda Sayre (NorCal)
Amity Defaii, (NorCal)
Jessica Engel, Sand Point Outrigger (Pacific NW)
Melanie Ramos, Outrigger Hoe Wana’ao (SoCal)
Teena Goulet, Outrigger Hoe Wana’ao (SoCal)
Kristina Lei, Outrigger Hoe Wana’ao (SoCal)
Crew 2 – Kane
Billy Bungartz (Pacific NW)
Marvin Balaoro, Ho’okahi Pu’uwai (NorCal)
Fred Esteves, Kilohana Outrigger Canoe Club (NorCal)
Mike Sarniak, Sand Point Outrigger (Pacific NW)
Matthew Taufaasau (Pacific NW)
Chad Kawamura, San Diego Outrigger Canoe Club (SoCal)
Crew 2 – Wahine
Hoku Bungartz (Pacific NW)
Angie Kong, Outrigger Hoe Wana’ao (SoCal)
Linda Martinez, Kilohana Outrigger Canoe Club (NorCal)
Casey Czechowski, Na Koa Kai Outrigger Canoe Club (SoCal)
Leilani de Leon, Outrigger Hoe Wana’ao (SoCal)
Jillian Del Rosario, Outrigger Hoe Wana’ao (SoCal)
To Hapaki, Jeff, and West Kaua’i Canoe Club for graciously allowing your two beautiful canoes, Ne’e Mia Ma Ke Kai and Ko'ula, to carry us safely to the finish. To Albert and Dustin for your expert escorting abilities and for offering so much insight. To John and Ken, for not only photographing and recording this amazing race for us, but for lending a hand – literally – while on the water. To Phil and Angel for keeping an eye on the small stuff. To Dana and Keone Miyake for encouraging us to return, and welcoming our ohana back with warmth and humor. To Shaydon Moises and Wai’oli Forrest for reminding us that it is all about the fun and enjoying the privilege of being able to paddle. To Mia Pauletto for offering up so much knowledge and guidance freely – our wahine sterns will never see water the same again. To the Kaua’i paddling community as a whole, you will always be a part of the OHW heart. ~
A hui ho