Dreaming of Paddling Paradise (a.k.a Hawaii)
“Wheeee!” the canoe surges forward and down a wave. We’re going fast. Fast enough to break through the wave in front, and slide down again, “whee!”. Tap, tap, tap. We’ve got her up and running now! It’s the run of the day; the Pailolo Challenge, “funnest race in the world”, is living up to its tag line.
The hurricanes are gone, and the trade winds are back. 20kts+ of Easterly fun, directly behind us, whipping up 8ft waves in the channel between Maui and Molokai.
It’s the ultimate end to our ultimate paddling trip: We’ve just spent 2 weeks paddling in Hawaii; 3 major events and an OC1 camp; with this 4hr downwind OC6 race as the finale.
It’s grins all round, the entire way to Molokai!
PD’s in Hawaii: Jasmin Keick, Annett Happich, Amanda Wyllie, Nicola Frowen, Cath Gale, Kath Burrows, Michelle Hone, Kerry Davenport, Lisa Hennessey, Kayleene Eagles, Nuku Taia, Charlotte Richards (SOCCI), Jess Ng (ESOCCI) and Carol Choi (NY Outriggers). Supported by Shane Stone, Tod Delany and Kenneth
There were plenty of memorable moments from the trip. For Amanda, one of [her] favourite moments was the Queen Lili Double Hull race. “Waiting around the starting area, Kerry steered us out a little further and we ended up smack bang in the middle of pods of spinner dolphins.”
“They were swimming all around and putting on a spectacular spinning show! There were even baby dolphins swimming past that were absolutely adorable”.
“We started the race well, duking it out with multiple crews. Then, one by one, we pulled them all in until we were leading the pack into the first turn”.
“As we rounded the second turn and headed homeward, the motivation was high to maintain the lead. The canoes were running well and everyone was giving it their all! We all felt the previous day’s racing but pushed through to keep the canoe strong. As we neared the finish line we were rewarded with another pod of dolphins to escort us home”.
“It was a win that was well deserved and well earned and all the better for all the women competing at Queen Lili winning gold as a team! There was nothing better than sharing the experience with everyone!”
Annett also recalls this race, “Feeling the power and determination of all 12 chicks in the OC12 race was AMAZING. Getting guided home by dolphins and making it a first across the finish line was just the pinnacle of a fantastic race.”
It’s a feeling shared by everyone. From Kerry, “There is no way to describe the way I felt steering 12 people in a double hull canoe, leading with only 500 m to go and a pod of dolphins came up around us and pushed us on. Yes I did have tears in my eyes, very very special to be here, to paddle with such amazing people and to win. Thank you universe.”
For Cath the best moment of the trip was also the Queen Lili V12 race, “Mainly because we all raced together and the dolphins at the start of the race and at the end were amazing….and winning of course!!!”
“But a close second was Pailolo – even though I was a bit stressed because of my injury (and some of the conditions) but that super long run we caught made up for everything…..”
As Kayleene elaborates on this moment, “During the Pailolo race I was in seat 2 behind Shell and we caught a wave – and it kept going and going it was the best feeling ever. You could feel everyone in the boat enjoying it and wondering when it would end as we surged back and forth on the wave but kept riding it for what seemed like an eternity. It was almost like the ocean was playing with us and we were playing with it – like when a parent picks up a child and throws it in the air.”
“The conditions were amazing – we would learn so much with more time to play in the channel. Sometimes the boat flew at you with such speed you wondered if you’d have time to grab it let alone make the change.”
There were runners all round, as Nicola recalls, “One of the best legs I had was in seat 2 and I think Jasmin was in 1… we had a few waves in a row where we had the boat speed up enough and the line was held so that we could punch through the wave in front to slide down the back of it – awesome!”
This trip was a bit different to previous trips we’ve done. Annett explains, “Rather than going overseas for one event we paddled and raced heaps while also having time to appreciate the paddle culture in Hawaii, the country and were able to relax in between races”.
Over the 2 weeks we paddled more than 150kms, starting with the Queen Liliuokalani races on the Big Island. Amanda, Kerry, Lisa, Annett, Jess, and Charlotte had a blast in the OC4 sprints, pulling out of the compulsory huli strongly enough to win a silver medal! Nuku joined HK and picked up one too!
The main event was on Saturday. I remember the experience, “There are 123 women’s canoes racing this morning. It’s awesome. We can’t see the other end of the start line. Jetski’s parade in front, trying to hold the line. Luckily we can see the flags. Yellow, red, green… digging deep we build up our start. And keep going. Ali’I Kai, the Koa canoe we’ve been loaned by the local Puna Canoe club, moves gracefully, pulling ahead of the crews around us. Amanda is urging us on. Yeahhh! Let’s race.”
“The coastline sweeps alongside us as we head south, and we sense the green slopes and volcanic edges, but we don’t get much chance to appreciate the details of the scenery. We’re feeling for a steady rhythm. Looking for the odd bump, but there’s not much out there. We’re on the leeward side of the island, protected from the trades and the swell, so it’s solely up to us today to get us to the finish line at Honaunau Bay, 18mi away.”
The race held a spiritual element as well, “From an outrigger cultural aspect, having the opportunity to race in a Koa canoe and the tradition around it was certainly something I will always appreciate and treasure”, reflected Annett.
Both crews had a strong race, and we all enjoyed jumping in the turquoise waters to cool down at the finish! To top the day off, we scored a ride in the back of a pick-up truck us back to Kona. You could almost hear Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s ukulele playing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” as we travelled over the mountain range, watching the Men’s canoes head back north up the coastline.
We then spent a week in Kailua, on Oahu, at a paddling camp run by Jim Foti. We practiced our surfing at the Mokes (a set of twin islands off the coast of Lanikai) and did a one-way run from Hawaii Kai to Makai Point. There was plenty of wildlife – turtles and a family of Monk seals!
Cath: “For me the OC1 camp has inspired me to get out more on my OC1…..for me I think that is the next thing I can do to improve my paddling and being okay with being out in bigger conditions”
We also met local paddling legend, Donna Khakui. As Annett explains, “She talked a lot about how in the Hawaiian culture she came from the ocean and that she feels the water in everything she does. I think that is a key difference to us paddling here and it made me think a lot about how connected I am to the water, how balanced I feel and how I paddle at one with the water. She had some great balance and warm up drills which I am sure we will incorporate into our training.”
The week had a bit of adventure too. Kath retells her story, “We were going really softly over the waves, backing off each time the nose went over a crest, and coaxing it along. We’d just reached the group and stopped, when the next wave came through and there was a crack. I knew there was a problem when I heard Jim swear [in his relaxed Hawaiian way].”
“Then we were sinking. The crack had gone the full way through the hull. Once you guys left, Jim and I swam the canoe parts to the beach on the Mokes. It felt like it would take forever to get there”.
“The jetski came up and took the canoe back first, then came and picked us up. I’ve never been on a jetski before! Oh, and we huli’d that too, when we went to rescue Jim’s hat”, she says grinning. It sounds like a beer commercial to me.
We were so glad Kath was ok; she had a few scratches from the canoe on her legs, but otherwise was unscathed. A dramatic end to the OC1 camp.
Our next event was the E Lau Hoe along the southern coast of Oahu. It was the race that had it all!
The E trades were up and we had a decent swell on our ama side for the first leg to Diamond Head. A squall blocked all sight for 15min, but luckily cleared in time for us to avoid the reef.
The next leg past the airport played to our sweet spot – smaller runners and a 10-15kt wind.
With Barbers Point clear in the distance we began to overtake crews with our inside line; taking a sneaky shortcut through the reef.
Kayleene: “In a boat you always feel and feed off the energy of the paddlers around you and tone and what a steerer says and doesn’t say really affects the boat. But I didn’t realise what a big difference it could make until the E Lau Hoe when Kerry was steering and said something along the lines of “The ocean is just an extension of yourself”. The whole boat relaxed and the power surged – you could have had 6 different people in there it felt so different.”
We held this solid push, and a few more crews overtaken brought us with smiles to the finish at Nanakuli Beach Park.
A moment to reflect on the race, our team, and frangipani’s for Deborah.
For Jasmin and Kayleene, this was was their first time in Hawaii; I asked them both what was the most surprising thing you discovered about Hawaii?
Jasmin: “How truly magical the place is!!! Not really sure what I was expecting, but it certainly pleasantly surprised me! Just the fact that there are canoes everywhere you go, the restaurants, the beaches, the hotels etc. Just awesome!”
“And of course there are the WAVES!!!! They actually have waves – and they are consistent. Big rollers, little rollers and just swell, they have it all! Never mind the fact that the water is the bluest blue you have ever seen, warm and has nothing in it that wants to eat you!”
Kayleene: “Paddling in Hawaii is so much more organic. Paddling is life in Hawaii – you are part of the ocean, part of the community, it’s as natural as breathing. And every race was a celebration involving the wider community – Pailolo was the best with a live band, beers, food (even the kids were handing out food), massage, stalls and tents. Everyone helped everyone and there was a real sense of family/community.”
“Almost every building has a paddle, picture of something paddling related – some even whole canoes.”
“Whilst there are the believers in Sydney they are the exception not the norm.”
A trip like this often has an impact far beyond the few weeks you’re away. I asked the girls if the trip had inspired them to do anything differently when back in Sydney?
Annett: “Back in Sydney I am keen to incorporate the technique tips I’ve got into my paddling and get out in the ocean more. I love to built on the ocean skills, feel the water and link the runs to not only get faster but ultimately have the most fun I can have.”
“Another aim for me is to pass on what we have learned to PD’s through my coaching. I like to incorporate video sessions into training so people see themselves and can improve on their technique.”
Kayleene: “I would really like to keep the sense that you are a part of the ocean even back here in Sydney. And this one’s not so easy but it would be great to bring the sense of community/ family/ celebration into Australian paddling. I recently stopped making cookies/snacks for post-race but realise the importance of taking 5 minutes to stop come together and sharing even just some fruit. And maybe if we host a race again we can at least get some music on a loud speaker (even just 1 speaker).”
Nicola: “Technique, technique, technique……. and to get faster!”
We did more than just paddle too! Here are the responses to: What is the most memorable non-paddling moment of the trip?
Jasmin: Doing Captain Andy’s NaPali Coast boat tour followed by the Waimea Canyon Adventure with Shell! Just absolutely mind blowing coastline, close ups with dolphins and tuuurrrrrrrrtles!!!
Annett: While a sad story that Kerry lost her phone in the ocean, my imagination that a turtle has a it hanging around the neck and answering it, while we kept calling it was just hilarious.
Kayleene: “We brought a Jeep!!!” Arriving in Honolulu picking up our car after a long few days racing topped off with travelling and heat we climbed into our rental – a Jeep. Clearly we were delirious as the “We brought a Jeep” comments flowed and grand plans of re-enacting Jeep ads were discussed. Unfortunately we never found the energy but it was a good joke.
“1D” Tod mentioned more than once he was Tod with 1D gaining him a nickname for the duration of the journey. His support crew sidekick then became “The Voice”.
“Hearing the safety person look at Kerry when requesting that no one be the first to canoe surf a tsunami during the Queen Lili safety briefing.”
Kerry took Amanda and Annett surfing, “The girls took to SUP surfing like ducks to water today, both doing it for the first time. Every wave caught past over or along side at least 2-4 turtles, I’ve never seen so many Honus’ in one place, amazing.” And then they managed a 28mile cycle down a volcano!
Of course, we have to ask, What’s your next Hawaii day dream?
Jasmin: I’d love to do the Na’Wahine channel crossing but I think I’d like to go back and do the NaPali Challenge even more! Go and explore some of the incredible beaches and coastline along Kauai.
Annett: “I think I watched the footage of the Na Pali Challenge about 10 times since I am back so this is definitely on top of my list for the next Hawaii trip. If we can combine it with Maui Nui and/or Pailolo even better.”
“I’d also considering doing Molokai on OC1 again (solo or relay) but that will take another year or 2 as my next Hawaii trip will need to include hubby.”
Nicola: “Molokai again… maybe on a single craft as a relay. Na Pali challenge.”
I think we have a consensus – I’d love to do the NaPali Challenge too!
And lastly, if someone else was planning on going to Hawaii (or another big paddling trip), what tips would you give them?
Jasmin: “Absolutely throw yourself into, into every single bit of it. The food, the culture, the waves, everything!”
Annett: “Don’t limit yourself by setting high expectations on a race result only. Enjoy the training leading up to it, go and do the best you can, absorb as much as you can and enjoy the paddling. Who knows there might be some unexpected surprising positive results at the end.”
I think Cath sums it up,
“It is always awesome travelling with the PD Chicks!”