Planet Haolewood

A toolbox, a change of underwear, and a surfboard.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Paddle Part 2

Actually it wasn’t REALLY the end of the season. It was just the end of the SPRINT season. I raced in two long distance races this year. The first was an 8-10 mile from Hanalei to Kalihiwai and back which took us about an hour and a half. We finished 7th out of nine canoes in our division. But that was really just a warm-up for the Na Pali Challenge one week later. Those of you following my paddling career closely will note this is the race I skipped last year so I could go to Summer and Graham’s wedding. (Happy anniversary, guys!) The course runs 32 miles from Hanalei to Kekaha along some of Kauai’s most beautiful coastline. It’s a unique race in that each boat has both a women’s and men’s crew who switch every half an hour, kind of like a relay race.

How do you switch crews in the middle of a race? I was wondering the same thing and we never practiced “water changes” at the canoe club until two days before the race. It turned out not to be as hard as it sounds.

The excitement was building in the days before the race. Paddlers who had raced Na Pali before told us we could expect to be on the water, either in the escort boat or paddling in the canoe for between four and five hours so we should bring food and water. Space would be limited on the boat so the coaches told us to bring water only for ourselves, not whole cases to share. When someone asked how much would be enough for one person, “a gallon,” was the recommendation.

The night before I packed two 12 oz plastic bottles and a camel back with water, two one-quart canteens with “electro mix” and water, a pineapple, a papaya, two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a granola bar, some crackers and peanut butter, a bag of trail mix, and some dates. It sounds like a lot but bear in mind that the pineapple was pretty small. I had my long-sleeved club jersey, two pairs of padded paddling shorts (worn concurrently), a hat, my camera in a dry bag, wax for the floor of the canoe and of course my paddle, which I never used. I felt as prepared as I would ever be.

I arrived at the pier where paddlers were loading escort boats at 6:30 the morning of the race. There was a lot of activity in the bay and on the shore. Since each of the 20 canoes racing has its own escort boat, there were twenty small motorboats most of them lashed together in a kind of flotilla. Canoe clubs from all over the island had rented small fishing boats and tour boats for the race. The small pier is normally only used for fishing and as a diving platform and couldn’t accommodate so many boats. So when one boat moored to load supplies, other boats simply moored to it instead of the pier. I had to hop across two other boats to get my belongings and myself onto our escort boat.

The captain of our escort boat was a chubby shirtless man with a kind of sideways Mohawk and blood smeared on his stomach (apparently from a cut on his finger). Since the women’s crew was to start the race, we would start by cheering from the escort boat. We could see all the women paddlers gathered on the beach probably listening to some instructions that we would never hear. They got in their canoes and waited for the start. As the flag came up, over a hundred paddlers sprang into action and sped off like a horde of Amazon Argonauts.

Our escort boat scooted along a short distance away from our canoe and we yelled encouragement to the women. Normally, our coaches assign each paddler a seat in the canoe but in all the excitement we had never gotten our instructions so it was up to us. The strongest paddlers sit in the middle of the canoe, seats 3 and 4. The steersman sits in the back and of the remaining crew, I was selected to sit in front, the seat with the responsibility of setting the pace. I had never sat in seat one during a race before, but I was happy to have the opportunity.

After a half an hour, race officials announced by radio that it was time to change crews. Captain Bloody Stomach piloted his boat ahead of the canoe and we all jumped into the water and lined up. The women steered the canoe toward us so that we passed between the boat and the outrigger. At the last second, they jumped out on the right side and we climbed in on the left side and began to paddle immediately. The idea is to change crews without the boat ever stopping.

After taking a few strokes to bring the boat up to speed, I stopped to zip up the nylon cover which formed a seal around my torso and kept water from splashing into the boat. I quickly got back to paddling and settled into a rhythm. The odd thing about sitting in front is that you can’t see anything that happens in your boat. I could hear my teammates calling out when it was time to switch to paddling on the other side and there was a constant banter of encouraging shouts but the only thing in my field of vision was the bow of the boat and the open ocean beyond. As we paddled over waves sometimes the bow would rise so high that I couldn’t reach the water with my paddle. The next moment it would come down so low that the nose was underwater. That’s why I like sitting in front.

While I couldn’t see what was happening behind me I did feel it when another boat ran into us. There were some shouts but the general idea is to keep paddling no matter what. I figured my teammates would tell me if there was some reason to stop. Hours later they told me that the other boat had flipped after hitting us.

We passed at least three boats and soon our half hour was up. I watched the women jump off the escort boat and line up in the water. As we got closer, I unzipped the cover stowed my paddle and ejected myself into the water. We swam to the escort boat and split a bottle of Gatorade.

And so the hours rolled by. The men’s crew paddled four times and the women’s five. On our second turn the swells were coming in right at our backs and we were able to “surf” as we went. Spinner dolphins leapt into the air with irrational exuberance (is there any other kind of exuberance?). And we were exuberant, too, so much so that on one occasion we jumped into the water and switched with the women too early and were penalized ten minutes.

As the men finished our last turn in the canoe one of the boats behind us caught up. They were right behind us as the women, clearly fatigued and beginning their fifth turn paddling, dragged themselves into their seats. The other team overtook them and the last twenty minutes were heated battle, the canoes within one boat length the entire time. The ladies never regained the lead but I guess it wouldn’t have mattered anyway since ten minutes were tacked onto our time thanks to us guys’ blunder.

I haven’t been able to find any results posted on line and the local newspaper hasn’t gotten around to printing them yet so I don’t know how we did, But let’s just say we weren’t first and we weren’t last. It was a great experience and I don’t really care anyway.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Paddle Part 1

It seems the entire paddling season has gone by and I never updated my loyal readers about how it was going. I know you’ve all been lying awake at night asking yourself over and over, “how was the second paddling season at Planet Haolewood?” Well, I will tell you. It reached its dramatic finish yesterday when I competed in The Na Pali Challenge, the most important long-distance canoe race of the year on Kauai, but before I tell you about it I’ll recap the season.

One of the many factors contributing to my difficult life here is having to make choices between all the fun things there are to do. For example the paddling season started in February, which is still the prime time of year for surfing. I thought long and hard and decided I liked surfing better than paddling but I still wanted to paddle since it would give me something to do in the summer when the surf is not so good. So I skipped the first few weeks of practice with the canoe club and resolved that I would only go to practice if the surfing conditions were less than ideal. I had also resolved that I didn’t enjoy regattas so the first part of the season I spent trying to figure out how many practices and races I could skip and still remain a member in good standing of the club.

As spring turned to summer and my favorite surf breaks became like placid mountain lakes, my commitment to the club solidified. Unlike other team sports in which a teams competes against each other one at a time, all seven canoe clubs on Kauai come to every regatta, which means that you’re always competing against pretty much the same people. But all of the regattas (each team hosts one) are really just warm-ups for the Garden Island Canoe Racing Association Championship which takes place in Hanalei each July. The winner of each race at that event moves on to the state championships. It’s the race we train for all season, the ultimate in 6-man canoe sprints on Kauai.

As a second year paddler, I raced in the men’s ‘Novice A’ division. There are many divisions and I still don’t understand how they all work so I won’t try to explain it here. In the final week before the Garden Island Championship we eased off on training so we’d be fresh and mostly practiced turns.

Races take place on a course made up of buoys spaced 1/4 mile apart. Our race would be one mile, which means executing 3 turns around the buoys. Hit the buoy while turning and we would be disqualified, turn too widely and we loose precious seconds. So the trick is to turn as tightly around the buoy as possible without hitting it. Most of the responsibility for the turn falls on the steersmen who sits in the back of the canoe and uses a paddle like a rudder. Though a novice like the rest of our crew, our steersmen had the turns down pretty well.

The day of the race arrived and we lined up with the other clubs’ canoes on the starting line. The starter raised the green flag and we dug in with our paddles. As we approached the buoy for the first turn it was a close race. “Uni!” shouted the steersman, giving the command to start the turn. The boat lurched to the right and I saw the outrigger rise about three feet above the surface of the water. The boat was about to flip. In the next instant we were all in the water looking at the bottom of the canoe’s hull while the other boats completed their turns and raced on. By the time we flipped the boat back over and bailed it out the race was over and so was our season. There would be no trip to the state championship for the men’s Novice A crew.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Surfing Barak Fantastic

Well ok so I didn’t go surfing with Barak Obama. In fact he never even came to Kauai, but he is on Oahu for vacation so that’s pretty close, I think. It’s kind of a big deal, actually. Presidential candidates NEVER come to Hawaii. With 4 electoral votes, it’s not much of a prize to travel half way across the pacific for. And since it’s not a battleground state, our votes are already presumed cast. He’s not really campaigning here so there’s not much to say about his visit. Yesterday’s paper reported that he went jogging on Kailua beach. At first he was wearing shoes. Then he took them off. Does this mean he really is a flip-flopper, as McCain says?

Obama was born and raised on Oahu, but in all I’ve heard about him and read I’ve never encountered any mention of surfing in his past. In his book he admitted to marijuana and cocaine use. But maybe he wants to keep his youthful experimentation with surfing quiet. While I would personally consider it totally awesome to have a surfer in the oval office, many voters, acting on their stereotyped perceptions of the slacker-surfer, might consider it un-presidential. It’s hard to believe that someone who spent his youth in Hawaii never touched a surfboard. So, how about it, Barak? It’s better to come clean now and reveal all of your youthful indiscretions so they don’t come back and create a scandal later.

While Oahu may be as close as he ever gets to Planet Haolewood world headquarters, there was an Obama event yesterday on Kauai. Obama enthusiasts gathered at the one-lane bridge over the Hanalei River to participate in “Yes We Span,” A campaign to photograph Obama supporters on bridges. I’m not kidding. I did not attend. That bridge was built in 1912 and I wasn’t sure it could take the weight of all those Obama faithful.

I’m sure the bridge was fine, actually. But I’m not really an Obama supporter. I think of the American voter as a woman in the process of breaking up with the worst boyfriend in the history of boyfriends. She sees Obama as a knight in shining armor. “He really GETS me!” she woozily explains to her friends, who think she’s totally crazy for ever getting with the last boyfriend, anyway. We’re on the rebound and there’s no law of symmetry that demands Obama’s presidential capabilities be equal to Bush’s “perfect storm” of arrogance and incompetence.

I’m reserving judgment on our friend, Barak, (at least until I have reliable evidence that he is, in fact, a surfer.) My main reservation is that he has accepted far more money already than any presidential candidate and we still have a long time to go. Nothing is free. The people and organizations giving him money are buying influence. He originally said he would conform to public financing limits, but when he realized he could raise more money than he could get from public financing, he reversed his position. That’s a real flip-flop on an issue that really matters.

It matters so much because it’s at the root of every other problem in government. We have a democracy of dollars. One dollar = one vote instead of one person = one vote. That’s why, for example, we continue to subsidize ethanol even though it benefits no one except those directly receiving the subsidy. It’s difficult if not impossible to make progress on all the things that need changing as long as the democracy of dollars goes on. Obama seems to be really good at raising money, so he can thrive in the status quo. It would be nice to think that he sees his compromise on public campaign financing as means to and end and that as president he’ll try fix the system he has described as “broken.”

As they say, “talk is cheap.” The only way to evaluate a candidate is to look to his or her actions. Obama doesn’t have a long record to look back on, but the way he handled public campaign financing doesn’t bode well.