Planet Haolewood

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

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.


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