September 17 was the day of the 2011 Pailolo Challenge – a race from Maui to Moloka’i and it’s a date I won’t be forgetting any time soon.
The Pailolo Channel is known as “one of the windiest and roughest in the Hawaiian Islands” and it’s noted that “Pailolo translates to “crazy fisherman” referring to the typical sea surface conditions and who would attempt to navigate therein”.
Well, it was not so much crazy fishermen as crazy paddlers but we did it and it was one hell of an experience.
Napili Canoe Club is one of LCC’s neighboring hales and their ladies’ crew were on the lookout for an extra paddler. I jumped at the chance to join them. It was great to spend the week prior to the race training with Napili – learning how to do water changes, bump drills and much more. It had been a while since I felt like I’d had much direction in training and it felt fantastic to have multiple coaches out with us on the water. It’s nice to see how other clubs operate!
I’d heard so much about this race especially from my sister, Jenny who did it in her Novice B year with Hawaiian Canoe Club (amazing thing to do in your first year Jen!). About the wind, the current, the swells, the deep deeeeep water and what may be lurking below… actually better not to think about that last one. Anyway, all things considered, the night before the race I was nervous, definitely nervous.
We had ten female paddlers on our crew and the way it worked was this: six paddlers would start the race and paddle for between 20 minutes to half an hour. At this time Mike (Tihada) our coach, would call out four seat numbers before our escort boat zoomed off to position itself ahead of the approaching canoe. Four of us would jump off the escort boat and wait in the water as the canoe came towards us, ready to jump into our seats.
This is where the adrenaline starts pumping…
You go from being on the escort boat, into the water. Into one of the roughest channels in the Hawaiian islands. You are waiting for a canoe to come, at speed. A wave takes you up, you see the boat. A wave takes you down, the boat disappears. So you whack the water really hard – sending up as many splashes as you can, so the canoe can see you. As it comes towards you you position yourself in a row and all grab hold of the gunnel and swing yourself out of the water and into the boat. As you’re doing this, the person who’s getting out of your seat has to jump off in the opposite direction. It’s a blast!!
This was what I was worried about – getting into the boat but once you are in that water and the adrenaline is pumping, you just do it. There is no way you want to be left behind and before you know it, you are in, zipped (into the boat’s covers), and paddling.
When you have taken a turn paddling, you are the one who jumps out of the canoe and tries to get back onto the escort boat. Once you’re safely on, it’s time to re-hydrate, prepare yourself for the next round and encourage your team-mates. Before long, it’s time to swallow your nerves and jump back into the churning water again.
We paddled for four hours and 45 minutes. Wow. What a mental and physical test it was. No wonder they call it the ‘challenge’. It really was incredible to experience and I am so thankful to the girls and coaches at Napili who had me on board. One thing that sticks in my mind is the positivity that everyone had all day, it was smiles and laughs all-round and all day. Just brilliant.
I’ll be back soon with more but for now a big mahalo for visiting my blog!