A week ago today we were Big Island bound. Full of excitement and expectation, with a good measure of nerves. We were going to take part in our first Queen Lili’uokalani race, a paddling event hosted by Kai Opua Canoe Club that takes in 18 miles of the Kona coastline.
Last year, our Novice B year, we’d heard so much about this race and we knew we had to do it. It was our target for 2011 and a lot of hard work was put in to get us to the point where we actually boarded a plane and headed south (for 30 minutes… you have got to love these short inter-island flights).
Long. Hot and flat were the words that always seemed to crop up when veterans of the ‘Queens Race’ told us about it. We were fully expecting a grueling race but at the same time, we had no idea what it would actually be like and no concept of the coastline there.
Even arriving at the hotel was a blast – how could it not be? Seven girls who have paddled together all season, all totally giddy about the approaching weekend. Seeing the rows, upon rows, upon rows of canoes from all over the world at Kailua Bay was probably our first of many ‘chicken skin’ moments. Unbelievable.
Six of us took our boat out to paddle around the harbor and get a little feel for the waters there. We saw a huge pod of dolphins right away and thought “Yes, now this is going to be good.”
It was really nice to see Lahaina Canoe Club and other Maui canoe clubs’ paddlers out there too. There’s something about traveling to a new place and seeing familiar faces that brings you all together – especially when you’re all in the same boat, competing for the same goal.
There was an overriding sense of togetherness in Kona actually. I don’t know if I can quite put my finger on it, but I think when thousands of people come together to compete in an incredble location in Hawaii, with everyone sharing that passion for paddling, you can’t help but have a great atmosphere and spirit of aloha. Yes, a minority of people are grouchy and snap a little bit (I won’t mention any names…) but really underneath it all, they’re loving it too. I think.
So – to the race. After eating a huge amount of carbs the previous night (thank you Quinn’s) and hydrating, hydrating, hydrating all week (thank you Messrs Gatorade, H20, Coconut water, Pedialite, You-name-it-we-drank-it…) we were ready to go.
The starting line is an experience in itself. Imagine 137 boats lining up. It was canoes and paddlers as far as the eye could see. The crews who were doing water changes also had their escort boats and there were plenty of other spectator boats, jet skis and even a helicopter in attendance, it was manic.
It took a good half-hour for the race got started, as the officials made sure everyone was lined up. When the klaxon blared we were off and it felt like we had a pretty good start.
Looking back, the race is a blur. I remember that my hands were sore and my body started to cramp up at one point. The rest? The rest was pure elation, I loved it. We all did. I remember Lindsey saying a few times “I am so happy, I am so happy.” Which was so nice to hear, I think she spoke for all of us.
Each of us took a break once or twice, to eat some Shot Bloks and/or drink some water but we really didn’t feel too fatigued. I think we were lucky. In fact, after talking to other people we were damn lucky. Hot and flat never really happened – we were very fortunate to have cloud cover, wind and a gentle swell – so we could catch bumps.
We’d estimated our finish time to be somewhere in the region of three and-a-half hours but we finished in 2:54. So we were stoked!
We arrived at the finish line with smiles on our faces. We definitely had a happy boat. It was the men’s turn to hop in the boat, to paddle back from Honaunau to Kailua Bay. We swapped with the Novice As and the Master Women with the Master Men. Our friends from Na Kai Ewalu had kindly let us travel back to the starting line in their van, so all we had to find was beer, cold beer.
Our male crews did really well. Especially our Novice As (Mike R, Mone, Seth, Chris, Eric and Jordan). They came in 35th out of 144 crews and our Master Men (Adam, Spud, Mark, Geoff, Alan and Bear) came in 44. Imua guys and congratulations!
I’d like to make a special mention to Eli Montoya who wasn’t able to paddle with us. It was fantastic to have her with us though and she was definitely in the boat in spirit, you rock Eli! I wish we had a seven-seater canoe in Kona… Also, to Aviva who, unbelievably, managed to paddle 18 miles with a fresh double fracture in her tailbone. I don’t know how she did it but she did. Brilliant!
The evening after the race was all about eating, drinking, dancing and drinking some more. Before the partying really started there was an incredible torchlit parade along the streets of Kona – it was chucking it down with rain (which is rare) but it didn’t dampen the spirits or the flames. See below for some pictures, it was unreal. Reason alone for going!
I can’t wait to do it again, it really was an amazing experience. Well worth all the car wash fundraisers. It took a lot of work by a lot of people to make it happen and all the help was massively appreciated.
A big mahalo for reading, I’ll be back soon with more. Laura