For those of you who like the bottom line on top and don’t mind a spoiler: I made it back alive.
As my five boat mates and I listened to our coach’s advice on how to launch successfully through surf, we thought we were pretty lucky to go in the morning. Novice women compete in the initial heats, theoretically when the winds, currents, swells, and chop are lowest. Not this day though. Conditions were already pretty rough, but we were too prepared, focused, and excited to let that dampen our intent to race well. Ha hah ha “dampen;” that’s what’s called “foreshadowing.”
We paddled our way towards the starting line about half a mile offshore, fighting the ocean the whole way. Our steerswoman did a great job leading us through the messy water and other novice boats as we navigated our way to the line-up. Wind was blowing hard; water was already washing over us, but we had a race to win. Until we huli’ed.
Huli is the fancy, “cool paddling people in the know” term for “capsize.” Yeah, we huli’ed big time and in seeming slow mo’. No biggie — outrigger boats capsize all the time. Earlier in the season we’d even practiced How to Huli. First, we all count that six heads pop back up from the cold water. Did I mention cold? Then we each make our way to a designated spot around the boat to re-right it, collect the floating paddles and other items, bail out the waterlogged canoe, clamber back in and rejoin the race. Or not.
Without belaboring the details, let’s just say that water is slippery. Wet boat undersides are very slippery. My hands and booties were also — wait for it — slippery. Getting our feet and hands to grab ahold where needed was a huge challenge, especially when the swells kept pushing us hard and the wind kept knocking back down the outrigger (ama) that we were trying to flip. To be specific, MY stoopid foot kept slipping off the wooden piece I was supposed to stand and push down on as another teammate heaves the ama up.
For the record, courtesy of exercising all my life, I had the strength and flexibility to get my leg above my head and into position. It was staying there that was la problema grande. Where is waterproof velcro when you need it?
Yeah, we were still in the water when the horn sounded for the race to begin. Ooops, guess we missed that. We were still in the water when the other boats were a mere speck in the distance. But we had not noticed that yet as we were working together to get that darn boat righted.
After many failed attempts to push the ama back up and over according to the huli plan, our steerswoman had a brilliant idea. I needed to swim under the boat and climb up and over it from the opposite side so I could descend my foot into position instead of trying to get my leg above my shoulder from in the water. Yes, this was much easier. Well, easier in a relative way as I managed to still slip off the boat and wooden foot stub another four times. Stay with me readers as that meant four more swims under the boat then back over it. Not my comfort zone activity, but then spending the rest of my baby boomer days in the ocean seemed less appealing, so under and over I went.
Finally our new plan worked! The woman pushing up the ama did her part; the two of us on the stubs timed our heave hos on the opposite side; the others had the bail bucket ready to go, paddles collected; and we got the boat overturned, the water bailed out, and all six of us back in our seats. After twenty minutes in the water. Did you catch that part about being in the cold, Pacific ocean water for 20 minutes? Never thought menopot weight gain insulation fat would come in so handy! I actually felt worried and sorry for my slender, young teammates who were shivering like crazy.
The way race rules read, we had the option to go ahead and finish the course (um, which in our case actually meant start the course as we had — well, you know, — huli’ed before getting to the start line. Hesh up now!)
Or we could head back to shore.
Keep in mind that I love outrigger paddling; I love competing; I love being part of a team, this team! I also revel in the exercise paddling offers. Cardio intensity for 45 minutes/ 5 miles plus upper body muscle endurance training. Very knee joint friendly. Great views of the shore and sea. In a boat with five other amazing women all united in a common goal — Survival. I mean, enjoying our new sport.
On the other hand, we had set a record for the looooooongest huli recovery evahhh! Yep, we are award-winning Huli Queens, self-designated.
What do you think we chose? What would you have chosen?
Leave comments and I’ll let you know. I will reveal that once I changed into dry clothes, I decided to reach past the Sea Salt almonds (you can well imagine I thought it best to wait before diving again into anything involving sea and salt.) Instead it was time to bust open the Dark Chocolate Almonds, mateys! I EARNED those babies! Paddles Up!
This post is sponsored by Blue Diamond Almonds. Nature sponsored our epic Huli.
by Kymberly Williams-Evans, Huli Queen