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Paul Wellman (file)

My Life: Outrigger Canoeing

The Gift of Gliding Across the Sea


I was 19 years old, fresh off the airplane and so haole I didn’t even know I was haole standing in line for the shuttle to the employee parking lot of the Maui Marriott in Kaanapali, Maui. Tipo, a large and intimidating Hawaiian-Samoan cook, also waiting in line, approached me and asked, “Brah, you like paddle with Hawaiian Canoe Club tomorrow?” He had the classic pidgin intonations and a broad infectious smile on his face. “No, thank you, I’m too skinny…” was my response to the invitation; I didn’t think I had what it took to be part of a canoe paddling team.

Nowadays, paddling in seat number 1 for the Santa Barbara Outrigger Canoe Club, I often think of Tipo and the days I missed out on the waters off Maui. But then, I look around at our beautiful coast and decide that paddling these parts isn’t too bad either. And then there is the sport itself — physically tough, emotionally exhilarating, and mentally challenging no matter where you choose to participate. Whatever body of water you happen to find yourself in, “catching” a blade-full of water at exactly the same time as the other five people in your canoe, ripping your paddle 14 inches through the surface with proper rotation, and then exiting with the exact precision of synchronized swimmers, only to do it over and over again (70 times a minute to be exact) requires concentration like little else I have known. The reward comes when you all get it right; the gift of glide over Mother Earth’s waters is as good as it gets.

Flat and buttery water to headwind chop or downhill runs, the many moods of the ocean color each paddling experience differently. Having paddled a one-man outrigger for a couple of years and surfing for four decades and counting, I’m no stranger to moving yourself across the surface of the sea. Yet paddling in a six-person canoe offers a camaraderie I had never before experienced on the ocean.

I’ve achieved many solo racing scores in endurance events — in running, cycling, and even prone paddling — and had ample amounts of adventure combined with a sense of achievement. However, competing as a team upon the salty waters of the Pacific, the thrill and success is amplified. I am blessed to be part of the ohana at the Santa Barbara Outrigger Canoe Club and want to share my ocean gliding with others. As Tipo tried to show me those many years ago, all it takes is a willingness to share in the gift.

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