A paddler on race day…
Your upcoming race will mark a very special day for everyone and all the clubs. With logistics being figured out, alarm clocks being set, and paddles set by the front door, it will certainly be on everyone’s mind as we get closer. Race season for many will begin. And for the first-time paddlers, so will your paddling career!
(Photo credit and gratitude to: Bryan Welsch)
I wanted to take a moment to share with you a few thoughts regarding this special day, as well as express how excited I am to be able to be a part of and witness such a special scene.
Race day is special and something each of us will undoubtedly take seriously. You will arrive ready- mentally and physically. It marks a culmination of hard work, on and off the water. Thousands of quality pulls in the canoe. Hundreds of miles paddled. Countless hours away from our families to make sure we are at practice. Not to mention all of the emails and communications between the coaches, board and other clubs just to have the day succeed. The day is special before it even gets here, simply because your hard work finally has an opportunity to shine!
Race day is special from a competitive stance. You are on one of 25+ clubs who will be on the water representing the California paddling community. Hundreds of canoes in the water, all aiming for the same finish line. All aiming to beat the other canoes on the water and honor our sport and your club.
Race day is special from a physical standpoint as we push our bodies beyond what our minds tell us we can do. As we break barriers, distances and thresholds. As we leave all our effort and energy on the water, only to be lifted high as we exhaustively step foot on the beach to the cheers, hugs and support of our loved ones.
Race day is special from a teamwork standpoint. Our sport is unlike any other I have ever participated in. Where just a word of encouragement can lift tired arms forward to pull another stroke. Where your effort and positive attitude is felt by everyone in the canoe. And where you can rely on those in a small vessel in a great big ocean to keep you fast, safe, and help you get home. Knowing that everyone is pulling as hard as they can…for themselves, for the team, and for you. How great a sport this is that we can do the same for them?
Race day is special from a soulful and environmental approach. You are no longer on land; you are entering a world you natively don’t belong: the ocean. You must be humble and accept that something much bigger is letting you take part in its presence. To feel the pulse with each current and wave. To drop a little piece of you into the water with each stroke, and pull back a piece of it. You are connecting with the most powerful moving entity on Earth. And when its over, you depart with gratitude and take note that the land is suddenly feeling foreign and odd to you, having spent so much time bonding with the water.
So when race day gets here, embrace it.
On race day though, be sure to recognize there will be a lot of nerves for yourself and your teammates where each person may act a little differently than a normal practice. Coaches will be running around like crazy to and from each club and might be more apt to give a quick answer than a lengthy one. Not ‘morning people’ will be struggling at o’dark-thirty. And clubs will be scrambling to get their canoes rigged and on the water. It is when all this chaos is happening that your positive attitude will shine even more brightly. Be mellow, be patient, be helpful.
Following are a few lessons that have helped me at races and that may be helpful to new paddlers, your team and your coaches. That said, your coaches have amazing amounts of knowledge which should always be solicited first. If anything I write is different than their recommendations, please go with what they suggest.
Before the race:
- Be sure to communicate to your kapena (steers-person) if you are wandering off. Nothing is worse than having a crew of 5 standing at the canoe all wondering where the 6th paddler is. If you are headed to the bathroom or your car, let your crew know. Keep your crew in sight.
- Find the canoe you will be racing early in the morning. Not only to spend some quiet time there and bond with your wa’a, but to know where it is when 50 crews are all scrambling to the water to get to the race start.
- Attend the steersmen’s meeting, even if you aren’t steering. Just lay low and stay in the back if you aren’t, but the info there is always valuable (course info, buoy turns, rules etc.).
- Keep your paddle in a place where you know it will be. And if you need a paddle for whatever reason, don’t just take a paddle you see hanging up. It might be someone else’s who need it in the same race as you.
- Don’t change your diet the day of the race. If you have never eaten a double western bacon cheeseburger before you paddle, don’t start the morning of. Same goes with introducing healthy but new drinks, supplements, and regular food. Stay true to what has worked for you in the past. Eat healthy foods in general that are easy to digest. And hydrate! (Personally, I like a combo of Gatorade, banana, bagel and maybe peanut butter/jelly or turkey sandwich but that is considered old school with all the new great products out there.)
- Go to the bathroom early. The lines can get long.
FLAG IS UP!!! ... Things that help me when the race starts:
- Remembering to breathe. All that adrenaline can cause us to get so hyped up that we forget this important task.
- Remembering to breathe. 3 minutes into the race you are going to feel lactic acid start to make each stroke feel heavy. This is natural and will go away, trust me. Good clean breathing aids in helping you flush your system with each breath.
- Breaking the race course into small chunks. Thinking about how you have a long distance to go, can be overwhelming and lower your morale when you start to get tired. Find landmarks to shoot for within the course (from here to the bridge) to help you connect the dots from start to finish and create a less menacing task.
When the race is over
First place or last, you just paddled a Hawaiian outrigger canoe with some of the best teammates you could hope for, in a club you love, driven by a noble cause, and with honor against some of the best clubs on the mainland. You just gave everything you had. You learned a ton, and will be a better paddler next race…really, you can’t lose! Also, I have seen many clubs finish in the front of the pack, looking disgruntled, unhappy, and less than happy to have done what they just did. And yet I have seen clubs finish in the back with exhausted smiles, gratitude, and aloha. Tell me which club impressed those on the beach most.
I will leave you with this guarantee…
When you see a canoe in front of you that you can catch.
When you get in ear-shot of the cheering crowds.
When you feel the pulse of the canoe match your stroke rate.
It is then that you will get chicken skin on your arms.
It is then that your vision will shift to 3rd person and you will see your crew from outside the canoe.
It is then that you will be a paddler.
You will find renewed strength, and I promise, you will come through for your teammates in ways you never knew possible. And yet, the first thing you will think of when you finish, aside from how fricken tired you are, is how proud of your fellow paddlers you are.
So as you race, please remember:
- Every stroke you pull is passed right back to the person behind you. Make sure its full of positive energy.
- Every breathe you exhale is passed to the person ahead of you. Make sure its full of positive spirit.
- And last but not least…it is always an honor to paddle in an outrigger canoe.
Good luck everyone this upcoming race.
Enjoy the ride!
(Special thank you to Cody and Chris Silvester for the use of a photo in this article)
Team Writer Clarke Graves - If there is water, he will paddle it (regardless of craft). Clarke is a surfer turned paddler who grew up in San Diego but has traveled every corner of California enjoying its beauty and appeal. He has had the privilege of racing SUP, OC6, OC2, OC1, Prone and can't wait to hop into a dragon boat and surf-ski for an extended length of time.
One of Clarke's goals is to paddle as much shoreline in California as he can, with as many paddling friends who are willing to join him. If you have an idea for Clarke to write about or any questions, send it our way and we will pass it along!