The Fear Factor - It is officially change season!!

What is change season, you ask?  Essentially, it’s an outrigger long distance race composed of crews of 9 brave warriors and a support boat.


When I first describe change racing to people, the reaction is almost always something along the lines of “that sounds really scary” and "you are really hard core."  And you know what? Yeah, it kind of is scary – but only if you allow yourself to think about it.  The 'Fear Factor' of change racing, to me, makes it exceptionally exciting and fun.  However, there are moments both in practice and in races where every paddler has asked themselves, what the hell am I doing?

Cheering on your teammates from the frigid safety of the support boat can sometimes become quite comfortable.  Then you feel a hard tap on your shoulder as coach mutters, “Get ready.  You’re going in.”  You remove the drenched jacket or towel that you had draped across your shoulders and take one last swig of fresh water.  (You never know which hit is going to be your last.)  You step up to the side of the boat and gaze down at the frothing ocean water rushing by inches below your toes.  You spot your comrades out in the canoe, some of them haggard and hungry with barely the will to lift their paddle for another stroke.

Your chest fills with courage and pride as you wait patiently for the boat to intersect their course line, then “GO, GO, GO!” rings in your ears and you leap over the side.

The rush of bubbles and salt water fill your ears and nose as you inhale deeply after breaking the surface from the shock of the cold water.  The adrenaline is pumping your heart out of your chest as you call out your seat assignment, blinking the sting from your eyes and swimming to get in line.

Sometimes you enter the water alone.  That’s the moment when sinister, unwanted thoughts have the most power.  They creep into your mind like tiny spiders.

There, bobbing in the dark waters you wait, a pathetic excuse for a land creature pretending you’re hot stuff in the vast sea.  The sparkling surface of the tide that surrounds you becomes suddenly hostile and unwelcoming, you are not the merfolk you used to dream about, you are not a Navy Seal armed with a knife strapped to your thigh, you aren’t even wearing plastic flippers or a snorkel.  

You are nothing.  

You are helpless.  

And you look delicious.

Panic never helps anyone, and I have to admit I have had to choke it down a couple times.  (Veteran Tip: NEVER look down at your feet.) It is around this time that I take rare comfort in numbers and statistics, hearing a C-3PO type voice in my head tell me that the odds of a tentacle demon grabbing hold of my legs and sucking me into the deeps are [insert astronomical number]:1.

As the team canoe approaches, a new set of problems flood your mind.  Sometimes you have to adjust and swim so that you don't miss the boat entirely, sometimes you have to lunge your arms out to grab the right place, but no matter what you have to keep your wits about you.  If the surf is choppy, you have to make sure the canoe or the amma doesn’t smack you in the head.  When the water is especially cold your fingers go numb and you have a hard time holding onto anything.  Your muscles might begin to cramp. Other times, you are trying to pee as fast as possible because it may be your last chance for a potty break, but the last thing your lower half wants to do is relax.  Once you have a good hold on the canoe, you still have to pull yourself in and start paddling as hard and as fast as you can, not knowing if you'll even get a break again.

So yeah.  I think that's pretty hard core.  I do apologize if those of you who kayak, surf, etc. ever feel like "those outrigger people" are looking down their noses at you.  Because well, sometimes we probably are ... but seriously, I feel like we have earned that right.  (Said in love.  I think.  Mostly.)

Ooodalali, I sure do love change season!

Team Writer Megs Phillips - Raised a Cali beach bum, playing in the sand and surf before she could talk, Megs has enjoyed white water rafting, dappled with OC1's, SUPs, and kayaks, and is a deep lover of all things ocean, river, rapids, and lake related. In 2010 she discovered outrigger canoeing and was instantly hooked; paddling with Ka Nai'a Outrigger in Santa Barbara. Her contributions to Cali Paddler are much appreciated!

Should you have an idea or topic for her, feel free to send it our way and we will pass it along! In addition to following her here at Cali Paddler, we encourage you to visit her personal blog: Paddler Problems, where you can enjoy more of her fun writings and comics.

Photo Credits:
Thank you to Ryan from PhotoRJP for the awesome photo in this article. Be sure to visit his sites to thank him. Also thank you to the paddlers willing to jump out of the perfectly good chase boat (Alex, Juju, Erika) shown above.

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  • Catherine Novak - August 03, 2016

    Man, I’m so glad our change race is in the warm protected waters of Spray Lake! No octopuses to drag me under…

  • GIl - August 01, 2015

    Thanks, Meg! Training and racing in New York Harbour, open ocean is a foreign concept- till this year’s Catalina Race! See you there, maybe?

  • Martin Thompson - July 31, 2015

    My only worry is that there might be someone geared with a Gopro or a Sylvester taking aim on your attempted seating employment. That’s a lifetime of scary.

  • Jess - July 30, 2015

    Megan, I will never ever forget my first EVER change in actual ocean with you and your ka nai’a girls. Clarke had done a heroic job preparing me with five people, one canoe, and seaworld cove. I really thought I might die when I jumped into the massive ocean for that 9man (let’s be real … 7 badass women) race. It gets better and more fun every time, but oside with ka nai’a will always be my first :)

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