Pretty cool when you travel 8 hours, (12 if you embrace wrong turns as opportunities to explore our state), arrive in foreign waters, and make friends with several hundred strangers who are all related to you through the community of paddling. Even cooler when you have a chance to relive it in a recap. Our trip to the Bay Area and the Kula Anela (Angel Island) Race was our chance to check out the teams and paddlers who paddle with NCOCA (Northern California Outrigger Canoe Association). We are still reliving the fun!
After driving up Friday, The Cali Paddler team rolled in to Fort Baker, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, early Saturday morning. Everything was wet from a heavy fog and it was still a little dark. Cypress trees painted hillsides and WW2 military buildings marked the spot we would get to setup our booth for the day. This location boasts an amazing view of our states most iconic structure, the Golden Gate Bridge. Tamalpais OCC calls it home, and they assured me they don't take it for granted.
As the sun came up, we started to meet some of the folks we had become social media friends with. People who online have expressed the same love of paddling various crafts that we do, and that made a point to make us feel welcome. The familiar site of canoes being rigged. Pre-race port-o-potty lines. Coaches carrying clip boards as they walk double time to register their crews. Then it happened! The god-like sound of a P.A. sound system announcing the first steers person meeting and the subsequent footsteps of paddlers on an old World War 2 dock. Outrigger race day. We were home.
Booth traffic was amazing. So many folks genuinely interested in our goals at Cali Paddler of creating a community we can all proudly embrace. Talking to folks about their local water way explorations and cleanup efforts in Monterey (Great work Brent at BrentAllenOutside.com), Tahoe, and paddlers up in Petaluma River. We met various canoe club coaches and board members, and our favorite, people who had just finished their first ever race! The most special thing a paddler can experience.
Our conversations during the day were broken by mutual looks to the water as canoes crossed the finish line, and the fog lifted to show the bridge. The open course steers-person meeting was broadcast loud enough for us to hear and the hazards of the race courses were being described. "Watch out for this rock here." "Get ready for a current here and here to pull you north." "As you round the island, the flooding tide will create a safe pass here but not for the last race. So if you risk it....well make sure it's your canoe and not one of ours." I was amazed at the number of water factors being shared. Back home, our races are open ocean, so swell and wind direction is everyone's focus, and where the buoy drops will be to turn on. But here the bigger tides, the various sections of the bay funneling energy and water, and the enormous shipping freighters pose an unpredictable water surface that canoes must be ready for. You folks race around islands the size of my home Mission Bay. Not to mention the canoe speeds goes from 5mph to 10mph when when you turn a corner.
Throughout the day we met paddlers and asked them to describe their races to us. They would describe how taking a line closer to the island made all the difference between them and another canoe. One crew had a post-collision huli during their race but overcame the setback and was totally pumped up afterwards about how they came together and passed canoes. (Congrats Hui o Hawaii for overcoming adversity, and 50 degree water, in that race to rock the rest of your paddle!)
We had the chance to meet the awesome Deisroth paddle family (Harry one of our contributors and his mom Emily shown with us below) who paddle with Ke Kai O'Uhane in Monterey. They shared and joked about how paddle clothes and towel laundry is non-stop and 'borrowing' each others paddles as they run out the door can be a Capitol Punishment. The family that paddles together stays together. Thank you for sharing your stoke with us.
We spent time with our Team Paddler Alex and talked about her favorite paddles in the bay, opportunities for future beach cleanups and including more folks in our exciting goals throughout the state. She shared a few safety tips about where we can paddle later that day in an OC2 her teammate Pamela would let us borrow. Talk about generous!
The races wrapped up, the sun was out and race awards were being called out. Unlike SCORA races where each crew is called out by team name, NCOCA let's each crew also register a crew name to differentiate them from their other teams crews. Sometimes it's as simple as the canoe number (21), the canoe name (kilakila), or steers person name (Lizzy's Mix). But then there would be super unique names too, (Awesome Alum, or our favorite Senior Master crew, "still kickin"). Awards were certainly entertaining.
The paddle fun was just beginning...
Once the awards were completed, we expected things to wrap up. We could not be more wrong. The waterman challenge games started up, and we got to witness canoe tug-o-war. A canoe was rigged with an ama on each side, and two paddlers on each team faced the other team and paddled in a frenzy to see who could propel the canoe the most. All this with dozens of hysterical cheering from the dock feet away. After that, the party continued with music and dancing and more fun than we ever imagined. Outdoor after-party = the best! In between conga-lines and dance-offs we saw paddlers reliving their races, gesturing with their hands the lines canoes had taken, and recreating their form during parts of the race with imaginary paddles. Because as we all know...if we aren't paddling...chances are we are talking about paddling.
It was around this time that Greg and I had the amazing chance to paddle. Our Cali Paddler Social-Media-Mama, aka Breezy, had been pushing for us to get some water time the entire day. Checking to see if any crews needed a paddler and telling us to "paddle what we preach"! So we did.... Oh man talk about awesome....
Hey NorCal! Your waters (in a bay no less) rival the fun and challenge of any I have encountered in my six years of paddling in SoCal, with maybe Oceanside Harbor entry playing a close matchup on the right swell and tide. We cruised towards the bridge and took in its grandeur. Then headed east towards Angel Island. We encountered this amazing river of current where the surface of the water looked like piranhas and whales were playing tag. Throw in a ridiculous boat wake that timed our entry in the current and we were treated to a real test of how great a HUKI OC2 can be in conditions (so much for the rumor of just a flat water canoe. Nice work Jude!). For five minutes Greg steered us down, across and through the challenging rapids. I was underwater up to my chest at times, and flying down waves. And then. As if a ride at Magic Mountain ended with our bodies coming back to join our seat backs...we were in calm waters again. After reliving the excitement with each other and high-fiving, we turned around, went up the same crazy waters towards the bridge and back home. We were beyond stoked!
One of our goals at Cali Paddler is to encourage paddlers to explore the state, meet paddlers from other clubs, and try different crafts every chance we can. If you ever have a chance to race in new waters, that is pretty rad too. This weekend we left the Bay Area with an invigorated sense of family in the paddling world. Great waters. Great event. Great people. Thank you Northern California, you have our respect and appreciation. And we can't wait to further unite and grow our paddling tribe.
- Thank you to Jocelyn Wilson for capturing the Tug-o-War! Congrats to champions Eliza Wee and Robyn Sasaki.
- Thank you to all our new Cali Paddler friends who posed for us so we could capture the awesomeness of the weekend.
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!