Another One for the Books - Kula Anela Race Recap

Cali Paddler is honored to share this contribution from Priscilla Tran of Ke Kai O'Uhane after her recent race at Kula Anela (Angel Island) in San Francisco Bay. Enjoy being seat 1 with her in this awesome recap!

Ke Kai O'Uhane at Kula Anela

(Paddlers L-R: Alan Romero, Uncle Leslie Pua Charles (our head coach), Melissa Ulrich, Keanu La'a, Priscilla Tran, and Jim Dimke. Photo credit: Adam Pinterits)

“So, who is gonna be our seat 1 for the race?”

All eyes are pointed towards me and finally someone spoke up and said, “You are.”

I heard myself say, “Ok,” but on the inside I was screaming, “Why me!  Why!  Why! Why!  What if I don’t do well enough for my crew?  What if I’m not strong enough for this?”

“So, what’s the line up then?”

“Seat 1, you, 2, Keanu, 3, Jim, 4, Beth, 5, Alan, and Melissa steering.”

“Ok.”  Again with the screaming on the inside, “WHY WHY WHY WHY!!!!”

I had a few minutes to myself to feel nervous and scared.  This was the big leagues, at least in my eyes.  Of everyone in my canoe, I was the only one who had been paddling for less than 2 years, but was pushed out of my novice category before the end of the distance season.  I was scared and nervous all at the same time.  The last time I raced in a distance race with being in seat 1 was 3 months ago during Memorial Day weekend.  Dear Lord I was nervous for this race, but mainly because I was in a crew with other paddlers who have paddled much longer than I have and I really did not want to let them down.

As we walked down to the launch site, I tried to remain calm.  I vaguely remember people trying to talk to me and giving me tips as well as friendly reminders of how the race was gonna go.  What I needed to improve on and remember how to paddle when I’m up there.  Reminding myself that I’m not in the power house for this race, but I am suppose to be setting tempo.  I remember vaguely saying to Keanu that if I’m not doing something right, just yell at me.  “I don’t yell,” he says.  No.  I never took a single piece of what he was saying to me the whole race as yelling.  It was coaching and encouraging me to do and be better.

We paddle out to the Gate.  I was still nervous, but was beyond excited to be able to start under the Golden Gate Bridge this year.  Melissa picked a good line for us to start with and I know, just like myself, she was getting coached back there by our seat 5, Alan, during the race as well.  Giving her helpful encouragement and advice.  As we were waiting for the other canoes to line up, my nerves start to calm down and I see crew members from other teams that I have paddled with and met along the way this season.

The chase boat comes out carrying Uncle Junior with the mega phone and already giving us instructions on how the start was going to go.  The fumes from the chase boat were making me a bit queesy, but I pushed it down. 


The blow horn goes off and away we go.  It was a sh%# show getting out of the start (as it usually is when you’re doing a distance race) and I remember getting a bit nervous because there were two canoes on either side of ours and the one to our right had their ama really close to our canoe.  “SWITCH SIDES PRISCILLA!”  I remember Keanu telling me because the ama was really getting close to my paddle, but we pulled ahead of them.  I could hear our novice men with our head coach, Uncle Les,  ahead of us by a few feet.  I could hear distinctly their person, Martin, calling the changes, but I was focused.  I kept my focus in our canoe because I could hear both Keanu and Jim talking to me. 

“Head up!”


“C’mon Priscilla!  Longer stroke!”

“There you go!”

“Push push!”


Adrenaline running on high.  This was not a distance race!  This was a 5 mile sprint!  Oh I remember hearing so many voices around me, but remain focused in our canoe.

“HUT, HU!”

The power surging through all of our veins as each call was being called, each change over being changed.  I felt my body want to give up and I was getting so tired, but my crew would not let me give up. 

“C’mon Priscilla!  You got this!  Go deeper!  Longer!  Head up!  BREATHE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

So many things to remember as a paddler, but I push as hard as I possibly could and kept grinding.  Grinding through the fatigue.  Grinding through the pain.  
First turn is coming up.

“Next change, pick it up a beat Priscilla Love!”

We turn and out of the corner of my eye I see our novice guys to our left and I felt like our ama (or maybe it was the nose?) was almost kissing their canoe, but we continued to push them.  I could hear Uncle pushing the men too as we came around the turn.

First turn completed.  Straight away and push hard. 

“C’mon Priscilla!  You got this!”

“Help us help you!”

Pushing hard and grunting out of fatigue and pain, but continuing to push through it all.

“Come on.  Breathe!  Breathe in a cadence!”

Second turn approaching.


Powering through it.  Lets go.  I could hear Uncle Junior say something, but I can’t hear what he said because I was focusing and pulling hard for my crew.  “Lets go, lets go!”  I chanted to myself.

Now we’re neck and neck with our novice men.  We’re no longer just tailing them.  Side by side.  I could hear Melissa cheering in the back.  I could hear Jim shouting with glee.  None of that matters because I was pushing and pulling hard.  All of a sudden the maroon and white canoe with the white shirts are no longer in my line of site, but I could still hear them.

“Keep pushing hard, Priscilla,”  I remember telling myself.  We passed our novice guys!  We passed our novice guys! 

Focus.  Now the canoe to our right was keeping us in check as well.  Keikis!  I could hear their steers person as they passed us up say, “COME ON BOYS!  DON’T LET THEM BEAT US!”

We’re pulling, pulling hard as a crew to the very finish.  I could hear the cheering, but I’m throwing myself completely out there.  I’m giving it my all.  It’s the end of the season after all.  We’re all still pulling as we cross the finish line.

I was breathing hard and was doing my best to catch my breath.  We park the canoe and I’m the last one out.  My legs were jello, but thank goodness my legs landed in water and not just dry land.  It felt nice to stand.

I was given this amazing opportunity to finish off the season with a group of amazing people.  Although I was told that I was no longer novice for the rest of the season, I still finished it off strong. 

Our crew came in 1st place in our division and 8th canoe in overall.  It was a great feeling to be ahead for most of the race with several of the other canoes.  Since I began paddling, I have never placed higher than 3rd, but with this strong crew and amazing people who helped pushed one another, we finished the season strong and amazing.

At the beginning of this season, I wrote about the first time I jumped into a canoe and how my fear wanted to desperately hold me back, but I wouldn’t allow it.  About 3 months later, the season as a second year novice for me is over and it is time to prepare for the next season.  It’s hard to believe that my second year as a paddler has come to a close, but I am nothing short of being grateful for all that I have been blessed with.

Onto the next season!

Cali Paddler Team Writer Priscilla Tran

Team Writer Priscilla Tran - The first time I paddled was 2 weeks after my 28th birthday at a recreational paddle with Ke Kai O’Uhane in Monterey, CA. I remember being beyond scared of getting into a canoe because I was deathly afraid of the water at the time, but as soon as I got in, something happened. From that moment, I knew I had to get back out on the water. That was the moment I knew I had to learn how to swim and get back out on the water as soon as possible. I felt the most 'me' when I was out there, when I am out there. In the time I decided to become a paddler, I have overcome a great deal of fears. I overcame my fear of the water so that I could paddle, but perhaps the biggest things I was able to overcome was allowing myself to meet new people without being afraid of them.

Less than two years later, I have become a stronger paddler and have been wanting to learn more about everything that has to do with paddling. Nothing makes me happier than to be on the water or in it. Less than two years later, I have also made so many new friends and became closer to the ones I already have that are involved with the paddling community. I would never trade anything that has to do with this sport up for the world. The biggest lesson I have learned is that with this sport, just like in life, you can always learn more to become better. If you have an idea for Priscilla to write about or any questions, send it our way and we will pass it along!

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  • Melissa Ulrich - August 29, 2016

    Awesome journey! Thanks so much for sharing!!

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