Nine keiki. One canoe. The race...Monterey Bay Crossing!

[ Cali Paddler is always impressed at the dedication and drive shown by our young paddlers. Not to mention their coaches and parents who support their paddle lifestyle. We are so proud at this upcoming endeavor, the MBX race from Santa Cruz to Monterey. If you haven't heard about this epic race check out some previous articles here. Thank you Jocelyn Wilson for this great intro of the dedicated paddlers! ]

Two years later and I’m back writing about my experience with MBX, except this time it’s about our keiki. Now, I’ve only been coaching these kids for about 2 years. By coaching, I mean I’m basically their den mom and assist Mike Smith, Head Keiki Coach for He’e Nalu. It’s pretty much it’s own insanely quirky family, including our amazing, supportive parents! So, when we had a crew of 9 keiki come up to us, explaining how they wanted to participate in MBX (Monterey Bay Crossing), there was no second guessing if these kids could accomplish it or not. They’ve proven enough times that if they set their minds to it, they can surpass any obstacles in their way. I’ve been privileged enough to be a part of this amazing adventure and now I share it
with you.

Coed Crew Finishing Kula Anela

Coed Crew Finishing Kula Anela

The NCOCA season has come to an end and our practices get harder. We paddle on the Petaluma River doing “bridge runs” which is 13 miles to Hwy 37 overpass and back. They have already proved to us that they can accomplish this in practice. Next step is heading out to Richardson Bay to run a few dry change practices in choppier waters and really help to set them up for any challenges ahead. The best part is seeing our adult paddlers reach out to coach and train with the crew. Handing down knowledge from their racing experiences, like passing on of the torch.

Keiki's crew after sprint #1 in Alameda

Keiki's crew after sprint #1 in Alameda

A 9-man Coed crew ranging from 17 years old to our youngest, 13 years old, will be racing against other adults in our beloved John Gieser, which was the same canoe my novice crew and I raced in for our first MBX. The first full keiki crew will be taking on those waters, which has already proven to be very challenging. This is definitely about endurance and a lot more about your mental strength. Almost 26 miles that could be rainy, cold and foggy, or sunny, clear, and hot! Yet, they train hard and show us every day that they are capable of this and more. Meet the crew accepting the challenge:

Conor Burns - 17 years old
“My name is Conor Burns and I have been paddling since before I can remember. This sport really means the world to me as it’s not like any other sport that I’ve tried, with the strong community and friendship. Most of all when I’m on the water, whether  it’s in an OC1 or with a full 6 man crew, nothing else matters but paddling.”

Amelia Bell - 16 years old
“The first time I tried paddling, I was 8 years old with my mom. It was unlike any other sport I’ve seen. Since then I’ve grown to love everything about it: the competition, the races, etc. But the thing that has kept me hooked all these years is the feeling of Ohana I get from everyone I’ve paddled with, no matter the club or crew.”

Coming in from a 26 mile paddle practice

Coming in from a 26 mile paddle practice

Zoe Bell - 14 years old
“I have been paddling since I was about 9 years old. I love the sport and continue to work and train because it’s so amazing being in the water, going to all these places, and being around such kind, energetic people.”

Paige McCallister - 17 years old
“I’m Paige McCallister and I have been paddling for 8 years. My goals are to
participate in many races all over the country and world. I hope to go to college for paddling someday. I’d also love to continue paddling all throughout my life.”

Madison McCallister - 17 years old
“I’ve been paddling for 8 years now and my goal is to go to the University of Hawaii for paddling and do the most wild and gnarly races as possible. When I’m paddling in a race, I feel like the strongest person in the world and no one can stop me of bring me down in that moment.”

Co-ed 1000m Sprints

Co-ed 1000m Sprints

Giuliano Bigattini - 17 years old
“I have been paddling for 3 years so far. I really like the sense of friendship and
community that comes with being part of this team. I paddle not only to have fun, but to get better and keep on improving. I paddle to learn from my elders such as George Marshall and the NorCal Juniors and to pass it onto the incoming generations. I have had the opportunity to have great mentors and coaches such as Richie, Jocelyn and Mike who help me learn about who I am and how to better myself as a teammate. I had the opportunity to race the 9-man at Oceanside last year. This year, I plan on racing the Monterey Bay Crossing.”

Vincenzo Bigattini - 13 years old
“I am Vincenzo Bigattini. I am 13 years old and I paddle because it really pushes you past your boundaries and forces you to work hard to get somewhere as fast as you can! I also love paddling because you have to learn to work as a team to be as successful as possible. I have been paddling for 3 seasons now and love the sport! You can decide if you like long or, short-distance or sprints, and choose to do the ones you want to. My favorite race, so far, has been “Round the Rock” and I am looking forward to being able to race in the Monterey Bay Crossing. I want to say thank you to my coaches Richie Lambert, Mike Smith and Jocelyn Wilson for helping me this far.”

Emma Dolcini - 16 years old
“My name is Emma Dolcini and paddle with He’e Nalu Outrigger Canoe Club in
Petaluma. Paddling gives me the feeling that no other sport does. From the first time I paddled 4 years ago until today, I’m always stoked for what my coaches and teammates have in store for me. When I was 12, I would never have imagined being 16, living the life I am, traveling and paddling, and meeting new people that have the same love for the sport. I’ve met paddlers from coast-to-coast who have opened my eyes to the culture from new perspectives, educating me, the next generation, to carry the Aloha spirit.

Aidan Smith - 16 years old
“Hey, Aidan Smith here. I just started paddling last year, but in so many ways it feels like so much more longer, due to the strong Ohana vibe that comes with the sport. You are instantly a part of the paddling family and community. Everyone looks out for you, making sure you’re ok. I love how your opponent that you are trying to beat out on the water, is family back on shore.”

Sprints Championships in Monterey with parents

Sprints Championships in Monterey with parents

Mike Smith - Head Coach
“I started paddling in 2001 at 15 years old. The community is a beautiful family that has kept me coming back. I have been coaching paddling for 6 years. The quality of people that paddling draws has made it the rewarding experience that it is. I began working with kids as a volunteer tutor in high school, as well as working as an assistant coach in the CYO basketball league. I also serve on the board of directors of the Petaluma Small Craft Center: a local non profit organization that seeks to make the Petaluma River more accessible to everyone, and to be a hub for all water based groups along the river.”

Jack Burns - Assistant Coach
“I’ve been paddling for about 13 years now and started helping out coaching the keiki when I was still racing in the 19 and under division. For the last four years or so I have been helping the coaches corral the kids at practices and races as well as working with them on technique, steering, etc.. I’ve known most of the kids since they first started paddling and It has been great to watch them develop both as paddlers and as people.”

You can see the drive and passion in their eyes. While racing or at practice, they are strong and focused on the water but what I love the most is that they are all smiling. They remember to always have fun in the end. Outrigger paddling is an extreme sport that can challenge you in so many ways but this sport is what brings us all together as one on and off the water. They watch us and learn and they are our future. The Aloha Spirit is a beautiful thing which our keiki have in them. So maybe, we’re learning from them as well.

If you would like to donate to help fund our MBX crew as well as our keiki program, please visit our page at

Cali Paddler Team Writer Jocelyn Wilson

Team Writer Jocelyn Wilson - Sometimes it take the enthusiasm of our newer paddlers to remind us all how fun paddling is. Jocelyn is such a reminder for us all as she has jumped in the last season and half with both feet and fully embraced the paddling experiences. We are grateful for her energy and excitement and love for outrigger paddling. Jocelyn paddles in Northern California and is excited to explore its waterways, bays and beaches.

If you have an idea for Jocelyn to write about or any questions, send it our way and we will pass it along!

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