OC1 Essay Content Entry - Gisella “Gigi” Gigglberger

The following submission was made as an entry to win a OC1 from an amazingly generous donor, who wanted to see the canoe truly enjoyed, rather than turn a profit. Entrants were asked to submit an essay answering the following:

  • Part 1: “Describe how paddling has changed your life.”
  • Part 2: “How do you plan to use this canoe, and perhaps someday pass it along?”

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Gisella “Gigi” Gigglberger, California

Let me say how exciting this opportunity is for someone like me! An essay contest for an OC1? This 5th grade teacher right here is grateful and astounded not only by the gift giver’s generosity but the unique means of delivering the gift. While I haven’t entered an essay contest myself since the 8th grade, I definitely encourage my students to enter essay contests as a way to find their voice and send their writing out into the world to a new audience. In their honor, I will follow my own advice and capture my voice to express how paddling has changed my life and how grateful I am it did.

Showing Up

I first heard about this sport and accompanying lifestyle while at a friend’s party back in 2005. As a group of us stood around this tall, charismatic man sharing his paddling story, I was hooked. I had been missing my organized sports and its social aspect of days gone by (crew in college and soccer in high school) and this sounded perfect! As a San Diego native, how could a sport involving the ocean not entice me? I paid attention to the next season’s new paddler orientation and showed up by myself in February 2006. You see, for me in those days to do anything new by myself was unheard of. Of course I liked trying new things with my friends around me; there was a certain safety in numbers I had grown accustomed to. However, that was pretty limiting. Thankfully, the paddling call was stronger than that comfort, so it didn’t matter that none of my friends came with me. After the presentation video, meeting coaches and paddlers (including my re-connection with my new tall, charismatic friend from the party who shall remain nameless), we took a short spin around the cove there at Fiesta Island and immediately upon returning to shore I exclaimed, “Sign me up!” I have been showing up for fourteen seasons. For six months out of the year, I show up three times a week pretty consistently. How do I know this to be true? I actually keep track of my attendance. Ask my coach, she knows I proudly self report my attendance because I have never stuck with something extracurricular that long in my life! That proof used to sit in my garage collecting dust: golf shoes, tap shoes, snowboard, roller blades, art supplies, you get the picture. My paddling gear follows me around in my car’s trunk and the back seat because I never know when I might need to jump in a canoe. It does not stay still long enough to gather dust. I want to be ready. Because of paddling, I transferred the serious sense of accountability I have for my teaching career and students to something that started as a hobby. I believe it switched from hobby to lifestyle and passion pretty early on.

Six as One

Through the seasons of OC6 paddling, I made and strengthened connections with like minded people that I would not have otherwise crossed paths with out there on land in everyday life. I entrust my life into teammates’ hands as we battle waves, wind, wildlife of many forms, boat wakes, jet plane noise, fishing lines, rocks, the shallows, the doldrums, and my imagination (the SCORA waiver does a real number on mine). We have to help each other stay safe, accountable, perseverent and upright. That’s the only way we make it back to the shore ready to do it again. Through the years I have witnessed or celebrated some teammates’ major happy life events (birthdays, weddings, babies, new jobs) and rally around those who suffer the tough, not so happy ones (injuries, surgeries, illnesses, deaths in families). We gather together to bless new canoes, celebrate wins on and off the water, welcome paddlers from around the world and bestow scholarships to water-sport playing high school students. I have joined our Row for the Cure fundraiser crew and paddled in honor of our teammates now surviving breast cancer. We have a canoe with some of our men’s name inscribed on it in honor of those who helped save a fellow paddler’s life one day as he suffered a heart attack right there on the beach. I see the power of a family like ours and it is humbling. I have my own personal connection to this bolstering life force this team and sport has brought me. On a rainy, flash flood Tuesday in January 2016, before the season ever started that year, my condo complex and my garage took on nearly 30 inches of water. Needless to say, after my neighbors and I emptied out our collective saturated possessions into the street for trash collection scheduled for the next day and my walls were torn apart to prevent mold, many of my teammates answered a last minute call that following Saturday. They came over and joined some other friends of mine move the remaining boxes up to higher ground because I couldn’t lift another box. They didn’t stop there: they brought tools over and scraped mud off the floor, put drywall scraps into trash bags and in true strong paddler fashion removed a very bolted shelving unit off the wall since the saturation had started expanding the plywood rendering it useless. We had some laughs that day and I cried with sheer exhaustion and gratitude. At the next club meeting, they presented me with a card and envelope full of donations so I could buy a new washer and dryer. One does not soon forget the cacophony of those machines lifting and crashing into my flooded out car. My teammates literally had my back. While I had lost material possessions, I gained a new view of my teammates in how their selfless gift of time and support that day made all the difference. Once again, paddling changed me and made me a better person.

No (More Self) Doubt

It took me a few years to believe I was strong enough to race 9man. I remember asking my coach if she thought I was ready and she confirmed I was. She shared that she had known I was ready for a while but that I had to believe I was. I think I struggled with self doubt during those early years because I knew I wasn’t the most experienced, the youngest, the skinniest or the most athletic, those are all the nagging insecurities that sure can put a damper on things. I needed to find my niche and I found it through my strength in the engine room (Seats 3-4). I asked the same question again when I asked if I was ready for the Catalina Crossing. Once again, the answer was the same, Coach thought I was, but did I? While 2010 remains my one and only crossing for various reasons, I asked Coach the question for a third time, was I ready to iron 2014’s Queen Liliuokalani Race? Yes, if I continued to put the work in leading up to it, I was. So I went for it and had the time of my life!. While I trust my coach’s opinion implicitly, I continue to work on trusting myself and my capabilities. I can choose to let my insecurities make decisions for me or I can make them on my own. Obviously, I paddle for the fun and exercise of it but a trinket is a nice reward to spur on some more motivation. If it were just about the medals, I would have quit a long time ago. But lucky for me, I have a healthy amount of perseverance and grit to get me to the other side.Honestly, I haven’t won a lot of medals. It’s a shockingly low number for someone with fourteen seasons of pretty consistent practice attendance. My first iron medal was in 2017, a third place stein at Marina, and I burst into tears upon hearing we had placed. I initially thought my teammates were teasing me. While many teammates were surprised at my teary reaction, I was overcome with disbelief and pure joy. Finally! There was probably some exhaustion in there also since Marina del Rey mornings are usually 3am wake up calls. I also wanted to reach out and share the news with my mom and dad but I knew the happy news would get lost over the phone so I would have to wait until I could tell them in person. You see, while my parents had been supportive and interested in my sport, they stopped going to the San Diego based races when my mom started declining due to dementia. She loved the beach, the Hawaiian plate lunches, the music, the aloha spirit at races, but couldn’t enjoy it anymore. Going to away races meant a schedule change for caretakers so it was a big deal for me to go away. I share this information because I found paddling practices and races to be the only place where I didn’t have to have a phone with me and I could let my mind get into and stay in the meditative zone. My tears were in part because I couldn’t share the news right away with mom and a reminder of how much things had changed since her diagnosis. My mom passed away in March 2018, the night before the first practice of the season, finally succumbing to the ravages of dementia. I knew I had to go to that first practice, there was no better place to be. I needed the water and my teammates around me. I have a sign hanging in my place, “The ocean fixes everything.” I believe that. Without a doubt, paddling continues to push, test and heal me in many ways, on and off the water. For that, I am grateful.

Paying It Forward

I know I need to cross train in an OC1. I can count the times I have been on an OC1 and its around fourteen, not coincidentally the same number of time trials I have had over my fourteen seasons. I know my seat tests, seat races and practice attendance have to compensate for my lack of OC1 experience. I know there are other ways to cross train but I would love to be part of that “floatilla” I see launch from the Bahia. I hear about how much fun they have seeing the whales and dolphins while they paddle out there en masse. I see how strong and fast they are when the OC6 season starts after their off season conditioning and OC1 race season ends. I see our clubhouse storing the beautiful canoes the paddlers have fixed up and proudly named and decorated. I have been watching the “For Sale” postings on the various Facebook paddling-centric sites for awhile now because I know that’s the next step in my paddling “career”. I know it’s how I can get seated in a higher canoe for race day. It seems that every time I have gone to contact a seller, some expense more pressing and more urgent comes up and it wipes out any extra money saved up. Life happens, I get that. Everyone has their version of a flood or Mom care expenses like I did. But I waited for the next opportunity and here it is. I know I have benefitted over the years by my teammates who loaned out their prized possessions on time trial day. I always treat their canoes with the utmost respect and care when taking it out for my time trial run. I would do the same thing if I were lucky enough to win one. I know how far the ripple effect of giving goes and I will be more than ready, willing and able to pay it forward when it is my turn. Winning an OC1 would not only be the biggest prize I have ever won but it would definitely change the trajectory of my paddling technique, skill and life. I can guarantee it would never collect dust in my garage, never sold only passed on to another deserving paddler, and it would be loved and cared for in the manner befitting a symbol of generosity, accountability, self assurance, freedom and family. Thank you for this opportunity to share how paddling has changed my life.
Gisella “Gigi” Gigglberger
Hanohano OCC since 2006


I was born in San Diego in 1969, grew up in the east county, went to University of San Diego High School and attended the University of the Pacific, graduating with a BA in Communicative Disorders. I attended SDSU for the teaching credential and later earned an MA in Education there. I have been a teacher for the San Diego Unified School District for 25 years. Growing up, I played Santee Bobby Sox and Santee AYSO soccer. I fell in love with rowing at the 1988 San Diego Crew Classic and I joined the college crew team. Now I love outrigger paddling, yoga and my swim workouts at the Tierrasanta Rec Center’s pool. I swam the La Jolla Rough Water Swim in 2000. I love my niece, her pugs, a good carne asada burrito, my book club and the ocean. I highly recommend contacting the Alzheimer's Association of San Diego for anyone in need of support or resources for dementia related issues.


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