OC1 Essay Contest Entry - Jennifer Dunavin

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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Jennifer Dunavin, California

I am fortunate enough to have grown up in Southern California and in Ventura County my whole life. As long as I remember, the ocean from Ventura, Malibu down to San Diego have been a part of who I am. Beach culture, no matter what coastline you are from, it seems we all share that same feeling of zen and exhilaration near or on the water. I am grateful to my parents who were transplants from the East Coast and the South. My stomping grounds were 12 miles south on Kanan Rd. Zuma and Malibu are where I swam, and surfed on occasion. The ocean has always been home to me. So, the question of how Outrigger Paddling has changed my life? The broad answer is, being my authentic self. Paddling found me, I did not find it.

Novice year 2017 with my Ohana, Hokuloa Outrigger Canoe Club. A close friend had introduced me. From her previous novice year, I heard so many stories of practice, races and gatherings. Until I actually stepped on the sand where our canoes rest, I had no idea what I was about to embark upon. On a Sunday morning, I finally took her up on the invitation to attend a clinic. I knew what the boats looked like, not realizing they are not docked, but on the sand facing front to our cove. Canoes ready to be lifted on wheels with many of the veterans of the club and new nervous faces. What stood out to me initially, the members were so helpful, and seemed like they could not wait to get on the water and share their knowledge. Being able to move that boat as one, and gliding across the top of the water was so completely different for me. I have kayaked, but this was on a another level. The gliding part initially may be an exaggeration, all of us clumsily plopped our blade in the water. All the same, when we landed and put the canoes back in their home, I knew I wanted to come out again and keep trying. That is exactly what I did, and became a Novice Hokuloan.

Each practice was more challenging than the next. Along with my Novice brothers and sisters, all of us were challenged, but always managed to laugh and enjoy each other. Then finally before my first race, we had the opportunity to go outside the harbor for a ten mile practice. I couldn’t believe I completed it in one piece, but felt amazing. As if I could lift the world on my shoulders. The next day, that’s exactly how my body felt. Soreness in  places I didn’t know could get sore, my hair hurt! All I wanted was more. Paddling brings me to a center of balance, all the while my personal life was chaos. Within four years, I lost my brother in law, As well as my mom. Then the living death to an end of my marriage of 18 years. While life was a swirling tornado of mourning, the ocean was always there waiting to see what I have in me to go up against her. She challenged me physically as well as emotionally.

As 2017 progressed, I participated in only three Iron races. In July if that year, my marriage was done and I had to break away from my team abruptly to deal with all of that. Fast forward to December. Sadly having to leave Ventura temporarily with my two teenagers, ironically to Oak Park, which was recently devastated by the Woolsey fires. The Thomas fires devastated Ventura. What seemed never ending, by February of 2018, I moved back to my home of Ventura. Just taking each day as it came, I had no expectations. I was a single mom now. Priorities are obvious. Roof over head, food and essentials. My friend also fellow teammate asked me if I was coming back to paddle?  My answer was that I’m not sure. Time, finances, the usual when you are trying to make a whole new life, and have even more responsibility. So happy just to be back, I made it down to our beautiful Harbor Cove Beach. She let me use her one man, while she and another teammate used a two man. The ocean again, my friend was there waiting for me. I was a little rusty, but she was behaving to gift me with a rejuvenating healing paddle out. I could smell the fire still in the air that decimated our beautiful hillsides. There was runoff in the ocean from charred homes that people lost, and could not return to build. The juxtaposition was I was free and rebuilding my life, healing just as Ventura was from the fires. I was motivated more than ever to go back to my team.

In 2018, I worked harder and participated in every Iron race. All the early mornings, labor, rigging, de-rigging, lifting boats onto a trailer. Waking up at 2:30 am to drive to San Diego to put in your time, race then turn right back around to do it all over again. Who does that? Obsessed paddler people that’s who! Which I am proud to be a part of. Paddling has brought me peace amongst life chaos. My kids also benefit from it. My daughter Camille, then 16 years old, also ended up joining. Doing Iron, Sprints and 9 man including the Catalina Crossing her first year! This all could not have been possible if it were not for the Ohana spirit that runs through this community. Not just my team, but our sister teams out there. We lift one another up, and I am grateful for all the opportunities and generosity of my paddling family. One of our many stunning summer evenings after a practice, the sunset was stunning.Tired, walking to my car, I grabbed my phone and decided to snap a photo.The Ocean called to me, while the  sun was fireball pink sinking into her. There was something familiar, where I was standing, the whole set up of the shot. I realized I had taken the same exact photograph one year ago almost to the day. Now life was so different. How amazing that you could be standing in the same exact spot under completely different circumstances. Perspective is everything, and I am grateful.  

What used to be a house of cards
Has turned into a reservoir
Save the tears that were water falling
Let's go swim tonight, darling
And once outside the undertow
Just you and me, and nothing more
If not for love, I would be drowning
I've seen it work both ways
But I am up riding high amongst the waves
Where I can feel like I
Have a soul that has been saved
Where I can feel like I've
Put away my early grave
I gotta say it now
Better loud than too late
~ Pearl Jam


Mahalo Nui Loa


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