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?”
Kevin John Siason, Toronto Canada
You’d think that as someone who was born in the Philippines—a country made up of thousands of islands—I would’ve spent ample time out on the ocean. The same thought might also occur to you when you find out that after immigrating to the U.S. with my family at the ripe age of two, I spent the majority of my formative years living in the city of Brea, a suburb that is just under an hour’s drive away from Southern California’s warm sunny beaches. You’d probably think that that’s where I found my love of paddling—but no. I’ve actually never paddled in the Pacific Ocean. I discovered this amazing sport on a cold, rainy September day on the freshwater shores of Lake Ontario. Yup. A born islander who grew up in sunny SoCal managed to somehow let any knowledge of this mostly-ocean-based sport completely evade his attention until he found himself in Toronto, Canada. Pretty wild, right?
Rewind to four years ago. It was the beginning of my third year at Ryerson University when I finally worked up the nerve to tell my friends that I was considering joining the school’s dragonboat team, having seen posters about it in the hallways over the years. You see, I wasn’t really the sporty type, and thus thought that that confession would bring about snide remarks about how I’d never be able to keep up. Luckily for me, one of my friends had already been on the team for a year (a fact I had been completely unaware of), and she convinced me to check out the intro day they were holding that weekend. The timing could not have been more perfect.
I signed up, and we were asked to wake up insanely early to attend a quick info session before getting a chance to experience a day out on the water. I had absolutely no clue what I was doing and the weather was complete shit, but the second our boat left the dock and we started taking a few uneasy strokes, I knew something had changed in me—I had found a sport I could see myself falling in love with (I even have the Instagram post from that exact day to prove it: https://www.instagram.com/p/70tk4jxIdY/ ). As I learned more and more about paddling and proper technique over the next three years, I found that I actually enjoyed the challenge of pursuing that perfect stroke form and working slowly but surely at building up my strength and stamina. Before I found paddling, I had never considered myself an athlete, much less an endurance athlete. But would you believe me if I told you that last September, I paddled a 17km race in OC6 with my coach and some of my teammates? (You don’t have to take my word for it because I have an Instagram post to prove that as well 😜: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bob8UqSB34f/ )
Fast forward to today. I’ve just completed my first regatta for the Ryerson Rams Dragonboat Club as junior coach. Yup, after three years as a paddler, our head coach asked if I wanted to join the coaching staff as one of the coaches in training. Of course, I jumped at the chance—as did my boyfriend and a few of our other friends from the team who were asked. This year, our team is in the middle of a rebuild—having gone from three boats of experienced paddlers down to a single boat that is 85% rookies—and even though that boat was mostly managed and taught by us junior coaches, we still managed to get on the podium twice this weekend, winning a gold in our 200m final and a bronze in our 500m final. I am so proud of them. Seeing the joy and excitement on their faces as we crossed the finish line knowing we had a good chance of getting a medal was totally worth losing my voice from yelling calls from the drummer’s seat all weekend.
If I were to win this Huki, I would use it to help train these newer paddlers and instill in them the kind of deeper love for paddling that I have acquired since 2015. Sure, the boat is fun a way for me to train for dragonboat and long-distance OC racing, but paddling is about more than just training, right? It’s also about the joy of simply being out on the water and being a part of nature in a way that a vast majority of people in this world don’t get to experience on a regular basis. Maybe one day I’ll pass the boat along to another junior coach; perhaps someone who I had taught since they first learned how to paddle so that they can also pass on this love. But for now, I’m focused on what’s coming up for me and my team. This upcoming weekend we’ll be travelling to Vancouver to compete in the Concord Pacific Dragonboat Festival, which is also known as the regatta where the sport of dragonboat was first introduced to Canada. I’ll be there mostly as a junior coach doing most of the drumming, but I told our head coach that for at least one race, I want to be put back in the boat so I can paddle alongside my teammates—and finally take my first few strokes in the Pacific.
My name is Kevin John Siazon and I’m a SoCal boy now living in Toronto (although I travel back home quite often).