OC1 Essay Contest Entry - Priscilla Tran

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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Priscilla Tran, California

Finding Myself on the Water

Before a few summers ago, I was too afraid to even step foot in  the water. Whenever someone asked if I wanted to go kayaking, I would  say, "Sure, but can you be in a double with me? I'm too scared to do it  alone." Yet even with someone in a kayak with me, I was still very scared and had a hard time relaxing when we would get out on the water.   That's because I was still very much afraid of being anywhere near the water.

A friend of mine started paddling outrigger canoes.  I remember his friend saying I should go out and give it a try as well.  Are you kidding me? I didn't even know how to swim and now you want to be THAT close to the water?!  I still remember that friend saying, “You should come out and give paddling a try. It’s pretty fun.” My response was simply, “I’ll think about it and we’ll see what happens.”  Two weeks later, I decided I wanted to give it a try.

I remember that very first day I went to recreational paddle.  I was scared and not just because I was about to be pushed out to the middle of the ocean, but because of all the people who were there that I didn’t even know.  For me, meeting new people is hard and opening up to them is even harder. I remember feeling panicked as I was guided towards the table to sign the waivers through the crowd of people I did not know.  That first day I went to rec paddle, I knew only two people. I remember my friend was walking in front of me and as each person we would walk pass, he would introduce me to them. I remember being greeted by so many different people as I was walking towards the table where I needed to sign the waiver.  They were all so nice and welcoming. It was almost too overwhelming for me. I recognized some of the people from the pictures and comments I had seen from Facebook. I was finally able to match the voice and personality to the pictures I had seen.

After signing the waiver and getting measured for a paddle, I walked over to the mini orientation that was being held by one of the seasoned members.  I remember the first time I held that paddle in my hands. Something happened that day when it was given to me. I’ll never forget that feeling. I was scared, but excited all at the same time.

“We don’t step over the canoes, but we walk around them.  It’s bad luck to step over them. We never put the blade of the paddle directly onto the ground because it could ruin them.”  As I was listening to the person giving the mini orientation, I remember almost talking myself out of even going out onto the water and screaming on the inside to not go, but I ended up down by the beach.  I remember how slow I was getting down there. Partly because things were poking at the bottom of my feet and partly because I was completely scared, but mostly because of the prickly things in the sand.

Finally when I got to where all the canoes were, we all got into a circle and some bald guy just starts yelling out what stretches we were supposed to be doing.  I just looked around me and followed the leader, but wait. Where am I supposed to put my paddle? I’m not supposed to put the blade part into the ground! Then I looked around me and saw that people had laid it down behind them and I followed.  “Get a good stretch before you go out so that you don’t pull anything or hurt yourself!” I remember the first time I was in that circle and thinking how some of these stretches are kind of funny and some I didn’t understand, but in the end it was good to stretch because I hadn’t done so in a while.

After stretches, we all stayed in a circle and gathered up into what is called a pule.  The head coach, whom we call Uncle, began the blessing. It was the first time I ever learned what it meant and it was the first time I could feel the love pouring out from everyone in that circle.  After the pule, everyone gathered in closer. Hands on top of each other or on top of someone’s shoulder and we all shouted loudly, “Ke Kai O’Uhane!” After that, they split all the seasoned paddlers and the new people into groups so that they could set the crews.  I remember being told to go into the white and maroon canoe with the word “Mirage” on the side of it and was told to sit in seat two. I was split from one of my friends and already I was freaking out, but there was another familiar face there. The same familiar face who told me to give paddling a try.  I remember walking over and saying, “They told me to sit in seat two,” and I remember what his response was. In a serious tone he said, “No, you’re not.” Instead he put me in seat 6 which is normally where the steers person would sit, but he sat on the back of the canoe instead which is also commonly known as seat 7.

As we paddled out, I remember shaking so bad that I wanted to start crying.  I didn’t want to go anymore. I was practically screaming at myself on the inside for doing it.  I remember feeling pains in my chest, but I didn’t say anything to anybody. I wanted to turn around and just wait on the beach.  All of a sudden I could hear the steers person counting the number of people he had and saying, “Hey, who are we missing?” When we looked back behind us, there was someone waving and jumping up down trying to get our attention.  I remember the steers person saying, “Sorry guys! We gotta go back for Kevin!” There was my chance to escape. That was the moment I could have said I wanted to get out, but there was a voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t allowed to leave the boat.  Not yet. Not until I really gave this sport a try.

As we paddled out for the second time, I remember feeling a little more relaxed.  I was doing my best to follow what everyone was doing. I remember splashing the person in front of me a lot.  I kept apologizing and she kept telling me that it was fine and I didn’t need to keep apologizing. “After all, it is a water sport,”  she would say every time I would apologize. I really think I started to annoy her and everyone in my crew at that point. I also remember I stopped paddling for a quick minute just to look around at what was around me, but was quickly told to keep paddling.  I felt the canoe slow down a bit whenever I wasn’t in time and whenever I stopped, but I kept going. I was feeling so encouraged. When it was time to go back in, there was another canoe next to us. My friend that came with that morning was in the other canoe.  I remember the steers person saying, “Look! There’s your friend! Lets see if we can beat their crew.” Joke or not, I remember feeling myself try to paddle faster and in time with the rest of the crew.

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.  I felt the most me when I was out there, when I am out there. After that moment, I have learned how to swim, I have cried with my new brothers and sisters, felt supported, and surmounts of unwavering love all for the love becoming a better paddler as well as a better version of myself.

As I sit here and reflect on the last few years, I do my best to remember how far I have come to be able to reach this point.  Before I found this sport, I had a hard time wanting to be and stay active let alone face the many fears I had and still have. I had a hard time believing in myself and in the people around me.  I still often find myself reflecting on many things and mainly it is of the fears and the anxiety of having those fears that have consistently been holding me back from many things. Yet I reflect on one of the most important things I have learned so far.

We are stronger than we truly believe we are, we are smarter than we think, and we are more loved than we know.

Paddling to me is not just a sport, but a place where I am learning and growing even when times are tough.  Even when we become the worst versions of ourselves, the love we share is something that is unforgettable. In paddling, you are always learning something new and you never stop learning or growing.  We paddle as one to pull the canoe forward. We work together as a team in order to move the canoe through the water. In the famous words of our head coach and our beloved Uncle, “When you’re in the canoe, shut up and paddle.”  When you “shut up and paddle,” you can work together as a team and pull the canoe through any kind of water conditions.

There are not enough words in any language to express the feeling of gratitude I have had during these last few years of paddling.  I have overcome so much in such a short time period. From overcoming my fears to making friends that will last for more than a lifetime, it’s strange to believe that this is my reality.  I keep wondering if one day I wake up and have this only be a dream, but it’s not.

If I win, I would be forever grateful for this gift, but paddling is more than just a sport, it’s ohana and love.  I would want to share this with everyone around me because I believe that it is the true meaning and origins of this sport and culture.  When I am ready to part ways with the canoe, I would give it to another deserving paddler and be sure to share the origins of how I came to own this boat.  I would share the history it has had, the love of the sport, and the fears that one has overcome before owning this boat.


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.


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