The Inland Paddler: Live Aloha, Y’all

Lisa Schell Columns, The Inland Paddler Leave a Comment

I am writing tonight in Wrightsville Beach.  It’s the eve of the Surf to Sound weekend…which this year also coincides with my least favorite day of the year – the End of Daylight Savings Time.  This year, on the day we turn the clocks back, signaling the beginning of the annual Long, Dark Teatime of my Soul, I will also participate in my last OC-1 race of the year.  And worst yet, I will say aloha to most of my paddle ohana for another five months.

Which right now just seems like an eternity.

So, it’s a bittersweet weekend.  Finishing the season where it began back in April at the Carolina Cup.

It’s a time to celebrate. To socialize. To reflect on all the amazing things that happened this year. 

But the saying aloha part, it’s tough.

It all started with a small training group lead by the inimitable April Zlig, some times known as the Vanilla Gorilla.  She pushed us throughout the winter.  She got us in the water when it was cold and we didn’t want to go.  She refined our paddle strokes. She got us over fears.  She kicked our asses.  I will never forget one of the mornings in March, when it was cold, and rough and she coerced us into a beach start, after we had already decided we’d go out for a Graveyard run on the sound side.  We’d done the surf check before she joined us and had decided it was too rough.  April took a quick look at it and in one sentence cut me down to weenie size.

“If you think THAT is too rough, then you need to cancel your ticket to Maui right now!!!” It would be my first Carolina Cup Graveyard this year, but the Olukai on Maui was my main goal. I tucked my ama between my legs, figuratively speaking, sucked it up and had an epic day.  That phrase though, it would stay with me until I found myself walking across the rocks at Maliko, ready to make the run down Maui’s North Shore …a dream come true.

For the rest of my season, whenever things got tough, I would hear April’s voice. I would literally hear it on the beach at the carnage-filled start of the Carolina Cup – telling me to PADDLE PADDLE PADDLE.  It would have been easy to have quit without even getting passed the first buoy that morning but April kept me going. Along with the support and encouragement of my fellow training group members.  We started calling ourselves the Vanilla Wafers – or Wafers for short. Man, was I ever glad to see all of them at the end of the finish of that race.

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That support continued throughout the summer. Via Facebook, texts, emails. Connected by the weekly suffering we all endured, usually the result of interval session after interval session. More often than not, we would commiserate together over tacos.

Meanwhile in Georgia, Tennessee, Arizona and New Zealand, another important group of paddle crazies kept me motivated, laughing and feeling loved, even though some serious distance separated us.

“Team Leghiit” coalesced right after last year’s Chattajack race, in Dottie Hodge’s kitchen. It was then we all decided to share a rental house for the Carolina Cup this year.  Throughout the winter, we kept each other motivated and determined through the magjc of technology.  We came back together in April and shared a wonderful place just down the street from Blockade Runner.  Morning coffee together, a trip to Whole Foods where I learned the value of beet shots from Kim Hillhouse, impromptu technique sessions on the lawn with Larry Cain, who stopped by on his way back from Tower Seven, and more laughter and love in a three-day time period thats I can ever remember experiencing.  We picked up a straggler that weekend, an energetic prone and OC paddler from Arizona named Vince who hung around with us, offered to carry our gear or get us food, made us laugh and wormed his way into our hearts. Another one of them, Hannah, ended up having to go back to her native New Zealand but managed to come back to race Chattajack.  Seeing her was one of the best parts about that race this year.  Having to say goodbye again, not so much.

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It’s one thing when you have so much love for one, single person that it aches when you are not around them, but when it’s a whole group of people, that’s something else completely.  My heart is still aching.

Then there are all the people in between…

…from members of Facebook’s 100/100 paddle challenge group – including Jeremy Whitted from Charleston, who I kept seeing no matter where I went.  He became my unofficial travel buddy.

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Then, there were the Paddle Monsters and Coach Cain, who not only helped me survive my most grueling races but became a valued friend. Or my “brother and niece” Joel and Coli Yang in the Pacific Northwest who were already family before I ever got to meet them in person this June.  And of course, my Maui bruddahs and sistahs….thanks to all these folks and many, many others, it has been an amazing season.  I am so grateful and thankful to have all of  these awesome paddlers who are even more amazing people in my life.  

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We talk about this a lot…

…about the uniqueness of our sport- how we are a big paddle family, bound together by the water that keeps us all connected. I hope as our sport grows and develops this aspect of it never changes.  Not only does it make us better athletes, it makes us better people.

I find myself wanting to spread the stoke in my daily, mundane activities – and by that I don’t mean that I try to indoctrinate everyone I come into contact with wonderful world of paddling. No, what I mean is I find myself trying to pass on the positivity, optimism and friendliness that has been shown to me by my wide-ranging paddle family. Maybe it’s just saying hello to a stranger, or smiling and opening a door for someone, or buying the person behind me at Starbuck’s his or her cup of coffee. Or refraining from getting into a stupid Facebook-provoked argument. It’s the idea of Living Aloha with a capital A.

At this year’s pre-Chattajack bonfire hosted by Dottie and Hal, my “sherpa” who had never been around paddle folk was struck by how she received an immediate hug whenever she was introduced to someone  “Your friends are very nice,” she remarked, in sort of a bewildered way.  Yes, yes they are.  It’s just the way paddle peeps tend to be.

As I start to look at my paddle goals for the next year, it occurs to me that things could change.  I might not be able to visit as many places as I did this year or go to as many races.  Or I might not have as many successes as I did this year.  There is uncertainty in the air. Sometimes that uncertainty is unsettling.

But no matter what else might happen around me, no matter where things go, I know this: my paddle ohana – my Wafers, Team Leghiit, all of them – will always be there, not matter what.  That will not change.  And as long as we keep spreading the stoke, there is hope.

And that makes me smile.

Live Aloha. And Pass it on.