The Inland Paddler: So Long, 2016, and Thanks for all the Fish

Lisa Schell Columns, The Inland Paddler Leave a Comment

2016 came in like a lamb but seems to be leaving like a lion.  A rogue lion that has rampaged through the savannah of our childhoods, our pop culture and even our political landscape. A quick look at social media reveals that more than a few folks are ready to slam the door shut on 2016.

When I look back on this year, all I can see is the contrast to the two years prior, which for me were filled with loss and sadness and the pain that comes with taking care of aging parents and losing them both within three months of each other.  It was 2015 that I was ready to kick to the curb.  2016 came in filled with relief and promise.

And for me, it more than delivered. Even if the last few months have been trying.

The Year of the Downwinder

Bluesmiths Kanaha

There were so many firsts this year for me – my first visit to the Surf Expo and Outdoor Retailer trade shows were I got to return to the notepad and pencil and voice recorder and become a working journalist again, after a 20 some-odd year hiatus.  There was my first experience with formal, long-term training over the off-season with a coach and trainer (the indomitable April Zilg) who helped me reach several other firsts, including The Graveyard at the Carolina Cup, the Olukai on Maui’s Maliko Run followed by the Paddle Imua and then the Gorge Paddle Challenge on the Columbia in Hood River, Oregon. I even managed to place in my division in that last one, much to my surprise. And then my first Surf to Sound, which involved a mini-downwinder followed by a hellacious upwind battle.  During my stay on Maui, I got to take advantage of the shifting tradewinds and do a downwind run on the Kihei side of the island, which provides a subtle contrast to its big brother Maliko.  Through all of it, I became obsessed with downwinding. I cannot wait to build on the skills I acquired this year.

The Year of the Outrigger

Inland Paddler Being the Bug

Much of my paddling, training and races this year took place in the Puakea Ehukai…a fast, sleek yet sometimes temperamental craft that can be demanding. We had a rocky start together in the inlet at the Graveyard and we suffered through our very first Did Not Fun (DNF) at a race in Virginia Beach. But we stuck together and we practiced our hulis, and our ama-flying and by the time it was all over, we were best buds.  The Colonial in New Bern was a turning point in learning how to think and get through obstacles, and then in Charleston Harbor, during the long course of the Chucktown Showdown, we had an outrigger epiphany.  All of that lead up to the grand finish for the paddle season at Chattajack. Putting everything I learned from both paddling OC and in the big waters of Hawaii and Oregon, I jumped in the OC2 with an amazing paddler, athlete and friend, Dana and we crushed it.  How we paddled that race, especially those last three miles, and the feeling of getting on the podium at CJ is going to stick with me for the rest of my life. No so much because we placed – but because of the overall experience and how absolutely amazing it was to paddle together and work as a team. I have had some special times on the water alone, but nothing, nothing at all can compare to that.

Well…unless it was that very first wave I surfed in Mason’s Inlet — and that last one, which was ENORMOUS.  I think I both scared and provided John and Dave with more entertainment that day that they could ever stream off of Netflix.   That day surfing OCs in the inlet was truly epic. Let’s face it – each time in the inlet is epic in one way or another.

Ohana

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Most importantly, though, all of this lead to a deepening of my paddle family – from John and Larry with whom I spent lots of time both working on projects (like John trying to teach me to surf!)  but also talking seriously and laughing too – to my training partners, The Vanilla Wafers,  who offered constant encouragement and support, to my inland paddle ohana, Team Leeghiit  in Tennessee, Georgia and Arizona, who I just can’t see often enough.  My Hawaii ohana – they too provided inspiration, instruction and aloha when I needed it the most. And of course, Joel and Coli.

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This year would have been so empty without the Yang family. My year was made richer because of these folks.  And if 2017 can keep them closer, then I am more than ready to welcome it in.

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New Year, New Goals

Yet, part of me doesn’t want to let this year go.  Part of me doesn’t believe 2017 could be any better.  It will be different.  What I am hoping for it that I can take all the lessons I have learned in this year, and build on them in 2017.  Handle whatever it may bring.  I want to improve on what I started.  That means spending less than 45 minutes in Mason’s Inlet during the Graveyard.  Paddling more confidently in the Olukai, and maybe trying a bigger challenge.

But most importantly, I want to continue the fun that is paddling.  The sublime feeling of downwinding and surfing and of sharing it all with your best mates.

After all, that’s really why we do this, isn’t it?

Hau’oli makahiki hou, y’all!!!

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