“You guys know what to do. Just do your jobs”
Molokai Hoe 2017
The Molokai Hoe is one of the most well known, longest running, and most prestigious 6-man outrigger races in the world. The best teams, canoe clubs, and paddlers compete against one another across the 42 mile long Kaiwi Channel, otherwise known as the “channel of bones”. These past two years I have raced with the Ka Lahui Kai (Hui Nalu Canoe Club) Jr. team and we cracked top 20 overall in 2016, and placed 11th overall this year (2017). This is my recap of our crew’s race during this years Molokai Hoe. Join me and get personal with what was happening in our race, what it felt like to be in the canoe, and things we had to overcome. Enjoy.
“You guys know what to do. Just do your jobs”, said T-Bear, one of our coaches, during our crew’s team meeting the night before the race. He told us this with affirmation and confidence and hearing this from ex-coach/paddler of Team Livestrong, instilled self-assurance and self-confidence into our team. He put it into perspective that we knew what to do, and what we had to do. We just had to do it.
Going into this race, there was lots of anticipation as to how we would place overall. Last year, as I said above, we had achieved 19th overall, and 1st place in the junior category. There was that pressure and question of, where will we be placing this year? There were talks amongst the team of placing top 15, maybe a top 10, maybe. Our coaches knew this, and said, “Don’t worry about the number. If you focus on the number, and you aren’t where you want to be, then you’ll be disappointed. Don’t think about it. Do your best. Go into the race with no expectations”.
We accepted this mindset, and knew we were in for a ride when on the escort boat, after about 25 minutes into the race, we heard over the radio, “56 at the front of the pack. 56 at the front of the pack”. Our coach, Alan, turned and looked at the 3 of us sitting on the bench on the back of the boat, yelling with the biggest smile, “Did you hear that?? We’re leading the pack!”
Everyone on the boat looked at one another with excitement. Chills ran throughout my body, and at this moment, a switch was turned on. A switch of focus, where nothing else mattered in life but what was happening now; the race, the canoe, my nutrition, and the job I had to do.
Moments later, we were then cleared by the officials to find our crew and make our first change. It was go time.
“Neutral!” I hear from our boat captain, then, “Go!”. Standing on the rail of the boat, I pushed off and leaped into the purple-blue water of the Kaiwi Channel. After about 20 seconds of treading water, the nose of the canoe passed by and I skimmed a hand along the side.
In my head, I was saying, “Seat 5; There it is; almost there”, I went under the back iako, then; BOOM; GRAB; PUSHUP; Into the seat I went, swung the legs in, grabbed the paddle; zipped up the cover; and began paddling. We were in.
Around the time of our first change, the chaos of the escort boats stirred up lots of boat wake and plenty of bumps. We would settle our pace, push a few strokes, get in to bump with ease, surf it, then we would settle until another one came. It was unbelievably easy, and the blend we shared was unreal.
Minutes later the conditions began to smooth out, and the pace did also. It was weird; something was different.. What we were doing was easy, almost, and the feeling in the canoe was amazing.. We weren’t sprinting or working too hard… All the boys were paddling together seamlessly, and we suddenly knew that we could hold this pace for hours to come.
I just couldn’t get over it.
The canoe was running so well and when Hunter Pflueger, Aukai Manson, and I were on the escort boat, we all shared these mutual feelings with one another. It made our spirits so high, and the positive energy was flowing. Man, it was awesome.
Something was also different; Something that I’ve never experienced before, or at least significantly noticed. Our canoe was silent. Everything was silent. You could hear the sound of the water moving under the canoe, the hum of the escort boat, you could hear other crews yelling, but us? Dead silent; Focused.
Kala Diaz, our seat 4, made his change calls quiet, minimalistic, and precise. There was no hesitation, no confusion, and no questioning in the canoe. Everyone was doing their job. We were all paddling as one unit; as brothers.
After the race, our coach said that he’d never seen so much professionalism in canoe race. Everyone was doing what they had to do, both in and out of the canoe. On the escort boat no one looked around, cheered excessively, or used unnecessary energy. It was sit, eat, hydrate, rest. Nothing more, nothing less. In the canoe, no one said anything except seats 3 or 4, depending on who wanted to call changes and bumps. No one else said a word. Everyone was dialed in to one another.
One of the most memorable moments during this crossing was when we were chasing down Team Cronulla’s masters team. They were in front and to our right for the longest time, then all of a sudden our line’s matched up, and they were directly in front of us. Each change they’d get closer and closer, and finally, they were right there. Maybe 100 yards ahead.
Everyone was pumped about this. We knew we could catch them, and we all communicated to one another that we’d drop them in the next two changes. Myself and 2 others got out of the canoe, and watched as the boys in the canoe made magnificent ground. One bump after the next, the gap closed. Then it was our turn.
As soon as we got into the canoe (seat 1, myself in 2, and seat 4), the pace was explosive. One bump, then another, and another. They were a canoe-length away, then, we dropped into a massive wave. Sprinting to connect to another, we zoomed past the other team, and caught two more sizeable waves to solidify our gap.
This was a testament to the fact that we all knew what we had to do in order to place well and achieve a good finishing position. It proved that we were all on the same page; It proved that we would and could do anything together as a crew.
During the Molokai Hoe, you hear that the race doesn’t really begin until the last hour to two hours of the race.. This is incredibly true. During the last 2 hours, everyone begins to come off their line and teams begin to funnel together. This is where the race for overall positioning takes place.
Our race started once we passed that Masters team.
The grind began and the pain really started to settle in. But, we all knew all the other crews were feeling like this as well. We knew that we had to keep going no matter what.
The skin on my hands burned from the wood finish of our paddles, and the first every few strokes after getting in the canoe were incredibly painful. Muscularly, you could feel the ache, the fatigue, and that loss of strength when the pace would be brought up. We all felt like this, and it was beginning to get to us.
We had some cramping issues about a mile or two off of Diamond Head, where power and steering were affected. But, we had to adjust, and we had to adjust quickly. We made a steersman change, and kept trekking on; Kept pushing through that pain.
That masters crew crept up on us again, and it was a total grind after we passed Outrigger Canoe Club. Every change mattered. Where, one change we’d be in front, then the next they would be right with us. It was a battle, and after 5 hours of paddling, it was one that hurt. It got to the point where we knew if we made another change, and they didn’t, that they’d pull ahead and pass us. At this moment, we didn’t hear the escort boat ever again until we approached the finish line.
Distant yells were all we heard
We focused hard onto that orange right-turn buoy. The pain was immense, but that finish-line instinct, or simply a rush of adrenaline kicked in, and we shifted into another gear. Personally, the feeling of pain went away and I was just numb, going through the motions, and continuing to grind. Pushing so hard that it all just went away. The finish was meters away, and one last sprint brought us across the finish line. We did it; 11th place overall.
After having two weeks to process what went down in the channel, it is still all so surreal. What I continue to ponder in awe about, is that when we found out that we were around top 10, we weren’t going too hard, or pushing our boundaries at all. We were meant to be there; It was real. We weren’t drinking spooky juice or running on jet fuel. It was just us, just paddling… It was the coolest thing ever.
Then there was the focus and professionalism of the team.
Everyone was 110% focused on what we were doing. Everyone did their jobs and did exactly what they had to do. The focus, determination, and drive that everyone shared was unreal. Everyone’s feelings were mutual throughout the entire race. There were never any questions, no confusion, or any major problems. When I really think about it, we truly crossed that line of being 9 guys on a team, to being 9 guys that were truly connected; being brothers. We fought for one another, and when someone went down, we rose up and paddled stronger and harder for that person. We banded muscles, bodies, and minds together. It was a feeling that I’ve never felt before. It was a feeling that I still can’t wrap my head around and describe in detail.
In the end, when everything is put into perspective, we were all just doing our jobs.
Big shoutout to all the boys, Hunter Pflueger, RIley Kawananakoa, Ryland Hart, Aukai Manson, Kala Diaz, Ethan Siegfried, Keahi Agnieray, and Noa Kerner. A huge thank you goes out to boat coaches Thibert “T-Bear” Lussiaa, Mike Field, and Captain/Coach Alan Pflueger for everything. Thank you Hayden Ramler for manning the camera the whole race and sharing encouraging words. Thank you to the Ka Lahui Kai program, Hui Nalu Canoe Club, and our sponsors Pacific Honda, Puakea Designs, Make a Wish Hawaii, 2XU, and Surftech for making everything possible. And THANK YOU to the moms, dads, wives, sisters, and brothers that also make sacrifices so that we can dedicate our lives to this race every year. Thank you.
All pictures by Hayden Ramler