I came into this race not really knowing what to expect, just knowing I wanted to celebrate my love and respect for the ocean. I wanted to really feel its power. I trained hard on land and in the water trying to prep myself for the unknown. Of course living in Florida has its major disadvantages on any true downwind conditions, so I hoped my surfing background would assist in this and did MANY head wind paddles. The winds were forecasted to be mostly from the east which is a favorable direction. I signed up for the women's Unlimited division, where most of the girls are on a 17' + boards with steering (many I think were actually on 17'10). Because of my lack of any experience on a 17' I decided to use a 14' board with steering (which bc of the steering put me in the unlimited division). Of course this meant I would be slower than the girls on a 17' + due to equipment alone, but I just wanted to have a comfortable journey and make it to the finish line. This was my first channel crossing, my first "real" downwinder and the longest I have ever paddled in my life. Also my first real time on a rudder board in some real conditions. And what other way to do so many first than in the worlds most difficult open ocean race?! HA!
Race morning came in what seemed like forever but wound up being a blink of an eye- After the prayer we got ready to start…before you knew it the horn blew (unexpectedly actually..half of us were all sitting on our boards still) The start was very overcast and you could hardly see Oahu. Our boats were allowed to come to us at 30 mins in and mine found me quickly (thanks guys!). It was pretty rainy and overcast and soon, we lost all sight of Oahu and were paddling to the unknown, trusting solely on our boat crew. What a weird feeling being in the middle of this vast wild body of water and really having no clue what direction you're going.
After the first hour we started getting into some bumps and getting some fun glides. But around 1:30-2 hours we got into some real stuff. The swell was probably 8-10 ft.
The seas were big, with rainstorms and pretty unorganized but I was thinking in my head the whole time this is prob the best downwinder in my life so far and to enjoy its craziness because when I get home Ill never get anything remotely close to this. Once, I turned to try and see Molokai and clenched up as I almost got thrown off my board, my hamstring tightened up pretty bad at that point so I decided to pick and choose my moves cautiously to avoid any catastrophic cramping or injuries. At this point I had flying fish buzzing all around me, jumping over my feet and board. It was so cool...
I didn't see any "Tony the Tigers" (sharks) thank God, but my boat crew saw a school of 30lb Mahis jumping about 200 yards away from me.
I was trying to dial in the rudder bc it was pulling a lot to the right so I constantly had to lean on it to catch the left swells. That was kind of annoying.
I tried to remain in a groove with the ocean…just trying to feel it and not think. It seemed to work. My first water pack change was in the middle of the craziness and that made it quite interesting, but went smooth..
At this point my lower back was a bit tight, and some old injuries started aching. Im talking OLD injuries, like so old I forgot about them. Such as my left foot that I broke when I was 17! And my right knee. I was worried any twitch would 'eff' my knee up really bad so I just remained cautious.
We still couldn't see Oahu at that point but I knew it would be a nice surprise when I could see it because I might be closer than I thought.
All of a sudden around mile 16, the skies cleared up some and we could FINALLY see Oahu. The waters calmed down a bit but so did the wind, which meant more work trying to catch the bumps. The sun came out and it got kinda hot. I just kept jamming to my music and thinking of all my awesome friends and family at home, which kept me going. Any time a thought of tiredness or soreness came in, I just kicked it away with some good thoughts of how much fun this actually is and how lucky I am to be doing it. I admit- I got choked up a few times.
We finally got close to the island and I realized we had about 11 miles left and started pumping hard. The wind picked up again and a storm moved through, but it was now a side wind, so that was a bit of a struggle but I was happy to have some bumps back again. The current was now pushing us a little north (not the direction we were headed). Luckily we took a south line so we didn't end up too far north as we approached Oahu, but a bit more north than I expected.
At mile 25ish it the storm passed and the wind died down a little, We were pretty much on time for my goal of a 6 hour finish, but it then became a choppy unorganized mess. This to me was just like home, but slowed me down a lot because there weren't many runs to catch. At this point I was like "okay thank you channel, it was great, but can we be done now?"
Finally the corner came, China Walls, and I was stoked. I decided to take more of a center approach in the channel because at the time there wasn't too horrible wind, but I swear RIGHT as I reached the tip, another storm came through from off shore, trade winds whipping down the mountains and into our faces with at least 20knot winds and rain. REALLY?!?!? I had a mile left (and I was thinking i'd make 6:10 or less at that point because only had a mile left) but the wind in that last mile took it all out of me. I choked down and just started pumping hard, like so many head wind times at home. Luckily with that head wind experience, I passed some people (although not in my division or anything) but it was nice to feel strong enough to pass people in such strong head wind after 32 miles. The last mile was definately the hardest part of the entire race. It literally took me about 45 minutes. (wtf!?!) Oh well.
I could'nt have been more happy to cross that finish line and was greeted with friends and Roray's mom who made amazing beautiful leis, and of course Roray 💜 who jumped off the boat, swam to the side, and ran down the sidewalk to be there when I came in :)
I did 33.30 miles total.
My main goal was to finish this crossing, and to finish strong and comfortable… I had some personal time goals based on certain conditions, etc. I fell just a bit short of that. Just as any other competitive athlete, I pick apart my performance..
I was humbled in the presence of such a powerful strong ocean in the middle of the channel. Waves I thought I would surf no problem, I hesitated. Times I wanted to take some chances, I remained cautious to prevent injury.
I wanted to do this race for the personal challenge as an ocean athlete, however a lot of the reason was because I wanted to experience what everyone who has completed it has talked about, which is the life lessons they have learned through it. While I was paddling, I wasn't thinking too much about life lessons, however I was thinking to just feel it..just go with the flow, don't fight it. And have fun. Because this is fun. Im out here, in the middle of the worlds most dangerous channel, in conditions that are seriously challenging and I'm singing and having fun! It was great.
But the life lessons came last night, when all was done.
I realized many things through this process. First and most of all..enjoy every little moment because it all goes by SOOOOO fast. I knew the race would take about 6 hours and while that seems like so long paddling, when I was doing it I wanted it to slow down bc I knew it would be over before I knew it. Look around and enjoy it because each moment is different.
Even through the tough times, I couldn't stop smiling and laughing when I saw the huge waves roll in, even when I was missing them, I didn't get down on myself because I was besides myself that I was even in this mess!
It also showed me how crazy and different times can be and through it all, if you want to make it, you have to remain balanced and aware but also know how to just go with the flow, take some chances and trust yourself. I also learned that sometimes you just have to have faith..because sometimes you can't always see where you are headed but you just have to keep going and even if that means leaning on some one else (your boat crew), you must trust them and have faith that you ARE headed in the right direction... It showed me that life throws all different situations. Sometimes its dark and gray and hairy and big and messy, but there are ways to find good rides in all of that wind and waves and the clouds can be great because then you don't get burnt. Some things aren't as good as they appeared because when the clouds went away, so did the wind and so did the waves, so while it looked prettier, it was more work. There is so much unknown in this race and you have to be ready for anything the ocean wants to throw at you because it can change in a split second. This has taught me to truly believe in myself that it if Just keep going and trust in my skills I will make it….no matter what….
Will I ever do it again? Yesterday I said no. Today I say well if I could afford it again maybe lol.
Thank you Kaiw'i Channel. I will never forget this….