Paddle in, Pull Water

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Story by Diane Haynes Woodburn

Diane Haynes Woodburn“Uh oh,” I thought, as my husband pulled the truck to the side of the road. He hopped out of the cab and began unloading the one-man (and one-woman) canoes we were about to launch into an ocean that looked far too choppy. “It’s windy,” I said (my euphemism for “I’m scared!”) Jamie glanced at the white caps for a whole three seconds before dismissing my anxiety. “You’ll be fine.”

Carrying our gear to the shore, we ran into our friend Grant. “Should be a good paddle,” he said. “I don’t want to go,” I confessed.

“You’ll be fine,” he assured me. Hardly an endorsement — Grant is the same man who was on the boat with Jamie in Tonga when they were nearly lost at sea.

The rippling ocean looked even more threatening from the water’s edge. I hesitated, hoping for a reprieve. Not. “This is the kind of day when you get in — and paddle straight out,” Jamie advised, watching the waves for just the right moment. “Now!”

Faced with the choice of sucking it up (as the kids would say) or crumbling into a pitiful heap, I jumped in, aimed for the horizon and paddled hard. No time to think, no time to stress, nothing to do but go. Paddle in, pull water. Paddle in, pull water.

To my surprise, my canoe sped forward over the rollers, and finally into safety beyond the breakers. Turning parallel to the shoreline, I tucked in and headed into the wind.

Slowly, surely, the rhythmic motion of paddling transformed my anxiety into a meditation (paddle in, pull water, stretch farther, pull harder, move your canoe forward) and into the connective spirit of the Islands. Ahead, in his own canoe, Jamie waited for me to catch up.

“Maybe we should turn around now?” I hinted hopefully. “No way,” he said. “Once you turn around it will be minutes to get back — the easiest paddle of your life!”

“Not if the wind changes,” I said.

“It won’t,” he promised.

“It always changes,” I muttered to his back, as his canoe pulled away into the wind. I put my head down and followed. Paddle in, pull water. “You can do this!” I heard an inner voice pushing me forward.

I thought of all the people we know (and have known) who have pushed forward, overcoming tough obstacles. And I thought of this issue of Maui No Ka ‘Oi, which honors the island’s hard-working restaurant and culinary professionals at our annual ‘Aipono Awards Gala. Among them, Sheldon Simeon, ‘Aipono’s Chef of the Year, who paddled himself and Maui into national stardom as a finalist on Top Chef; and Lifetime Achievement award-winner Bev Gannon, who swam against the current of what was then a male-dominated profession to become one of the most respected chefs in America.

Paddle in, pull harder . . . have you met Barry Rivers, director of the Maui Film Festival? Rivers is a force of nature who each year creates one of the country’s most respected film events. Fittingly, this year’s opening feature documents the life of the legendary big-wave paddler and real-life hero Eddie Aikau. “Eddie would go,” as the bumper stickers tell us.

And, I remembered, the staff at Maui No Ka ‘Oi has risen against some pretty long odds as well. Judges of the Western Publishing Association’s Maggie Awards have, for the fourth year, recognized Maui No Ka ‘Oi as one of the finest magazines west of the Mississippi.

Jamie had stopped again to let me catch up. This time he agreed it was time to head back. As I turned my canoe, I felt a sense of accomplishment . . . but not “the easiest paddle of my life.”

“Why is it still so hard?” I asked.

“Well,” he answered, soto voce, “the wind may have changed a little. You can put in if you want; I’ll come back for you.”

“The wind always changes,” I smiled. Paddle in, pull water, move forward. “No need, I’m fine.”

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