“All you need to do is blend.”

I remember that day as clear as yesterday. We were driving to the North Shore from Eva Beach. The lecture started as we passed through the pineapple fields and started our decent down the hills into Haleiwa. We were 5 days away from paddling the Molokai Channel, and I was on my way to meet my crew for the first time.

“You don’t need to go in there an prove anything. They want you here. Just do what you do and blend.”

Words spoken from my outrigger mentor, who I met years before “blending” with her crew at a random outrigger canoe race somewhere in Florida. I had paddled with a lot of crews back then. Being the only wahine in my crew, I frequently farmed myself out to other teams just to be able to race. Sometimes I got on great crews, sometimes I got on really bad crews. Nonetheless, I paddled, I raced, and, best of all, I met a lot of paddlers. Meeting those people was key. Blending with them was important. I learned a lot about myself, a lot about other teams, and was able to improve my skills in areas that seemed “outside the box” of my normal training. I was able to prove my abilities, and, from that, develop relationships with people that has allowed me to travel and race in events that I had formerly only dreamed about. So, now, here I sat in a car with Nikki, who had promised me when she moved back to Hawaii that she was going to get me a seat in the Na Wahine O Ke Kai.  Down the hill we went to practice, where I was to blend.

“Blend” thought to myself repeatedly as I walked into my new practice site, to really quickly realize that I was the only haole on the team.  I’ll admit, I was immediately intimidated. These women are, in my mind, the ultimate water people – and here I show up as some random chica from the flat Gulf Coast of Florida. I wasn’t sure I could blend like Nikki told me to. Despite my insecurities, I jumped in to help move the canoes, got my seat assignment, and joined the crew as we paddled out of the harbor and down to Waimea Bay. During the paddle, I kept rhythm, pace, and strength, and realized that I was capable of hanging with these girls (phew!). I fought the urge to squeal when I saw sea turtles or to point at the rainbow reaching over the mountains. The big rolling swells soothed any nerves I had, and I had a wonderful paddle the the team that accepted me as their guest.

Five days from that practice, I crossed the channel with the girls of Manu o Ke Kai Canoe Club from Haleiwa. It was a tough race, and, as teammates, we put our trust in each other to paddle and survive in this very fierce challenge. We finished gracefully.

I could write for days about how life changing this experience was. I walked away a more enlightened, braver, and stronger waterwoman (may I dare call myself that?). I’ll hold the memories of my first channel crossing very close to my heart, and will remember my identity as “da haole sista in da back”. One of the best lessons learned from this experience is that sometimes you have to step FAR out of your comfort zone to find your true self. She’s there, sometimes she just needs a good shove to show up.

End note: One of the best compliments I received from one of the older team’s captains:

“Karen, I like you. You don’t ask too many stupid questions. You jus’ do. Dat’s good.”

I guess I made a good impression.

Mahalo  -K