We are all connected by water.
We say that a lot. But the more I paddle, and the more places I go to paddle, and the more people I meet, it becomes so much more evident. And nowhere is that more apparent that here on Maui, and especially at the Paddle Imua.
Paddle Imua was started some six years ago as a fund raiser to to help Imua Family Services, a local non-profit group that provides help for families who have kids with special needs. Bluesmiths, the local company that makes amazing water wear, is the main sponsor of the event. The funds raised by the race entry fees help send those kids to summer camp, which gives them a wonderful experience, and gives their families a much need break. Many of those kids are at the finish line at the canoe hale (house) in Kahului Harbor. They put a lei around the neck of each finisher and they say “mahalo” – thank you.
You feel an immediate connection right there.
And no finisher’s medal could ever mean as much to me as that lei.
Paddle Imua is held the weekend after the Olukai race…which by contrast is big, bright, attracts many of the pros and is a huge event by comparison, complete with helicopters, and big name local entertainment. This year, what with other major events going on in the sup world, some of the pros who in the past have stayed for Paddle Imua had to leave to make those commitments. But that did not detract from the energy and the postitivity that surrounds this grass roots event.
For me, last year’s Paddle Imua was an exercise in determination and endurance. Many on Maui said it was the worst conditions for a race down the Maliko Run that they’d ever seen. No downwind- wind from the North instead, rain, big swells. This year, the bad weather hit the Olukai the week before, but for Paddle Imua, the day was darn near perfect, at least by my North Carolina standards. Sunny, with the trades blowing in the right direction, the pre-race atmosphere in Maliko Gultch was remarkably festive. Before the racer’s meeting, organizers talked about the energy that would be present on the water with all of us out there together. And they were right. You could feel it. It was palpable. Sure, for the elite racers, I am sure there was a feeling of competition, but for me, there was a cameraderie that I haven’t felt in a race in a long while. And it wasn’t because we were all suffering out there in a pain cave. Nope. We were having fun. Just being out there with those folks, with the little cluster of people I paddled with, with the 13 year old in his OC1 who passed me, we were all in this together….out on the water, having the experience of downwinding in one of the most spectacular locations in the world.
After the last racer is celebrated across the finish line, the event is capped off by the team relay, where pros, Joe and Jane Paddlers and the kids run a small buoy course race. It’s the best part of the entire event. All the members of each team MUST run across the finish line holding hands, together. Everyone else is on the beach cheering.
There it is again.
We are all connected by water. We are all buoyed by that energy when we paddle together – it got us to the finish line – and its definitely there when we cheer on the kids. It got us to the party and celebration that followed. I met new friends, talked story with old ones…and there was more laughter and even some tears than I can remember enjoying after a race in a long while.
It was fun. It was energizing. And, it gave me a much needed reminder of why I race – no, why I paddle. It is that connection and that sharing of energy. As our sport grows, and more people come from other sports to compete in paddle races, I hope the spirit of the Paddle Imua and indeed our paddle community- from Carolina to Maui and all points in between – will prevail and we will always be mindful of how we are connected. And what we get from that connection….friendship, encouragement, support and yes, stoke.