Kickin’ ass on the wild side of the Gorge

Ross Creasy

Saturday just before noon…“Aloha, and welcome to the 5th annual
Wild side relay” said Race director JD Davies as he quietly met us on
the grass at Bob’s Beach .

A circle of paddlers gathered, handshakes and hugs all around. JD
reviewed the Wildside race course and safety rules with all involved,
encouraging fun but also asking us to look out for each other on the
river. Loose registration and the signing of waivers followed.

As the only Canadian paddler in the pack, I was worried I would also
be the only solo paddler! – my race partner Dave Stefenchuck had to
bial out unexpecectedly, so I was pleased to discover 7 other
paddlers doing it solo.

While “not recommended” according to JD, mostly to keep it within the
original format of the event, JD encouraged us to pair up. – Most
guys were up for the challenge as a training tool for their Molokai
crossing later this year. we promised to play together and look out
for huli’s

The wind was steady and the swells were rolling hard as we lined up
on the Stevenson dock. An air horn sounded and we were off!!!

I moved with the front group of paddlers, catching several swells
right off the start – clearly starting on the Oregon side of the line
helped. The pack stayed in line and close together for the first 10
minutes, then settled into a rhythm as paddlers picked lines and
linked swells together.

I quickly assessed that while this water was very good, some winter
training runs at Jericho’s “secret spot” had prepared me well.

These were 3-5 footers, not 12’ overhead – but very runable. The
sizzling of my foot well drains sounded like cooking bacon as
splashes of water quickly vented out the bottom of the canoe.

man, was I cookin! My carbon Kolea OC-1 was in its element. This was
the land of “ big wave floaty boats” Koleas, Hehemanus, Hurricanes
Makia’s Kakus and Vipers. we charged up river, to the sound of
whoops and yelps of happy paddlers.

This was a surfer’s race, so being smooth and selective with the
waves had its advantages. My mind went to my Todd Bradley video of
Molokai – keeping the nose from purling…there.. find the next one..
PUSH!! there it is, pop the ama… let it run.. tap tap tap. Lean, race
down the wave…

going too fast or being careless rewards you witn a face full of
water off the nose or a blast of Columbia water up the leg of your

For the first hour, I settled in with the front pack, and held off
several challengers by staying in the bigger water where the Makia’s
didn;t go.. During the second leg, I caught up with Dave from
Tricities in his brand new Hehemanu from John Martin. Dave’s smooth
stroke rate and the shape of the canoe had him finding waves where
others didn’t, but he had trouble linking the waves. I took the more
aggressive line in the centre of the river where the connections were
more obvious,(sometimes we all need this!) as I approached him on
the run; I let out a whoop and flew the ama past him! (Think I
freaked him out!)

We traded leads until the second checkpoint where we spotted several
of the leaders and agreed to chase them down together.

Then disaster…
A tug on my hydration system hose told me I was out of water! Not due
to drinking it all, but the hose had come undone. The only connection
I hadn’t double-checked! This meant that the next 11 miles were
without water.

I told Dave as I passed him again, and this seemed to let the wind
out of his sails, unbeknowst to me, Dave and his buddies had employed
the advice of a professional triathelete coach on thursday
evening..based on his advice, they Deviated from prerace meals.

Dave had radically increased his consumption of fluids and over 300
grams of carbs prior to the race, resulting in cramping and several
mid-river ahm…. “Deposits” were necessary (now you know why I
didn’t drink river water!)

Dehydration gnawed at me, I fought to get as far up river as I could
before something drastic happened. Then magically, 20 minutes of
washing machine crappy waves – just like off the bell can at Jericho

I know how to run this stuff..The gap decreased and I began to move
up on the nearest canoe.

Last checkpoint, the water began to go flat near Hood River– here’s
where a big wave boat has trouble. Combined with a thirsty paddler, I
faded, but because I took a more direct line to Hood River, was still
able to capitalize on some waves.

Hood River bridge to Bindgen, just a long grind as the waves
disappeared entirely. The suddenly the pilings were in sight! As I
swung between the pilings, two ospreys nesting nearby began screaming
and calling in unison, a cheer to my ears.

Unlike some of my fellow paddlers, the Kolea took on no water during
the race (sort of like the paddler!)

Mahalo to JD for the race, Fidel’s for the ono mexican grinds, Dave,
Robin, Kevin, Kristen, and all the Bend and Tricities paddlers for
the aloha.

Better to do it in a relay, but doable if you want to challenge

Speaking of challenges, did I tell you about the drive home?

Kapuna Ohana Bill Alley

Jon Amundson – Calgary

Ivan told me about Bill’s death at the Duel in the Desert…but I
didn’t put it together until i saw the posting. You see i didn’t know
Bill but had the privilege of racing after him and the honor of
running away from him at the Freshwater Big and Small Boat races
in ’02…saw him a few other times as well and we’d exchange eye
contact and wave, even say a few words. But we had something that was
special, something he and I and a few others share and that is what
we all lost, and what we can’t get back…you see as you age you
watch the numbers fall off around you…illness, changes in life and
plans, retirement,people move away and then some are taken from us,
like Bill. Kapuna are funny…we are competitive and give’em when we
can but we also know that there is a bond of life that touches us in
special ways, lives that stretch behind us and the shorter time we
know intuitively we have left. That bond of life- a connection of
life experiences and the gratitude for the day, the moment, the race,
the eye contact, the smile, every grey hair, the realization we are
doing something other aren’t, can’t or didn’t- maybe sets the Kapuna
apart…it also creates a circle, and ohana, for us whether we know
each other well, or in a conventional sense. The loss of a kapuna is
a loss that can never be replaced. The hole in the ohana can never be
filled…we look around and see our world smaller and though the
sorrows of those that loved him personally are the greater share, our
sorrows are no less in the way we can only feel them. I am so sorry
to see him gone.


Na Wahine O Ke Kai /Women of the Sea

Denise O – Jericho
Na Wahine O Ke Kai – Moloka’i to Oahu-The 25th Crossing

What a beautiful and amazing legacy, and a truly life changing experience! It was my first and the one I will never forget. I believe it is the feeling of being a part of something so much larger than yourself, something that has gone on long before we were ever born, and will go on long after we are gone, that courses through the blood in our veins and sends shivers through our spine. I was asked in an interview once “What does outrigger mean to you?” My answer at the time was something glib and mundane.Then much later I thought more about it. What does it mean? Why in my busy schedule of 40 hour work weeks, grocery shopping, and family obligations do I cram in these countless and often sleep deprived hours on the water training? For what? As my non- sporty friends often point out -it’s not the Olympics. But it was then that it struck me. A simple verse from the movie Dead Poet Society that John Keating (Robin Williams) reads aloud to his class:

“O ME O life!…of the questions of these recurring:
Of the endless trains of the faithless– of cities fill’d with the
foolish;….What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here– that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you might contribute a verse…
That the powerful play goes on, and you might contribute a verse. ”

That’s it. That’s what has compelled me to the Jericho shore day after day, and then to the shore of Moloka’i. And to actually be there…with my team mates and all the many other paddlers who share this same compulsion…indeed obsession at times. The sights the sounds, the smells…but still there is more. A feeling of being a part something so much larger than yourself. A feeling so tangible. I am no poet or writer but there was something about the energy of that remote island, from our team, from the emails that were read aloud from friends at home two nights before the race, from the many generations that have gone before, that inspired me to write these words:

At the start we feel the heat
It’s beating like a drum
Beating like the hearts
Of all the women
Who have come
Who gather on this shore
To be the best that we can be
For ourselves and for each other
The Women Of The Sea.

We bless the Kahi Kili
This boat that we will ride
That it might guide us safely
Till we each the other side.

A blessing for our loved ones
And the ones who can’t be here
We feel your spirits with us now
Your heartbeats we can hear.

No matter what our differences inside this boat we’re one
No matter what the pain we feel or hardships that may come
We will give each other strength
And we shall overcome.

Mahalo to the spirits of the Wind and of the Sea
For watching over Jericho
And our boat Kahi Kili

Mahalo for this Journey
Of the Heart and of the Mind
We bless you now and always
Na Wahine O Ke Kai

~Denise O