Posted by: monsonmadness | November 3, 2011


Last Saturday I went paddling with some of my friends. I was excited to give it a try. I really wanted to see American Samoa from out on the ocean, and hey, only a couple of weeks before, the women out paddling had seen a whale and her two calves. Pretty cool. The weather was overcast and a little rainy which was perfect because it wasn’t as hot. My friends go paddling every Wednesday evening and Saturday morning. And by morning, I mean EARLY morning, before the sun comes up. I chose the Saturday morning option so that Michael could hang out easily with the kids eating pancakes and watching cartoons. Getting up at 5.20am was not easy. Happened on a day that my new neighbors were not screaming their lungs out so I was actually sleeping quite peacefully. Strange thing was, our phone had rung at 4.30am with a wrong number, so I went back to sleep for another hour.

Paddling sounds easy doesn’t it? Something that 2 year olds can do. WELL IT’S NOT EASY. This is how the whole thing panned out… We got to the beach and I was given a tutorial. I was the only first timer and these women were not messing around. This is a sport and they are intense. We used an outrigger canoe, called a Paopao in Samoan. First, we had to carry the canoes down to the water. Not an easy task for 8 women when the thing weighs over 300lbs and is about 45 feet long. (Because 8 people showed up, we took out two canoes with 4 people in each.)  The canoe is very narrow and seats 6 people. Each seat has an assigned number and role. Various jobs include steering, powering, stroking, counting, keeping time etc. Since I was the newbie, I got to sit in seat 5 where I wouldn’t mess anything up.

The stroker at the front in seat 1 started setting the pace, the counter in seat 2 starts counting in her head, and when she reaches 9 strokes she shouts out “hup” or something Samoan that sounds like that, then the steerer in seat 6 replied “Ho”. Hearing “Hup” indicates that there is only one more stroke left, and hearing “ho” means it is time to switch paddles to the other side. That change has to be a coordinated effort so that the timing of all the paddlers is perfect and you don’t lose momentum. The paddlers paddle on the opposite from the person in front of them. Are you still with me? I mustn’t forget that because you paddle from way in front of you to about your thigh, you also have to brace your body with your legs, putting the leading leg out in front of you with the other one tucked back underneath, and then alternating the legs when you change to paddle on the other side. Your back is supposed to be straight, head up, and your arms and shoulders forming a big “C”.

Anyway, once we were out on the water, it went something like this…I hear…”hup, ho, …and I’m paddling with all my might trying to keep time and pace with the person in front of me. I hear, “Helen, your paddle is backwards” I fix it and paddle with all my concentration again. I use up all my energy. I feel like I can’t breathe anymore. I realize that my legs are in the wrong position, I’m thirsty, my camelback isn’t working, I hear, “Hup, ho”, I can’t get my paddle across to the other side in time to join in on the first stroke, I paddle hard, my bum is hurting from sliding around on the seat, I mustn’t be bracing with my knees as hard as I’m supposed to be, I clench tight and try to paddle in rhythm some more. “Hup, ho”. Missed that first stroke again. Concentrating on not dropping the paddle in the ocean. I can’t breathe, I need to rest. No one else is resting, can’t let the team down, must keep paddling. The steerer tells me that I’m doing well. I don’t believe her. Oops, my legs are in the wrong position again, darn it, missed that last changeover. Man, my butt is killing me now. And then finally after what seemed like forever…”ok team, let’s rest” Phew. Got to take in the scenery, check the horizon for any whales (there weren’t any) try to act like my body isn’t killing me, and then all of a sudden, we’re hupping and hoing again.

After about an hour and a half on the water, we finally make it back to the beach. I guess with the newcomer on board, the team didn’t get much of a workout and wanted to go back out again for another half hour. You wouldn’t have known how much my body felt like jelly if you’d have seen me run away from there as fast as possible. Outrigger canoe racing is an endurance sport, and I didn’t have very much endurance. It was a good experience though, except for the butt burn! I had no regrets at all about them paddling away with one man down as I drove home to eat the leftover chocolate chip pancakes that Michael had made for the kids.


  1. Funny!! Sounds like something I would like to try…once! Are you going to go again??

  2. That is intense! Great description – I was living the experience along with you and I would have collapsed mid-journey I’m sure. When you first said you were going to go paddling, I was thinking of what I saw in Hawii where people stand on a surfboard and paddle down a river or out in the shallow water. I think that kind might be fun too. And yes it is lame I have only posted two pictures from our trip. I have a handicap and it has to do with digital photos…I’m going to work on getting some more posted.

  3. I remember feeling like my arms and shoulders were going to fall off when I kayaked on a lake. I don’t think I could handle the ocean. Soooo, are you going to try it again?

  4. Excellent. Glad I wasn’t there or I might (doubt it!) have been invited along. I would now be dead……

  5. Helen, I loved this post. I am totally shy about posting online, but I had to comment on this. This summer, I was the only adult in a canoe containing five Cub Scouts, and it was not pretty. I just hope those boys didn’t tell their parents how close we came to a raging river. Anyway, because of that, I really enjoyed your description of paddling. It sounds like a really fun sport, under the right circumstances, but it’s not as easy as you might think! Thanks for sharing your many unique experiences; you are a very good writer!

    • Thanks Jody! I’m sorry but the thought of you in a canoe with those boys makes me chuckle! If Matthew and Benjamin had been in their with you, someone would have drowned for sure! You are a brave woman and you do such a great job with those boys 🙂

  6. I thought paddling was walking in the shallows at the edge of the sea!

  7. That would be fun to try, but my arms are wimps, so I’m sure I wouldn’t be much help to the team.

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