The Inland Paddler: Let’s not Lose our Aloha

Trying to Share the Stoke In the Time of Corona

Last Saturday, I got up early and headed out to Lake Jordan, one of the watershed water supply lakes just southeast of Chapel Hill, NC and southwest of Raleigh. Since it was the weekend, I knew there would be more people out and while I didn’t make it to the boat launch as early as I would have liked, and while there was a considerable number of other paddlers there, we were all able to socially distance just fine. I wore my mask as I rigged the outrigger and got ready to hit the water. I was the only one but  it was amiable. No agro. Everyone smiled. From more than six feet away, a woman paddling an inflatable kayak asked me about the OC – she wanted to know how heavy it was. I told her, she was surprised and we parted with me saying it is a lot of fun to paddle.

My workout was fine – save the guy in the ski boat who was being nice and respectful by slowing down and passing me at a snails pace, so as not to kick up a wake, but close enough where I could have easily surfed it had he been going just a little faster.  Missed opportunity!! 

When I came back in, the parking lot was starting to fill.  I pulled up my mask, broke down my canoe and loaded up for the drive home, working fast so as not to linger.  I felt a little…silly I guess… when I realized again I was the only one wearing a mask.  We were all still able to stay way apart from each other. We were outside. Okay. Not a big deal.  

About that time, a kayaker walked passed me and I said hello. She looked around like she didn’t know where the greeting had come from.  Another paddler walking socially distant on the other side of the women in the opposite direction pointed at me. The woman turned, looked at me with my mask – she was wearing one too – and waved me away, as if I was a horsefly.  The other paddler shrugged her shoulders and I wondered aloud, “What the hell is wrong with everyone these days?”

It bothered me all the way home. It had an impact on the usually great feeling I have when I have just come off the water.

And before anyone jumps to conclusions – this is not about whether someone chooses or not to wear a facemask outside in an open environment.  Remember, this woman and I were both wearing them. It is about how we seem to be treating each other during this pandemic.  It is something I have noticed walking around my own neighborhood. It’s something I have noticed that actually started long before this pandemic but now seems to be more the norm everywhere. General rudeness. Maybe it is just a few people acting this way, and that makes it stick out and seem more obvious. Maybe we are all on edge these days. Regardless, it is a heavy feeling.

And it really gets to me when it seems to be infiltrating into the one community, the one environment that has always been a refuge.

I think most of us would agree that one of the reasons we were attracted to this community of paddlers – sup, prone, outrigger, etc – is because of the spirit of community.  The comeraderie of everyone at races.  The support.  The encouragement.  As our sport has grown, some of that has perhaps lessened a bit, but it is still there at its core.   It is why races like Chattajack are so successful. 

We love sharing the stoke.  We love helping people get into the sport and stay in it.  We love the shared experiences. We love training together.  We love hanging out together.  Off the chart egos are few and far between.  Pros and Joes and Janes can find common ground for a great conversation over a beer after a race. They can become good friends.

The people I have met through paddling are my family – my ohana. If you are reading this, no doubt you share the same experience and feeling.

Our sport is welcoming like no other.  

When I retold my story of the woman at the lake to one of my oldest and dearest friends, she reminded me that whatever the reason for the kayaker to shoo me away, it had nothing to do with me.  She reminded me that we have no idea what the stranger at the boat ramp, or the stranger at the Target or the stranger in the grocery store parking has going on with them right now.  We are all on edge.  We all want things to be normal again. We all have good days and we all have days that are crap.

We are all doing the best we can right now.

So, I want to say thank you to that woman at the boat launch for reminding me that I too need to be more compassionate and understanding.  Okay, yes I was trying to be Pono (the Hawaiian term for right, or just) in reaching out, but my response to being waved away was not. Next time, I will just smile (as best I can with a mask on) and say “have a good morning!” In as non-sarcastic a way as I can.  Or maybe I’ll just throw a Shaka and go about my own business. 

Perhaps  next time I will silently say to the stranger the great Hawaiian Ho’oponopono mantra: “I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you.” At the very least, I know that will help me calm down and not take things the wrong way.

As paddlers, we need to keep spreading the stoke and keep our spirit of aloha alive and strong.  Pandemic or not.  And not just within our own community, but everywhere, in all facets of our lives. We need that right now. Our world needs that right now.