"Are you going paddling this morning Kev?" asked Bill over the phone. He was concerned that everybody he called was either canceling out or not returning his call.
"Jeff said that the sun isn't going to come out until noon, and the wind was 15 to 30 so isn't the paddle cancelled?" he continued. I told him that I thought the turnout would be pretty good, since the Molokai paddle was coming up and we all needed to get in shape.
Apparently my assurances weren't convincing enough, since Bill didn't show up, but neither did many of the other club members either. In fact, the only people that paddled were Gary, Doug, Keith and myself. When we arrived at Kahana Bay, the weather was overcast, with a strong tradewind blowing into the bay. A light drizzle was coating our thoughts, and 'way outside the bay was white water. After the carpool, we returned to Kahana to find Gary decked out in his PFD.
"You guys know that I'm not a big fan of life vests, but today, I think we should wear them."
While we were away, he had been standing at the beach and evaluating the way the whole mouth of the bay would periodically close out with white water.
Before long, we were all in the water and heading for Mala'ekahana. Not wanting to challenge the breakers immediately, we stuck close to the shore. The wind had died down and the clouds had diminished to where it was almost sunny. It looked like the paddle was going to turn out to be a winner after all. Past Punalu'u, we knew that we had to go outside the reef at some point in order to go past Laie Point, so we kept a sharp look out for a break in the breakers. We didn't see any.
"I think that there is a break at Hau'ula" I offered.
That was where we went through the reef the last time we paddled Laie Point, but on that paddle (two years ago) the conditions were unusually calm. Today, it was Pull Out The Winter Storm Clothes, as there was one continuous break the whole way. Finally, just before Hau'ula there was a break in the reef that extended towards the beach. Smaller waves were breaking over a shallow area as we paddled into the breakers. When we got there, there was some doubt in the eyes of Gary, as looking seaward, we saw a confused mass of swirling water, with frequent white caps way out to sea. The wind was picking up, and the storm clouds were returning. Salty rain fell all around us. Certainly the character of the paddle was about to change radically.
"I felt like I was paddling uphill the whole way out there!" exclaimed Doug as he described the mountains that were hurtling at us as we paddled out to "calmer" open waters.
This practice run for Molokai was turning into just that, as the water was becoming very serious. Six foot swells were coming from the east with their heads blown off and tumbling perilously towards us. One swell had a steep face, but was thick and tall and I surfed down the back of the swell. The ocean behind the impact zone was never "calm" as the ocean kept up its frenetic action. Just staying within eyeshot was all we could do to keep in touch with each other and that was a problem with the swells. In the distance we spotted Mokualai, the flat, white island close off of Laie Point.
"Shall we go around the island?" I yelled at Gary.
"Real men paddle through the gap." came the reply.
As we got closer to the point, there was extreme turbulence around the point and its two islands; it became obvious that we were not going to shoot the gap, the heck with the macho stuff. Keith looked down the coast and saw huge swells and turbulence all the way to Mala'ekahana, and decided that it would be a good time to relieve himself by jumping into the water a few yards off Mokualai.
Gary caught up with him and checked to make sure he was all right. I stopped as well, waiting for Doug to catch up. Ironically it appeared relatively calmer at this point than in some of the ocean we had come from. There I sat watching Gary, Keith and Doug get organized, when all of a sudden I heard a "Whooosh! Bammm!" as a swell decided to break on my blindside. The next thing I know, I started to huli and there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop it. I plunged into the swirling, deep blue water and tumbled deep beneath the hull of my kayak. Looking up, I saw the cockpit of the kayak facing me with thick blue water hitting the makai side of the boat. Surfacing on the windward side of the kayak I attempted to flip the boat by reaching over the overturned hull and pulling towards me (to windward). Naturally, the kayak reached the edge and immediately flipped back over. A second attempt was more succesful, and I plunged under the hull one more time. This time I surfaced on the leeward side of the kayak and attempted to climb back up, only to flip the kayak over again. Now I'm really getting embarrassed, as I'm sure that Gary, Keith and Doug were watching. This time I flipped the kayak over with brute strength towards the windward side and climbed back on from that side. Sitting up with my hat slung over my back and my sunglasses eaten up by the big blue monster, I glanced over to the other guys who are trying their best to look like theyre not watching. In all of the commotion, I had come pretty close to Mokualai with its windward impact zone and had to paddle away quickly.
After a while, Gary paddled up to me and gave me a short but late lesson in capsize-and-recovery technique. First, after flipping over, a) get over to the windward side of the kayak, (as I was originally), then b) grab the knee strap on the lee side of the kayak and c) pull. This should easily turn the kayak upright. Then rest on the upright kayak if you are tired, or proceed to climb up on the Windward side, - words of wisdom that we all should remember. However, there were other more immediate things to think about, like the final paddle into Mala'ekahana, which was showing a lot of surf action. Paddling on the mauka side of Pulemoku, huge swells were pounding Laie Bay. As we approached Mokuauia, better known as "Goat Island" there was a lot of trepidation about the proper approach to the beach. The south side of the island was unprotected and the huge swells were rolling in to Kalanai Point. The north side didn't look much better as the swells were coming in and being split by the rocky tip of the island. Gary and Keith decided to take on the south side of the island while Doug and I tried the north. As we cleared the rocky point there was rolling white water all the way down the coast. I looked at Doug and suggested we abandon the north side and take our chances on the south side like Gary and Keith. Doug wanted to plow ahead, so I relented. Paddling hard towards the shore, waves were tumbling all around and there was an eight-foot green wall right behind me and closing in fast. Suddenly my kayak was rising in the stern and I felt myself accelerating forward, then the top of the wave started to tumble and I felt the kayak broaching. The head of the wave was now breaking on the starboard side of the kayak as I reached out with a high brace and rode the wave into the shore sidesaddle. When I was inside the impact zone I looked back to Doug who was surfing in as well... then the inevitable broach and then capsize. I paddled back to help him, but he had already climbed up on his own and was paddling to shore. When we caught up with Gary and Keith, we found out that they also capsized on their way in on the south side.
Paddling in to the take-out spot we were all talking about the wild ride we had just been on. The only regret I had was that I didn't see Gary's capsize - to see how he righted himself. It must have been interesting, as Keith had a big grin on his face as he described the whole thing.