It’s amazing what the body can do when the mind is willing.
In April 2010, Morgan Hoesterey and I set out from the island of Hawaii across the Alenuihaha Channel to Maui. It was the first of seven channels that we planned on crossing as part of Destination 3 Degrees. Our mission with D3 was to raise awareness for the issue of plastic pollution in the ocean by standup paddling all the channels in the Hawaiian Islands.
The Alenuihaha Channel is considered one of the most dangerous channels in the world and crossing it safely was a major concern of ours. There was however, another channel that concerned us even more. The Ka’ie’ie’waho channel stretches 82 miles from Oahu to Kauai, twice the distance of any other channel in the island chain. The sheer distance, added to the unpredictability of the conditions, including freak squalls and large ocean swells, had us worried from the start. We were the first females to attempt the crossing and had been warned that it wouldn’t be easy. At the time, only 3 men had crossed the channel on SUP, and all of them swore it was the hardest thing they had ever done. As supportive as our friends and family were, even they had their doubts. Many questioned our sanity, while others simply asked us if we really thought it was possible.
We never thought we couldn’t make it. We knew it wouldn’t be easy and we doubted it would be much fun, but we are both determined and extremely stubborn, and when we make up our minds to do something, there is nothing anyone can say to stop us. We had prepared ourselves, both physically and mentally, for the possibility of a 24hr paddle, but in reality, we had no idea how long it would take.
The morning we were supposed to leave, we received a phone call from our boat captains telling us that due to rough weather in the channel, they would not escort us. They told us that they didn’t want to be responsible if anything were to happen. It was frustrating, but without an escort boat we had no choice but to wait until the weather cleared. Our boards and gear were loaded and ready to go, we just waited for the call. Luckily enough, it didn’t take long. Later that evening, our captains called telling us that we could set out the following afternoon. The original plan was to start our paddle at 10pm, that way we could paddle through the night while we were fresh, but due to a front that was filling in quickly, we pushed our start time up to 2:30PM.
The next morning I woke up with a slight fever and sore throat; I felt awful. I questioned whether I’d be able to paddle 10 miles, much less 82. At that point, however, there was no turning back. Throwing in the towel, after making it so far, wasn’t an option. The show, as they say, must go on.
Starting out, we couldn’t see our final destination. We set out toward an empty horizon, hoping that there was and island on the other side. I remember Morgan asking our captains “there is an island over there, right?” There was actual concern in her voice, like there might be a chance that we were simply paddling into nothingness.
The hours passed and the sun dropped lower in the sky until it finally disappeared behind the horizon. I convinced myself it wouldn’t get any darker, but I was wrong. The darkness rolled in and with it came a new challenge: balancing on the board with rolling swells and breaking waves that we couldn’t see but we could hear. They sounded like freight trains, gradually getting louder until they rolled through, often times taking us with them. We would get caught off guard and sent tumbling into the dark water. I couldn’t help but wonder what creatures lingered below.
We had no idea how long the paddle would take but had been told not to expect to see Kauai for at least eleven hours. Six hours into the crossing, I noticed lights on the horizon and was surprised when our captain told us they were the Nawiliwili harbor lights. We had been blessed with a rare SW wind and strong current that carried us across the channel; we were making record time.
We found it easier to break down the crossing by the hour. Every hour we would stop for a minute or two and take a quick break, grabbing a bite to eat, stretching and then continuing on our way. During the entire paddle we never left our boards, unless falling off counts, and the longest break we took was five minutes, which felt like an eternity. We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit bars and jolly ranchers. Toward the end, when nothing sounded appetizing, those jolly ranchers saved us. Despite paddling through the night, I never felt tired. It was exhilarating being out there in the channel, at night.
By 5am, we could see the bright lights of Nawiliwili harbor, summoning us. The sun began to rise above the horizon and we could finally see the island of Kauai. At that point, we had been paddling for close to 15 hours and the pain was setting in. My hands and triceps hurt, even my skin ached. It took everything I had to lift my paddle and put it back in the water. With a few miles to go, we could see the red buoy that marked our final destination. The currents had switched and were pushing us back, the swells knocked us around but we paddled on. We were on a mission and nothing was going to stop us.
“I wish I could go back to those last five minutes. It was painful but the emotional high was unbelievable. It was such a mix of feelings – happiness, overwhelming happiness, frustration, pain, exhaustion, success, pride… I told Morgan, we only have five minutes to go – I couldn’t help but smile. Those five minutes went by so quickly. The buoy got closer and closer until there we were – it towered above us. Morgan wanted to climb on it but I didn’t think it was going to happen. I tapped it with my paddle, sat down and took a deep breath. We made it.” –Excerpt from my journal, May 1st 2010.
It took us 16 hours and 3 minutes to paddle the channel between Oahu and Kauai. I will never forget that night in the channel. It was and will probably always be one of the biggest accomplishments in my life.