October 05, 2017

This is a fantastic first hand account of the Australian Open Women's crew at Na Wahine O Ke Kai this year. Jasmin Kelly, the team coach and steers woman gives a great summary of the lead up to the race. 
Australian Womens Outrigger Team

It's 4:30am on an August Tuesday morning. It's cold and it's a dark! We have invited a new girl/ junior paddler (Shania Paine) from another club to come down and have a paddle with us... you see we need a back up steerer for Na Wahine O Ke Kai.

Earlier in the year our crew had won the Hawaiian Airlines Sydney Harbour Challenge for the third year in a row. The winners prize is 10 airfares and entry to compete in the 2017 Na Wahine O Ke Kai.

In 2015 we did, what I believe was the most solid preparation I had ever done for this epic race. My first crossing was back in 1997 with a team called Riggeroos.. I was 18... and stroked the start crew and was back up steerer for Jane Hall....... we won two years in a row. Then came back and did the same with Mooloolaba in 2003/4...Little did we know Shania would follow in very similar foot steps.... and go on to stroke our crew off the start this year. Shania got to meet Jane Hall at the paddlers briefing on Molokai.... it was a special moment to see one of my mentors meet my little protege'. 

It's a tough gig for us training through winter for a changeover race that is being held in the warm waters of Hawaii. In 2015 we didn't miss a beat.... that's why it was devasting to not be able to race that year .... in fact it took us a long while to regroup and although we won Sydney again in 2016...we decided not to race Na Wahine o Ke Kai...

But this year was going to be different. After a few changes to the crew and almost all of the girls in the team going through some life challenges we ended up winning Sydney and also getting the opportunity to represent Australia at the Inaugural World Marathon Championships in Tahiti where we finished second.

Our preparation for this years Na Wahine did not fully go to plan. We only had a couple of proper change over sessions due to some crazy cold weather. We didn't get to do many down wind runs... if any at all. 

Our team is made up of 5 Mums, 2 Fire Fighters, a Paramedic, 2 girls that live 2hrs away from the club, 1 ex-pat Aussie who lives in Samoa and a junior paddler......But not one ego! And that is why I think it works... 4 of the team are rookies and 5 of the team are returning from 2015. 

Race day was special. AS anyone knows who has done this race, there is something very unique and almost magical about it. We put ourselves in a good position to give Team Bradley a bot of pressure and when we would see that we were struggling to out paddle them we took a more northern line to try and make some ground. This did not pay off and actually opened the door to Outrigger Hawaii who were then neck and neck with us at Diamond Head... this then turned into a sprint finish lasting around 2-3 miles. Such a gutsy effort by both crews and for our girls to lose a fairly decent gap on third place and still be able to fight back after 6hours of paddling was amazing to be part of. 

Leading up to a race like this requires a lot of commitment but also for a team to work they need to have fun. 

The 2 key words I gave the girls leading into this race were F words... Fun and Focus! I can truly say that all of the girls in the team lied by that throughout our journey and the race itself. 

When we arrived to Oahu we picked up our new team set of KIALOA Mekana's. We use paddle lengths of 48"-50". The girls love this paddle and like the difference in the hand grip being slightly bigger than the last set we had. The double bend allows for a great catch on the water but seems to take a bit of pressure of the shoulders getting more leverage out of the blade. We have always used a set of blades that are the same in the canoe but may just vary in length due to the difference in size of our paddlers. 

I opted for a new steers blade for this race, Hawaiki Hybrid Doublebend Steer 50.5".... I loved it. The length of the actual blade is longer than I am used to. But what I find this does is allows you to change the depth of your blade based on the conditions. More blade in the water more control. But if I need to paddle more I just don't sink the blade as much. Perfect for a race like Molokai where the conditions can vary quote a lot. 


Team Coach and Steerswoman

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