Imua is the Hawaiian word meaning to go forward. It is used to signal the first pull of the paddle into the water when outrigger canoeing. The sport is seeped in Hawaiian tradition and culture combined with healthy dose of competition.
Ever since the first time I paddled in an outrigger canoe my appreciation of foundation, support and respect have become clearer. Imua became more than just moving a boat forward.
I had the honor to sit “seat 1” for the Paddle for Life Maui crew in a 6-man outrigger canoe sprint race. From the command imua, seat 1 sets the pace and keeps the pace. We raced in the Paddlers Open, the regatta opener for the 6-man race season. Our crew was a powerful group of cancer survivors and supporters. We may have been older (I was also one of the youngest) and maybe not physically as strong but were all together making us smooth and fast. We certainly gave the younger crews a run for their money!
One of my coaches, Kaleo, liked to sing to us.
our paddles go into the water together,
go thru the water together,
come out of the water together,
Listening to that chant not only lightens the load and thrusts the boat forward but also allows each one of us to rely on the team along with holding our own. Paddling certainly has shown me more than just giving me a work out; it somehow mirrors many of life’s messages.
Another powerful illustration of these principles came a few days later.
I had the fortunate experience to work with a group of young cancer survivors on Maui. These 9 survivors along with a group of dedicated volunteers were the first participants in Athletes for Cancer/Team Duke Surf & SUP Survivorship Camp. They came to Maui to learn surfing and stand up paddling (SUP) and just be together to soak in the magic that Maui so effortlessly is.
On the afternoons after their time out on the water, I led them in a yoga practice. With both eagerness and nervousness I drove to their camp questioning what I had to bring to the table. My confidence in what I knew escaped me. Even though excitement ran abuzz thru my body, doubt drained my confidence. Could I actually instill in them any of the comfort yoga has given me? Would I crumble at the sight these young warriors? I, too, was a survivor, though cancer is not so much a surprise to someone of my age but these guys were young, that was not suppose to happen.
And then Kaleo’s chant came to me. All together, we would do it all together. Breathing in and out together. I was sitting in seat 1, setting the pace yet they were lightening the load and pushing us all forward. Each one crept deeply into my heart as they as they folded into poses on beach towels that first afternoon I met them. Maybe I could teach them something though I was the recipient of something much larger than I could have ever bestowed.
On Sunday, the camp came to the north shore to experience some Hawaiian culture and more time on the water. Some of my Paddle for Life Maui group along with a delightful group of local high school students brought them outrigger canoeing. The teenagers and their coach, Anela, began the day with the history of Hawaiian canoeing and singing chants celebrating the tradition and the elements. There was a sense of genuine humanity as we all stood in a circle on the beach. The teenagers beamed with pride, the campers shined with excitement and the volunteers stood strong for support.
It was a typical windy and wavy day on the North Shore making the canoeing exciting. Just getting the boats off the beach was a challenge. These are 400-pound boats propelled by only 6 wooden blades. Though again, the unity of the excitement and the sense of this extraordinary experience lifted the boat up and forward. The boat I was in even hulied (capsized) adding to the thrill.
Each and every person involved, camper and volunteer, showed fully up to each and evey event, eyes and hearts wide open. These were young vibrant people. They were willing, joyful, and bright. Most of them had been to hell and back. Yet they showed no evidence other than scars. Truly, I was taken aback by their tremendous spirit and commitment to each other and whatever event they were participating in.
Being involved with Athletes for Cancer/Team Duke Surf & SUP Survivorship Camp reinforced the importance of working with others for me. I loved being a camp counselor when I was young and now, I see I haven’t outgrow that affection. Again, I have been fortunate enough to be shown what it is I want to continue doing. Not only the raising of funds but to be involved in helping others cope with cancer and life.
All together or one by one, I am in.
And for those campers who so touched my heart,
Imua Na Koa – go forward warriors!