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My experience at the Wild Buffalo Relay

On March 31, 2019, I participated in the Puakea Wild Buffalo Relay race from Two Harbors on Catalina Island in California to the Newport Aquatic Center in Newport Beach. The race was about 40 miles of flat cold water. Originally I wasn't planning on racing, but two weeks prior I got a text from my friend Hunter Pfluger, who’s from Oʻahu but currently attending San Diego University, wondering if I was down to race. I got pretty pumped to get invited because Hunter is another young top up and coming paddling with Outrigger and a part of the Ka Lahui Kai junior paddling program. I decided to take the opportunity to race and take a trip to California which would be my first trip ever to the Mainland.

At the airport for my first mainland flight.

As I flew over San Diego, the first thing I noticed were the city lights; they were a sight to see! After we landed, I walked off the plane into the terminal and my first word was, "woahhhh" it was giant. Outside it was a bit chilly but pretty nice and comfortable. The first thing we did was head over to Whole Foods to grab a killer bacon avocado sandwich! Then we made our way to catch a movie before going to the dorms. After the movie, we headed to the dorms. It was already late but I met his roommate, cool bunch for sure, and ended up crashing out for the night.

The next day was the road trip up to Newport which was a cool 2-hour drive up the coast where we got onto the ferry to travel over to Catalina. It was such a fun trip! When we got there, we met up for the spaghetti dinner with a few other friends competing in the race as well.

We woke up the next morning on race day ready to roll, feeling pretty pumped to battle the best guys from California along with an international world-class team on the V-1, we headed to the race. I was starting the race and was sitting on the line when the race horn blew--it was GO TIME for us. It was a good start and we were in a tight battle for second OC-1 but after the first change, it turned into a 3-way battle for second place. It was a 20-minute sprint to the death every single time we were on the canoe and none of us wanted to budge at all.

Photo by Hayden Ramler

By about the 4th change in Hunter was paddling and he lost steering ability. The escort zoomed over checked it out. Our first thoughts were the cables broken, we’re screwed.. there goes our race. The first thing we did was make sure the cables were okay, which they were. It was a loose rudder, a simple problem which relived a lot of stress. Hunter jumped back onto the escort we pulled the boat up and our Captain grabbed us a screwdriver. We were rushing to get it tightened and get back into the race. At that point I thought 2nd and 3rd might be over but we gotta keep battling our way.

In about 4 minutes, we adjusted the rudder, got back in, and raced our hearts out. In that time, we dropped to about 8th but from that point forward, every change we worked double hard to battle back. After a bit I realized we still had about 20 miles left and I said, “we can do this!” So every change we worked harder and harder and then eventually we could see the gap closing and we just kept going at it. We kept telling ourselves, “We’re gonna do it, we’re gonna catch them. Let’s go! It’s now or never; it’s a live or die moment.” It was for sure a tough battle but we slowly narrowed the gap and in the last hour, we were finally able to close the gap and get even with 2nd and 3rd again.

From there it all came down to the second to last change for a 3-way sprint to the harbor mouth where we planned to do our final change. At that point, we were able to get a slight lead over the two teams but the three of us were in a straight line divided by seconds and it was all up to Hunter for the last 30 minutes. He was able to hold off one team and we achieved second place!

It was such a cool experience to be a part of this race. It was an honorable one for sure. Looking back on my experience, the one thing I would really emphasize is making sure your equipment is always in good order. No matter how new or how much you take care, double check your cables, rudder, and make sure your boat is watertight. Anything can happen in between uses. Your rudder can loosen up due to oversteering, there could be a ding that was not noticed on the last paddle, or your cables could be fraying behind the foot pedals. All of this can be something that could save your day by just giving your canoe a good once over before any race or afternoon paddle. Play smart!

See you at the Molo Solo,

Triston Kahookele-Santos


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