The thought of cruising around Ventura Harbor in a canoe inspires certain images. At least it did for me.
There I would sit, reclining at my leisure, paddling effortlessly--and only between sips of a refreshing libation.
The sun would be tepid, the spray of the ocean light and invigorating.
My wife and kids could come. Maybe even the dogs. It would be a nice, family outing.
Thinking back, I have no idea why I believed canoeing would be such an entirely relaxing experience. Fantasy perhaps. Which is not to say that paddling the harbor with members of the Hokuloa Outrigger Canoe Club one recent Sunday morning was anything but a pleasant activity.
It was just different.
It was . . . work.
I showed up, family in tow, at the Hokuloa (the name means "guiding star") headquarters, which is where the club's canoes are tied down at the very end of Spinnaker Drive, across from the Channel Islands National Park office.
Upon arrival, the first thing we learned was that the kids, ages 13 and 10, would have to stay on the beach. "They're not really tall enough to paddle correctly," one club member explained.
The club has sessions for beginner and recreational paddlers each Sunday at 9 a.m., and, typically, a few curious first-timers had shown up.
The novices were well outnumbered by club members, however, and the more serious paddlers, while surely there for a good time, weren't gathered at the beach to waste away the day.
They had come to work out, fine-tune their strokes and, during rest breaks, to enjoy each other's company.
Eve Diamond, a first-year paddler, joined the canoe club on the advice of "a friend of a friend."
"I knew this lady 65 years old who had this body like Bo Derek," Diamond said. "That was enough for me."
Paddling is, indeed, a workout.
A correct stroke, Diamond said, would leave both my legs and my backside sore. Churning incorrectly would burn out my arms after only a short time.
Paddling, a novice quickly learns, is performed constantly and, preferably, in a precise pattern.
My directions were to follow the stroke of the person who was sitting in front of the person who was sitting in front of me.
A steerperson, sitting at the stern, starts a call on stroke 13 that is designed to help paddlers change sides in unison.
The call sounds like something stolen right out of a sandlot football game.
"Hut . . . hike . . . ho!" Fifteen strokes. "Hut . . . hike . . . ho!" And so it goes, with the paddle swung to the opposite side on each "Ho!"
At least that's how it's supposed to work.
I was OK on the changeover from left to right, but I never quite got the hang of switching from right to left. As hard as I tried, I always ended up a half-stroke behind a strapping young man who I was supposed to be keeping pace with.
Lucky me, I'd drawn the most experienced paddler of our crew.
Still, our trek around the harbor, never venturing outside the safety of the surf break, was invigorating. Including several short stops to rest, stretch and enjoy what was a beautiful beginning to a relatively new day, the whole trip took just a little more than an hour.
The paddling was a workout, but the scenery was great. And by the time I left, I understood the words of our steerperson, Tom Sheehy.
Asked why he paddled, he replied, "The camaraderie, the spirit, the tranquillity, the ambience. I look back on the green hillsides and I'm grateful I live where I do."
I understood Eve Diamond, too.
Sitting was uncomfortable.
Newcomers to the Hokuloa Club paddle free the first month. After that, dues are $10 per month to paddle once per week, on any day, and $25 per month for unlimited paddling. To join, just show up at the club headquarters on a given Sunday morning at 9. Or call the telephone number listed on this page.
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If you're ready to paddle away some of your free time, here's some numbers that might interest you:
* Ventura Hokuloa
* Marina del Rey
* Santa Monica