Opinion: Musings from the Coast

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The Paddle Out

Lysanne Ray Sebastian, my niece, was a waterwoman and a stud.  

She swam before she walked, was a star on the Corona del Mar High School swim team, and then was a varsity member of the USD’s rowing team. But it was after graduation that she found her true love, outrigger paddling at the Newport Aquatic Center (NAC).

We’re talking about outriggers like the kind the Polynesians used for thousands of years; they have long, thin hulls for speed and a side pontoon for stability.

NAC is in Newport’s Back Bay, and houses some 400 outrigger hulls, boat repair facilities, workout rooms, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of family. In fact, they call themselves Ohana, the Hawaiian word for extended family.

Lysanne found Ohana and never looked back.  

She joined a paddling team, or tribe, the Imua’s, and it was off to the races—like to Catalina (takes four to six hours—these athletes are intense). They race in six-person hulls with a chase boat, and every twenty minutes or so, two fresh paddlers jump from the chase boat into the ocean and climb into the seats just vacated by two others, 10 or 12 Imua’s taking turns – pumping, always pumping, their shared effort quickly forging them into one paddling machine.

One Imua rule is sacrosanct: “Once you start the race, you finish the race.” Meaning, paddlers must be in superb shape. Their whole Imua tribe depends upon it. So you do not quit. Ever. If you do, the Imua’s probably aren’t for you, and knowing that, there is the pride of the elite.

After racing to Catalina, the Imua’s race back the next day, but that night they party, tend to sore muscles and blisters, swap tales—and sometimes fall in love—like Lysanne and her future husband, Rick, who was on the same team.    

There is another thing too. The connection to the infinite. It happens when your paddle slices cleanly and silently into the water, and you are in tune with your crew. The Steersman has found the exact one true perfect angle, or line, for those waves and that wind, and instead of you working to plow through the water, it is smooth and effortless, and you are halfway through hour three and still feel fresh and strong, and you forget you.

Because your mind is out there.

We held Lysanne’s paddle out (pancreatic cancer) on Sunday morning, Nov. 19, four days before Thanksgiving. It was at Big Corona near the entrance to Newport Harbor. It consisted mostly of paddlers in about fifty outriggers that were sized from one person to twelve. Once at the correct spot (33.5N by 117.8W), all the boats in a wide circle, Lysanne’s ashes were floated out on a yellow boogie board. The ashes were in a heavy biodegradable box that would be dropped and slowly disintegrate.  

The water was bracingly cold, but Rick jumped in immediately and spontaneously followed first by Lysanne’s four siblings, her son and daughter, and then by a dozen more paddlers.

Rick pushed the boogie board to the middle and extended his arm to touch the box. Soon everyone’s arms were stretched, touching. Then Rick spoke the impossible farewell to his beloved wife, hugged the box, and finally dropped it. Even though no one had a face mask, everyone stuck their heads in the water and watched the box descend, and some even dove down after it.

Afterward, Rick swam back to his outrigger but hesitated a long time before climbing in. When he did, it was at the hull’s front position, the pacesetter. Rick paddled furiously, feverishly, as if somehow this was a different reality, one he could outrun, and return home to find Lysanne waiting.

To see a short video on her Paddle Out, visit https://vimeo.com/887056768.

Michael co-founded Orange County School of the Arts, The Discovery Cube, Sage Hill School, Art Spaces Irvine and several other area nonprofit organizations. He is a business partner with Sanderson-J. Ray Development and has lived in Laguna Beach since the early 1980s.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Mr. Ray, what a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing.

    My husband and I had the pleasure of being a chase boat for a female outrigger crew many years ago off our coast. It was absolutely exhilarating to watch the timing and precision these top athletes perform together and independently on their achievement journey. Their efforts exemplified the Ohana commitment.

    I have to admit I was a bit nervous as we were responsible for plucking them out of the water in a timely manner. An amazing experience I won’t ever forget.

    RIP Lysaane. Condolences to the blessed family.

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