Some of the off-season crew on a Saturday morning paddle.

Steering some of the off-season crew on a Saturday morning paddle.

Winter is “off-season” for outrigger canoeing, so my team doesn’t practice regularly.  It is a  much less-desirable time of year for being on the water–it’s cold, stormy, and the days are short.

But it’s precisely all of those undesirable reasons that make off-season paddling so fun to me.  There’s a small hardy band of half-a-dozen paddlers that comes together every Wednesday for a nighttime jaunt–an easy 8 miles or so of canoeing from the Back Bay to the Harbor mouth (and when we’re lucky, all the way out to the bell buoy).  There’s an irreverence to the off-season that is potty humor and in-jokes, plenty of near-misses with docks and channel markers and whatever mysterious dark detritus floating alongside our boat (a dead sea lion? a dead bird? a bag of beach trash?).  But it is also the beauty of bioluminescent plankton and a sky full of stars.  It is a Jerry moonlight serenade after we cross the PCH bridge and it is Lynn’s unmistakable and infectious laugh. It is pirates at Halloween and twinkling lights for the holiday parade.  It is cold toes and noses and ears and fingers, and that occasional balmy Santa Ana breeze that greets us as we round the bend of the Back Bay. It is paddling for the for the sheer joy of being on the water and in the water, with friends.

But tonight regular Team Imua season practice begins.  It is time to prepare for races, to polish our form and build our strength.  Of course that’s all good (especially the strengthening part), but I’ll still be missing the off-season, more than a bit.