Ann Yoshida

Ocean Whispers

Photo: Ann Yoshida

As a little girl from Hawaii, instilled in me was the Hawaiian perspective of the power of the ocean. The Hawaiian Islands are the PIKO (center/core) of the world and we are connected through ocean. The ocean is our blue continent and the winds and currents are our highways connecting us to unknow lessons,  places and people that we do not know.

Like most kids in Hawaii, I naturally, I grew up in the summer diving, paddling and steering the boat for my father as he was fishing. In the winter, I was riding the waves, humbled by the powerful hands of nature. In the water, I learned to trust my abilities and know the patterns and signs of the ocean to make sure I am safe and know where to go. 3. One day as a little girl, I saw the fish in the sea jumping as if they were trying to get away from something. I knew then, not to go in the water but a few of the other kids went in the water and they saw a huge shark hunting for food.  I saw the signs and knew the lessons that were taught me when I saw the signs. This is how I was trained, this is what I was taught. Over time, I forgot these lessons.

About 2 years after I was in a car crash that left me paralyzed, my friends and I decided to sign up for a long-distance prone paddle board race together to push ourselves and test our physical abilities. It was a little out of the ordinary because we were all wheelchair users and it would be the first-time people in wheelchairs signed up for this type of race in Hawaii. After signing up, I had no clue that this race would remind me of the lessons learned in the ocean as a child and catapult me into living an extraordinary life in adulthood. I only had about 5 days to learn how to prone paddle, but I was an adaptive surfer and in good shape, so I had confidence in my abilities to make it a long distance in open ocean to the finish line.

Photo: Ann

On the day of the race, each one of my friends backed out for various reasons so I had to do the race alone. My friend who was a paddler said he would be my escort paddler. I entered the water at Maunalua. After 10 minutes into the race, I was sore, hot, tired, out of breath and ready to quit but I was only 10 minutes into the race. I struggled with the idea to quit. I knew I was not prepared for the race. My neck was super sore, and I did not have a support pad to help reduce the strain on my neck while paddling and I had just started the race. Just as I turned into the direction of the shore to go in, I saw a water bottle that was the perfect size and strength for a neck rest. With the neck rest that the ocean provided, I could go longer.

Upon approaching my favorite surf spot on the eastside, Secrets, I decided to turn to shore because I just couldn’t go any further. Right then, the biggest turtle popped his head out and looked at me and proceeded to follow me on the shore side of my board so I couldn’t turn in to shore because that would get me too close to the turtle. I thought, this turtle was telling me to go further.  As I approached Black Point, I was done. I knew that I could paddle into the Shangri La pool and then have my escort catch a ride to my car to come pick me up. But at that point, about 40 spinner dolphins about 15 feet away were jumping and giving me athe most spectacular show. The dolphins re-energized my spirit and I told myself I could finish the race.

Photo: Ann surfing with AccesSurf

Yet, when I got to Tongs, right past Diamond Head, the pain in my shoulder was killing me and the rash guard was failing to protect me from sunburn.  I felt sure I needed to go to shore and quit. Kaimana’s was a perfect place to go toashore and wait for a ride to my wheelchair. But again, the ocean spoke, and a monk seal pulled alongside me shore side just close enough for me to paddle but not turn. The monk stayed with me and looked at me…I almost was scared because I know they have a tendency to nip at people. Again, I was energized and focused to finish the race. Just as I approached Publics, I saw a person in red, on the shore. I stared at that person and said “make it to the bullseye”. As I got closer, I saw that that red person was my best friend of 30 years in a red sarong who was hapai (pregnant) with her first child. I never told her that I saw her from so far away and she was my goal target.

I finally finished. After I was done, (not the last finisher), I saw the other racers that were race prepared feeling energized and paddling back to Maunalua I spent the week after the race, recovering from it. This race was the hardest thing I have done in my life, even compared to rehab and learning how to speak and walk and drive and live again.

I realized how powerful that experience was and how it brought me back to my childhood of learning from the lessons of the ocean. I had the power to finish this race in me the whole time but I doubted my abilities. However, like in my childhood. The ocean provided signs to teach me life lessons.

The life lessons:

  1. I realized I was not alone on the race as the animals gave me the strength to move forward and finish the race. They were blessings in my journey and I saw them as blessings.
  2. The ocean provides for me. (cooling water, water bottle and animals)
  3. My support system is there even though I may not know they are.
  4. My body can do more than what I think it could do.
  5. The power of preparing for a long journey.

From that experience, I decided to look for lessons from the ocean on a daily basis as I surf, paddle, swim or just lounge in/on the water. I also used the experience to find strength to move away from home and work, get educated and travel around the world as a Paralympic paddler and World Champion adaptive surfer. I also have devoted my life and legacy to sharing the lessons I have learned in the ocean and in nature with other through my work at AccesSurf and Network Enterprises where I get to work with people with disabilities and share what I learned on my journey and help people get started on their journey.