7 Questions With Local Outrigger Paddler Fred Akpala

Fred Akpala, 7 Questions With Local Outrigger Paddler Fred Akpala, Marin Magazine

Fred Akpala

This month, 300 outrigger paddlers from all over California will convene under the Golden Gate Bridge for the 24th annual Kula ‘Anela. The event lasts all day Saturday, August 25, and ends with a party on the deck of the Presidio Yacht Club. Two teams are representing Marin: He’e Nalu,  and the host team, Tamalpais Outrigger Canoe Club (TOCC) from Sausalito. To learn more about the event and this fast-growing sport, we tracked down TOCC president Fred Akpala. Born and raised in Nigeria, he probably didn’t imagine that at 40 he’d be commuting via ferry from Sausalito to San Francisco to work in the tallest building on the West Coast, let alone leading TOCC in his free time.

What can spectators expect from the race?

A whole lot of aloha spirit; it’s always a fun time. The name of the race, Kula ‘Anela, means “golden angel” in Hawaiian and was chosen to represent the race course itself — starting at the Golden Gate and going around Angel Island. Novice races start at 8:30 a.m. and upper-level paddling crews around 10 a.m. Watching the canoes line up at the start of the race at the foot of the Golden Gate can be quite exciting. Around 1 p.m., when the races are over, the entertainment begins. You can grab a bite of paella, enjoy the entertainment, enter a raffle, or shop our merch — the best in the NCOCA [Northern California Outrigger Canoe Association].

Who can join the club?

Anyone. Your first two years are your novice years — we coach and nurture you to be comfortable in being in the canoe, in being with other people and in blending with the stroke. After your second year, you graduate and move on to the next level based on your age. We are a group of all ages. In fact, one of our members now is over 70, and she’s still paddling strong as hell. We really encourage anyone to join. No experience necessary, not even a history of exercising — although we encourage knowing how to swim. I learned how to swim only eight years ago, myself.

Just eight years ago?

Yes, it’s true. When I lived in Southern California, I took a year of swimming classes. Right after that, I started snorkeling and cliff diving from waterfalls. Then, five years ago, my colleague took me paddling — I loved it and joined the following season.

How did you become president?

I like to say “I missed an email.” Actually, though, the last president, Shari Kidani, put my name down for the position and I thought it was a good opportunity. I felt it was time to give back. I have been in the club for four years and each year has taken me to places I never dreamt of going. I’m glad I can give that to others.

What have you gained through being in this club?

Every year I gain more confidence in tackling new things, new challenges — on and off the water.

What do you love most about TOCC?

Easy — the community. We have a fabulous team of people and the community doesn’t end with TOCC; it encompasses all 21 clubs in the NCOCA and over 60 clubs nationwide. No matter which club you join, you become part of a bigger ‘ohana.

What does ‘ohana represent in outrigger paddling?

Paddling arises from Polynesian culture. It’s not just a sport; it is an expression of the Polynesian culture. ‘Ohana, which means “family,” stems from that — being part of a family. You are a part of something bigger than yourself. Another word I like is mahalo, “thank you.” At the end of every paddle, everyone says mahalo — to the canoe, to the crew, to Mother Nature.