While she developed a passion for outrigger canoe paddling later in life, Suzi Mechler credits the sport for keeping her invigorated and, indeed, young at heart.
Mechler started paddling at 47, initially picking up her blade with Lanikai Canoe Club, where she remained for 11 years. Mechler then joined neighboring rival Kailua Canoe Club eight years ago, and the newly minted 65-year-old is still honing her skills as “the newest Medicare cardholder” in her crew.
At the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association’s state championship regatta Aug. 6 at Keehi Lagoon, Mechler helped Kailua’s masters 65 crew paddle to a runner-up finish. The crew came up just a few seconds short of upsetting Hawaiian Canoe Club of Maui, which went on to win the regatta and claim the club’s fourth consecutive state crown.
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Sporting her silver medal with pride, Mechler noted that the result wasn’t as important as “enjoying the journey and realizing how you got there,” adding, “Although, (the medal) is pretty nice!”
Mechler and her squad practice three times a week during the summer regatta season, and she stays in shape year-round by cross-training at the gym.
In addition to the physical fitness that results from paddling, Mechler also realized the cultural significance of the sport in the islands.
Kailua has thrived under the direction of its “Three Wise Men” — Pat Erwin, Hank Leandro (the club’s head coach) and Kamoa Kalama. The trio represents a collection of longtime paddlers within the club who have become coaches and mentors for generations of paddlers moving through the prosperous program, which represents an integral chapter of the state sport’s rich history.
“I was lucky enough to be born and raised here, and this sport is one of the really exclusive things to Hawaii that I am so grateful to have in my life,” Mechler said. “It’s where I’m meant to be in life and I thank my mom and dad for moving here in the 1940s because this sport is so amazing.
“It’s not just a sport, it’s a culture.”
As the club’s registrar, Mechler is the glue that holds the team together; without her attention to detail and organization, Kailua’s talent would be left high and dry.
She is responsible for ensuring club members are properly registered within the Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association and HCRA; one slip-up, and the club could face fines and penalties that could cost her team regatta titles.
“Our club is 500 members strong, so keeping all the paperwork organized and ensuring that everyone is eligible to race takes quite a bit of time,” Mechler said.
When she’s not on the water, Mechler stays busy assisting her husband Steve, a landscape architect, in their office and also enjoys photography. Prior to that, she served as director of operations at KSSK radio for 24 years and as vice president of the Mountain Apple Co. record label for eight years.
Mechler explained that while she enjoys working, paddling provides an escape to help create a crucial balance in life.
“I love to work, and working with my husband is pretty cool. But, while paddling is a big commitment, it fills my soul and gets me out on the water,” Mechler said. “It also helps keep the weight down and brings new friends into my life, and also keeps me very much in touch with this beautiful place that we live in.”
Mechler noted that, while she could probably find another mode of exercise, it wouldn’t be as fun as paddling.
“This is a really amazing part of my life that I discovered later in life, and I’m going to keep paddling as long as I can,” Mechler said. “I didn’t start until I was 47; 65 is the new 45, so you can do whatever you want — just go for it.”