Rocco April: ‘Privileged’ to be here

WAILUA — You might make plans for your future, but sometimes life pulls you in another direction.

Oregon native Rocco April, who resides in Wailua, never thought he’d ever live in Hawaii. Yet here he is.

He never imagined he’d one day be a paddling coach for young kids. Yet he is doing that, too.

The vice president of the Puuwai Canoe Club spent some time with The Garden Island beside the Wailua River last week, where the club practices. There, he discussed what brought him here, why he adores the island culture and his journey through the sport of paddling.

So, you said you’ve been here for the past 3 1/2 years. What brought you out here?

Just to be closer to the work. (His company, Roccit Consulting, has one client.)The main client is here. The AlohaCondos.com site is here. It was just necessary to be here. And, we wanted to move. We liked it.

How was it moving to Kauai from Oregon?

Well, it was slow. We vacationed out here for years — working vacation. We’d be here 2-3 months at a time. Visiting all around, seeing the lay of the land and seeing the different owners — the Aloha Condos site is all private condos. Every owner that comes on, we have to vet them, make sure everything is right, look at their condo and see if it will fit in with the rest of ours, introduce ourselves and take them through the whole dog-and-pony show. There’s also a lot of set up, too. We have to walk them through getting a credit card account, a checking account, a merchant account and all this online stuff.

Yeah. And there is no way I could have afforded it without having a job. That’s definitely what made it. We’re lucky in that way. I can do my job anywhere. Just laptop and cellphone — those are the tools.

You work in Internet consulting. Did you go to school for that or were you self-taught?

Self-taught. I actually went to school for theater. I have a degree from Oregon State.

When I first got out of school, my first job was in sales. Being animated in sales is a great tool. I just wasn’t very good at that. I wasn’t good at the hard sell. I got another job in the same company in marketing. That was my first exposure to marketing. I’ve been in technical marketing ever since.

Theater? How did you get into that?

It hit late. Honest to goodness. Somebody just said there were auditions for this show and that I should try out. I tried out, got a part and started talking to everybody. It was pretty fun.

There was a lot of crossover from speech communication to theater. So it was an easy (transition). I got my main degree in speech communication, and my minor was in theater.

What got you interested in paddling?

It’s kind of funny. My wife actually got my daughter into it before we even moved. She found the Boys & Girls Club and signed her up for here, but before we moved. When we got here, she was already set up.

I didn’t know anything about it. I was like, “Hey, you’re doing this paddling thing. That’s cool. That sounds Hawaiian. Go and do that.”

Then we came down to one of her races. I think I may have even came down to one of her practices. Going down to one of races here, I remember thinking, “Man, that looks really fun. Do the adults do that, too? Or is it just for kids?” This guy looks at me and says, “No, no. Just show up here (Wailua River) at this time on Tuesday and Thursday.” So, I did. That was about half-way through the season. So right about now would be three full years of paddling (for me).

Did paddling come easy or hard at first?

It was interesting. I’ve been an athlete forever, you know. Not a great athlete, but I can manage to do something. It was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve done marathons. I’ve done endurance events. I used to road race on bikes a lot. Stuff like that, but this is definitely the hardest. Especially in the bigger canoes — the six-man (canoes).Everyone is doing their best, and you don’t want to be that one person that’s not doing their best. So, you’re pulling as hard as you can for about an hour, an hour and a half.

When you’re new, your stroke is really inefficient. You just end up working super, super hard. The guys that have been doing for 15-20 years, they’re paddling really easily and they’re just flying by. All the novices are just going, “Ehhhh!” to no effect.

Was paddling difficult because it’s more team oriented?

Definitely. It’s a team of six and it has to be perfect, right? The stoke has to be perfect and you have to listen. Especially when you’re out in the ocean catching waves, there’s a lot of nuance to it.

The basic idea of sticking a paddle in and pulling it back is rudimentary. But there’s tons of little tweaks and things that are unsaid.

As I’ve lived here, I learned that a lot of the knowledge is not passed down through books, classes, schools and teachers. It’s by doing it.

You just find someone who’s done it a long time and just hang out with that person. They’ll teach you just by watching them. It’s really modeled, which is the best way to learn things — watching someone do it the right way.

So who was that mentor for you?

There’s been a couple of them. For the first couple of years, it’s been our coach Luke Evslin. He’s a younger paddler. He’s been around a long time and is very, very good. He coaches normally the open guys, the young 20-somethings that I was talking about — the ones that will go by you really fast (while) hardly working at all.

Another guy, Keone Miyake, he’s about my age and he’s been paddling forever. He just knows a lot about paddling and about all the mechanics and about the paddling community. He knows everyone. If you need to get something done, Keone’s your guy.

How much have you improved since joining Puuwai?

Well, it’s a journey more than a destination. I think it’s similar to golf. As you get into golf, as I did in my early 20s, the more you learn, you find out about how far behind you are and how much you have to learn. And what the gap is between you and the really good guys.

How did you get into coaching for the club?

I ended up helping my daughter’s coach because there was just so many kids. I would be down here just waiting anyway, so I’d help. Especially with the little kids, it’s easy to tell them to pay attention — don’t look to the side. Look forward. And paddle instead of not paddling. So I can help with that. So I’ve been coaching the kids ever since, pretty much ever since my daughter started. Then became vice president. Been that for the past two years. Also, I’m the coach for the Open women.

The first thing I do with whoever I’m coaching, I give them a disclaimer that I’m not perfect and that I don’t know exactly what I’m doing. I’m fairly new at this, too. It helps because then I pitch it as that we’re all learning this together.

What are some differences between coaching adults and kids?

In both cases, the experience varies quite a bit. Luckily, now we’ve got a novice coach. All the novices go with one coach. It’s really hard to be in a boat with three novices and three open paddlers, very experienced paddlers. Everyone’s frustrated because the open paddlers aren’t getting a good workout, and the novices are frustrated because they may not be able to keep up. They don’t understand or they’re not getting it. That’s the parallel between the two groups.

The difference between the kids and adults is, the kids you’re doing half babysitting and keeping them in line, and teaching them discipline, work hard, clean up after themselves and how to be a good person. For the most part, the adults have that figured out. They know that they need to work hard.

Way back when you were still in college, would you have imagined you’d be doing what you’re doing now?

No, that would have been very foreign. But overall, living here has been a really interesting experience. I think the thing that people don’t get when they vacation here is the huge differences in culture from the Mainland. Overall, I think the culture has way more to offer here. I think people here are nicer and more helpful. There’s a bigger sense of community. People help each other, even if you don’t know (them).

I think that’s part of the divide. It’s one of the things that people who grew up here don’t want to see go away. I try to remember that, one: I’m haole. And two: not to abuse that privilege and try to bring my thoughts and my recipes here. I try to figure out what they’re doing and how to make that work for me. So far, it’s been great.

The paddling community has been very welcoming. I think in general around here, if you keep your mouth shut, work hard, stay out of the way, do your job and don’t complain, you’re going to do fine.

For how much longer, do you think, you’d be involved with the canoe club?

As long as I’m here, I’ll always be involved with the club in some capacity. We (my family) usually last between 5-7 years in a place. I don’t know if we’ll move to a different island or go back to the Mainland. We’ve even talked about going to Europe. Like I said, I can do my job anywhere. The sky is the limit.

Our daughter is 13 now. So we kind of got to make a choice: either stay here until she’s 16-17 and out of high school, or move now and make another home or move back to the Mainland where we were from in Oregon.

No plans right now, but as long as I’m here, I’ll be with the club.

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