Shantell Ching – In The Zone

Shantell Ching – In the Zone
2000 – Tahiti to Hawaii
By Sam Low


For the past week, Shantell Ching, navigating Hokule’a home, has gone without appreciable sleep.

“I catnap” she says, “for maybe an hour or so a day. Last night, I was so tired that my head was bouncing. I like to sit in the navigator’s seat but I was afraid I might go to sleep and fall overboard so I moved over to the platform.”

What Shantell is going through is part of any navigator’s rite of passage – attaining the mental and physical stamina needed to constantly process a steady flow of information and make good decisions.

“It takes a lot of adjusting just to get in synch with the ocean after being on land for so long, ” Shantell explains. “I need to get to where I can mentally see the canoe in the middle of the star compass in the middle of the ocean – so I see the compass points on the horizon. I have to reorient myself to the southern stars, for example, so I don’t have to think about where they will come up but I seem to know by instinct”.

Most top athletes attain a similar instinct when they’re performing at their peak. Basketball players, for example, report having “eyes in the back of their heads.” They know what’s happening in the court all around them – how other players will move, where the ball will be. “I’m in the zone,” they say. Sport psychologists think to enter ‘the zone’ a top athlete must learn to use both sides of his brain, first mastering the mechanics of the game in the right-hand, rational side of the brain – then switching to the left side, the control center for human artistry, to become truly creative. The process that Shantell describes seems to be similar. She’s entering her own version of ‘the zone’.

“I’m gradually getting the entire sky in my head, ” she says. “I’m getting a good feel for how the waves make the canoe move when we’re steering different courses. I need to get in synch with the canoe – to feel in my body when she’s pinched too far into the wind or when she’s sailing too far off the wind – when she’s struggling and when she’s free.”

“Lack of sleep is no longer a problem. I can be immersed in the navigation, for example, but when we encounter the beginning of a squall I snap right out of it and know exactly what to do. I’m right there. I’ve been learning about navigation now for six years and this is a chance to apply what I’ve learned. If I’m successful, the credit goes to my teachers – to Nainoa and to Bruce and Chad. And, really, to all the teachers who inspired me. When I was in elementary school I was too young to understand how important math would be in my life but a lot of navigation is basic math – addition, subtraction, simple trig. Now, when I solve a math problem in my head, I thank all those teachers who were strict with me”.

“I can see Hawai’i in my mind and that’s a good sign. Nainoa taught me that to find an island, you first have to see it mentally – and that’s also what Mau taught him.”