What Floats your Boat?

The Polynesians who first paddled to Hawai’i filled their canoes with the necessities of creating a new life on an unknown island. In the modern era, similar outrigger canoes with six seats race sprints in bays and long distances across ocean channels.

Since the first six ‘Ohana Oasis retreats I facilitated took place in Hawai’i, I incorporated aspects of the culture into some of the activities. Using this Polynesian history as a metaphor for life, a retreat cohort was gathered around the dining room table working through an activity called, “What Floats Your Boat?” They were tasked with identifying who or what filled each of the unique roles of the environment, the canoe itself, and the six team members paddling in it. 

Parents started flipping through magazines to find pictures or words that represented each space, coloring or writing what was serving in each role and floating their particular boat. Quietness descended as everyone pondered ​​until a mother made the startling observation she’d placed herself in every single role.

On the other end of the spectrum some grieving parents discover their deceased child fills most, if not all, spots.

In the scramble to stay afloat, grieving parents typically fill their boat with whatever is easiest to keep it moving and somewhat seaworthy.

When someone grieving is ready to point their canoe in a particular direction for a voyage, it’s critical to assess if their current situation is actually capable of moving them towards the future they’re excited to discover.


In this activity you can do the What Floats Your Boat? activity for yourself. It includes:

  • Draw an outrigger canoe in the ocean
  • Review the function of each element:
    • Environmental: Water, Sun, Wind
    • The Canoe: Hull (stores all the provisions) and ama (keeps the canoe balanced)
    • The Team: Each of the seats which have different tasks and roles (pace setter, encourager, engine room, steersman)
  • Fill in each part of the drawing with what in your life fulfills each role

Capturing a periodic snapshot of life can prove helpful, even when we haven’t recently weathered a storm. If done thoroughly and honestly, taking an assessment of one’s surroundings, team, and equipment may even dramatically alter life’s course.

Personally, professionally, and financially I was in the best place I’d ever been in my life. It’d been eight years since Alison died and most of the time I felt happy. Yet one text message prompted my own snapshot review. It proved the beginning of a new and wild adventure that’d eventually lead me to my own intimate knowledge of outrigger canoes. But more on that in the next blog 😉

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