Outrigger Canoeing: A rookie wrinkly’s perspective

Having had a charity tennis tournament rained out this afternoon, I’m back home and watching the rain continue to dump on us, so it seems apt to talk about a water sport instead.

Back in October a friend invited me to try outrigger canoeing. If you’ve been to Hawai’i, or seen the closing credits for Hawaii Five-0, you’ll know the kind of canoe I mean … this kind:

Many years ago, I rowed in eights and fours in England (on the River Thames), even once taking part in the Head of the River race (which looked a little like this recent example); latterly, I’ve been more into enjoying ‘easy’ kayaking with Steve (we brought a couple of ocean kayaks with us to the island), so I was keen to give the traditional Hawaiian outriggers a go.

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HCC: River access is behind the building – turn right to head up river, or left to head out into Hanalei Bay

Luckily, I joined Hanalei Canoe Club (HCC) during the off-season, so I had a few months of recreational-level paddling with a small (i.e. ‘quality not quantity’) group who regularly go out on Monday and Friday mornings.

Since the paddling stroke is very different from rowing, this gave me a chance to learn the ropes and start to ‘educate’ the required muscles before the serious training began, which it did in February.

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Training sessions are now Monday and Wednesday evenings, and also Saturday mornings if there isn’t a race. As the season goes on, there will be a race or regatta on most Saturdays.

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Hanalei River passes through the Hanalei Wildlife Refuge and taro fields.

During winter months, we train up and down Hanalei River, but when the ocean calms down in the summer we’ll get out into Hanalei Bay.

We paddle in most weather conditions, wet or dry, so training is rarely canceled (unlike tennis)! It’s harder work on windy days and when the river is flowing fast, but on a good day (and there are plenty of those), the views are spectacular. Either way, it’s exhilarating and a great work-out. It’s also a very sociable activity, and it beats going to a gym.

I’m thoroughly enjoying my new sport, not just for the activity itself, but also for the friends I’ve made, and for all I’m learning about the tradition of the sport and Hawaiian culture. The club members are an enthusiastic and close-knit group. Everyone helps to lug all the canoes in and out of the water, and no one leaves until all the canoes are rinsed and stowed away under the building. Every training session ends with us all (30-35 paddlers on most days) gathering in a circle for announcements and the closing HCC Hawaiian chant.

During the season, there are all kinds of events, from long-distance ocean races to regattas that include quarter- or half-mile sprints. There are also many categories for a race: genders, age ranges, and rookies. The Novice A and B categories are for the rookies like me. It’s somewhat bizarre to be able to compete in a new sport when I’m almost past my sell-by date. 🙂

2013 is an especially exciting year for HCC, as it’s Kauai’s turn to host the State Championships in August, and I’m looking forward to being involved in some way or other. However, I cannot imagine participating in any long distance races, which are relays requiring team members to swap in and out of the canoe at intervals during the event! On those occasions I suspect I’ll restrict myself to the role of spectator and team support! 😉 (Here’s a video clip that shows what those swaps look like on the annual Na Pali Challenge, which starts in Hanalei Bay and heads west along the Na Pali coast down to Port Allen on the south of Kauai.)

Below is a brief gob-smacking look at the 2012 Na Wahine O Ka Kai event – a long distance women’s race from Molokai to O’ahu. The 2012 event was <um> pretty brutal! This clip shows the teams struggling to get out from the shore to the start line! 

No! I’m not in the running for any of our HCC teams for the 2013 Na Wahine O Ka Kai … and, if I had been, I definitely wouldn’t be after seeing this video! 🙂

 

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