Outrigger canoe paddling began in the Pacific Rim region about 30,000 years ago, with canoes playing an integral role in the ultimate survival and transmigration of ancient cultures. It was thousands of years before outrigger canoe racing became a competitive sport and canoes evolved into the sleek racing boats we see today all around Kauai, Hawaii and the world. The first canoe race, initially for men, was in the Hawaiian Islands in Waikiki in 1917.
Originating in Polynesia, the canoes are about 40 feet long and weigh approximately 400 pounds. Six paddlers sit evenly spaced in the canoe with a steersman sitting at the back controlling the canoe’s course with their paddle. Paddlers one through five paddle on staggered sides of the canoe, with seat one, the “stroker”, setting the pace. The “caller”, usually in seat two or three signals the changes after 10-15 strokes.
The outrigger is very narrow, about two feet wide at the widest, and is stabilized by an “ama”, a 10-foot long float which is connected to the canoe by two wooden struts called “iako”. Together, this rigging acts as a counter balance which allows the canoes to venture into the rough waters of the Pacific.
Modern canoe racing is in two forms: long distant races and regattas (sprints). Sprint races are held on courses between one half mile and 1.5 miles. Marathon races vary in distance between 8 and 42 miles. The early race crews consisted of 6 men who paddled the entire distance, also known as “ironmen”. However, in today’s races, most crews consist of nine-ten paddlers and each canoe is followed by an escort boat, which carries the paddlers not in the canoe. “Water changes” occur every 20-30 minutes in mid-channel with paddlers in the canoe rolling over one side while the rested paddlers are climbing in the canoe from the ama side.
An outrigger is pulled through the water by paddlers reaching out and grabbing the water with their paddle. A 10 +/- degree bend away from the paddler helps increase the lift of the blade as it enters the water and effectively pulls and lifts the canoe out of the water, decreasing the canoe’s surface area and thus water resistance.
To maximize the lift, power is focused at the front of the stroke. The paddle should exit the water when it reaches the paddlers mid thigh to hip. The gain maximum the lift and pull from all paddlers, everyone must “blend” or be in synch…all paddles must enter and exit the water at the same time and all paddlers using the same stroke technique. This is achieved through developing a consistent paddling technique both individually and as team as well as a lot of practice.
Another way paddlers garner the maximum leverage and pull is to rotate from the hips. Paddlers twist the upper body instead of using their arms, utilizing the larger and stronger muscle groups in back. Getting the longest reach and twist requires solid core strength and flexibility. Also, a locking of the lower body and arms results in less rocking of the canoe which can decrease forward motion. Paddlers should sit up, keep their back straight and twist at the waist with heads up and all in a row. Lastly, the forward lean is predisposed by each paddler, but by no means should there be excessive lean forward. Unwarranted forward lean increases lower back stress and can result in injury.
Hawaii is the birthplace of modern outrigger canoe racing with the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association being established in 1950. The sport continues to spread far and wide from the US to places like Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe.
The Parrish Collection Kauai is a proud sponsor of Kauai’s own Kukuiula Outrigger Canoe Club here in Koloa, Kauai. Owner “JP” Parrish as well as several staff members are paddlers and can been seen on the water almost daily. Several of our properties, including Sandy Beach House (shown in the background of a recent race), Hale Makai, and Whaler’s Cove are great places to catch some race action. Keep an eye out for the canoes on the water!!