About Outrigger Paddling

  The History and Culture of Outrigger Paddling


The History and Culture of Outrigger Paddling

Most outrigger racing can trace its roots to the Polynesian cultures of Tahiti and Hawaii. Traditionally outrigger canoe racing took place in a canoe with six paddlers (OC-6 or six man canoes). For the most part racing in the United States is an outgrowth of Hawaii’s open ocean racing scene, with the major events being focused on the open ocean island crossing between Moloka'i and Oahu. These races include the men’s Molokai Hoe and the women’s Na Wahine O Ke Kai.  

If racing a canoe across one of the world’s most turbulent channels is too intimidating, there are many other entry level races where you can gain experience. Joining a local outrigger club is a great place to begin learning and practicing the sport of outrigger paddling. Clubs welcome new paddlers and provide structured coaching for those new to the sport. Canoe clubs are the foundation of outrigger paddling and provide not only instruction in the basic techniques used in paddling, but extend a feeling of family or “ohana”, for which Hawaiians are famous.

One Man, Two Man, and Rudderless Va'a Outrigger Paddling in the U.S.


In the early 1990’s kayak builder John Martin of Hawaiian Designs looked at the rudderless Tahitian flat water canoes (va'a) that had been imported to Hawaii and decided to build a rough water OC-1, or one man outrigger canoe. The Hawaiian outrigger scene was changed forever. Designed to surf the prevailing northeast swells between the islands of Moloka'i and Oahu, the solo canoes were not only fast, but user friendly for first time paddlers. In recent years, the va'a, or rudderless canoe has become more popular with the influence of Tahitian paddlers.  Adding further excitement to the sport, canoe builders are now designing and building "Unlimited Canoes", 6 person carbon fiber racing canoes that are much lighter than the traditional 400 pound fiberglass or KOA canoes.  

Beyond the scope of individual or pair racing, the solo, or OC-1 canoe has become an essential training tool for any paddler serious about OC-6 racing. The OC-1 is the optimum tool for learning to paddle efficiently and is an effective tool for quantifying an individual paddler’s performance when making team canoe selections. Additionally, most outrigger associations have a race series specifically for these canoes.There are many excellent OC-1s on the market today, with most of them being manufactured in Hawaii, California or overseas.  OC-1s are light, sleek fun canoes, typically made out of carbon fiber or fiberglass. 

Recreational Outrigger Paddling


Outrigger paddling is a popular form of fitness training. Benefits include a great upper body workout, as well as cardiovascular endurance. Paddling tends to be “easy” on the body, free from the impact associated with other endurance sports. The use of one man and two man canoes for recreation and surfing is also very common. Many clubs also offer paddlers the opportunity to paddle on a recreational level without the commitment to train for competition.

Finding an Outrigger Club Near You


If you are lucky enough to be a paddler in the state of Hawaii, finding a club should be as easy as asking a friend or walking to the beach. Since the sport of Outrigger is truly designed for open ocean paddling there are many clubs along the coastlines of the continental US as well. California, the Northwest and Canada have very strong outrigger communities.  Many outrigger clubs have even sprung up around large lakes and rivers.  The Columbia Gorge offers a very unique paddling experience, combining the excitement of wind, waves and current.  You will also find clubs in Minnesota, Arizona, Texas and in many states on the East Coast.  

Here are a few associations around the country that will help you find an outrigger club near you.


OHCRA Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association is probably the largest outrigger association and governs many of the rules and regulations for racing in the sport
PNW ORCA Pacific Northwest Outrigger Racing Canoe Association includes clubs in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana
NCOCA Northern California Outrigger Canoe Association
SCORA Southern Clifornia Outrigger Racing Association
ECORA East Coast Outriggier Racing Association includes clubs in Ontario, Maine, Maryland, Connecticut, New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, DC, Florida
TOCC Texas Outrigger Racing Association
CORA Canadian Outrigger Canoe Association includes clubs in Vancouver, Victoria, Penticton, Kelowna, Calgary and more.