The History and Culture of Outrigger Paddling


The History and Culture of Outrigger Paddling

Most outrigger racing can trace its roots to one of two Polynesian cultures; Tahitian or Hawaiian. 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 begin learning and practicing the sport of 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 early 1990’s kayak builder John Martin of Hawaiian Designs looked at the rudderless Tahitian flat water canoes 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.

Beyond the scope of individual or pair racing, the solo canoe has become an essential training tool for any paddler serious about OC-6 racing. Pat Erwin, coach of six time Moloka'i Hoe winners, Lanikai Canoe Club says, “If you are fast in a one-man, you are probably going to be fast in a six-man”. 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.

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.

Here are a few associations all over the country that will help you find a 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.