As paddlers, we are obsessed with talking about stroke. Terms like catch and cavitation have become common place. Nowadays we even talk a fair amount about training programs and Periodization no longer sounds like a latin word. However, what we never talk about is surfing. Or, if someone does bring it up they're immediately shut down because "it's all about feel and time on the water." As Joe Biden would say: that is a bunch of malarky. It's time to demystify surfing. As it goes with everything else in life; reading about the concepts won't make you a pro, but it will put you on the right track.
Surfing an OC-1 is all about keeping the nose of your canoe facing down. If you watch a video of a top OC-1 paddler, the nose of their canoe is facing downhill up to 95% of the time. Now look at all the rest of us; our nose is facing downhill less than half of that. So, what this says is that the winners are essentially paddling downhill while the rest of us are just paddling down a bumpy road, or, even worse, paddling uphill. The best thing about outrigger canoe paddling is that we create our course. It's not like riding a bike, where you are stuck with the track you have. It's more similar to skiing down a set of moguls that are constantly moving. The best paddlers can anticipate the movement of the moguls and therefore keep their nose down, while the average paddlers just go straight down the hill and wait for the chance occurrence of a mogul moving out of their way.
That's it. That's all there is to it. Literally, the goal is to avoid the moguls.
So, how do you do that? Simple! Hang back. We need to get rid of the temptation of catching a wave and running down the face of it. While the winner of any given race should have the fastest average speed, I can almost guarantee that they don't have the fastest top speed. When you catch a wave, the goal is to milk that wave for as long as possible and wait for your opening. You do that by sitting on top and putting in just enough energy to keep the nose facing down. Often times you'll have to cut a hard angle either left or right to keep your nose from hitting the wave in front of you.
Now comes the most important part. Every time you catch a wave you need to put all of your effort (mental and physical) into connecting into another wave. It doesn't happen by chance, it happens by scouting your opening and getting to it. The mogul analogy is particularly relevant here, because at this point you're literally going around the moguls. But, to take it one step further, you're using one mogul to propel your canoe to another. The moguls are where two waves join together. Since we're always going to have multiple swell directions, we're always going to have multiple high and low points on a moving wave face. If you're having trouble visualizing this, put your hands in front of your face, karate chop style. Now overlap your hands 90 degrees to each other so that they are creating an X in front of your face. With one hand on top of the other and the pinky of your right hand perpendicular and resting on the pointer of your left, hold that X and picture it as two swells coming together. Where they join they create a high point and in front of that point is a deep trough. As you travel further down the line of your hand away from the intersection, the power ebbs and the edge of the wave is absorbed by the ocean. Now, maintaining the perpendicular angle and keeping the pinky of your right hand touching the pointer of your left, slide your hands away from each other. The intersection point should move. That's what's happening in the ocean. The peaks of two joining waves are always moving forward, and the low points (your connection areas) are constantly moving. Now, add twenty of your friends' hands, turn those hands into ocean energy, and you have an average downwind run. Your goal is to understand where the intersections are and therefore where the highs and the lows are. So that every time you catch a wave, you're looking for the low point of the wave in front of you so that you can paddle through it and into the next bump. The best part about connecting waves is that it creates a sort of slingshot affect. Oftentimes groundswells are moving too quickly to catch. So, by connecting, you're getting yourself from a slow moving wave onto a fast moving wave.
To put it all together:
It takes some time to understand that critical energy balance between dropping in and falling off the wave. It also takes time to be able to find the openings. Putting it all together takes a lifetime. The ability to surf is arguably the single most important aspect of outrigger canoeing. You can be in peak fitness with a perfect stroke, but you'll get obliterated in the surf if you don't understand the concept. Now, go take advantage of all this wind (if you're in Hawai'i) and go paddle downwind!