Daily Archives: 05/30/2004

Paddling Outriggers Featured In The New York Times

Nice little piece on outrigger canoeing in Friday’s NY Times – The New York Times > Travel > Escapes > Journeys: Adventurer | Outrigger Canoeing

I’ve been think about getting back on a canoe lately, it’s been far too long since I dipped my paddle in the ocean. I haven’t paddled since the typhoons hit in 2002. I had so many other things to worry about at the time, and the crew just never got back together. Maybe I should gather up the team and see if anyone is interested in starting out again.

Since the Times only keeps the articles up for a week or so, I am copying it below.

ON a balmy Saturday morning, it’s practice as usual for the New York Outrigger Club. What this group of outrigger canoe enthusiasts hears is not the crashing waves of the Pacific or the whistle of cool Hawaiian trade winds, but the shouts and calls of tourists who wave frenetically from the deck of the Intrepid at Pier 86 on the Hudson River in Manhattan. As the paddlers battle uptown against the current and pull up alongside the Intrepid for a midmorning stretch session, curious onlookers on the hulking aircraft carrier show increasingly noisy interest.

They are finally greeted with a wave and a hello from the club’s president, Di Eckerle, who rides in the six-person canoe’s rear steersman’s seat. A cheer goes up in reply, and Ms. Eckerle smiles. “Only in New York,” she says.

Though Manhattan’s waterfront is an unlikely place to find a thriving outrigger canoe scene – set as it is on a river whose obstacles include bobbing baseballs and soda cans, swells from the Circle Line ferries and gusts from choppers taking off and landing at the West 30th Street heliport – the club is a sign of the sport’s growing popularity outside Hawaii. It is just one of close to 30 clubs in the East Coast Outrigger Racing Association, which was formed seven years ago. Besides Manhattan, outrigger clubs are found in unlikely spots like Massachusetts and Texas, as well as several West Coast places where the mild climate and proximity to Hawaii make for a firmly established Hawaiian transplant community.

The outrigger canoe – whose hull is attached on one side to a float, or ama, for added stability in rough open water – has been used for transportation in the Pacific for centuries. Contemporary outrigger canoe racing has its roots in Hawaii; according to Kanu Culture, an Australian-based magazine devoted to the sport, canoe racing was a form of entertainment and pride for Hawaiian villages. In 1908, the Honolulu-based Outrigger Canoe Club became the first such modern-day club to be founded in Hawaii.

The nonprofit New York Outrigger Club, founded in 1996 by Roger Meyer, launches its canoes from Pier 63, at 23rd Street and the Hudson near Chelsea Piers. The season runs from April to October, and practices are held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and on Saturday mornings, which is when beginners can receive formal instruction.

“It’s wonderful to see Manhattan from another point of view,” said Ilana Lobet, 53, an Upper West Side resident who owns a custom-framing business. She began paddling in 2002 as a way to train for the Eco-Challenge adventure race in Fiji. “I’ve lived here since 1976. Out on the water, the scene is always different.”

Manhattan is not as odd a location for a Hawaiian outrigger canoe club as it might seem, Ms. Eckerle said. “What’s always struck me about Manhattan is that it’s surrounded by water, but for many years no one thought to paddle on it. Though I must admit that we do have challenging currents and big motorized vessels that can be off-putting at times.”

Across the country in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, where the San Francisco Outrigger Canoe Club hits the beach, outrigger canoeing has also adapted to its sometimes challenging environment. “It’s actually very exciting to paddle here in the Presidio,” said the club’s president, Phil Siaris, who founded the club in 1988. “One thing you can always count on is the wind and fog, especially during summer evenings. But that’s what makes it San Francisco.” The club, one of the most established in the country, trains year-round and has 60 to 150 active members; the number tends to go up as summer approaches and the official race season progresses.

In New England, despite icicles during practices early in the season, the members of the Boston Outrigger Racing Association have a constant reminder of Hawaii: they launch their canoes from a place called Waikiki Beach. “The funny thing is, we paddled there for the entire first season before we even discovered the name of the beach, which has been around forever and ever,” said the club’s president, Joe McDougall, who founded it in 2001 to bring a small part of his family’s Big Island history back to the Boston area. “When I saw that, I thought, ‘We were meant to paddle here.’ ” Waikiki Beach is on Salem Sound, 20 miles north of Boston, and many club members commute from the city to practice.

For Laura Marlin, a longtime water-sports enthusiast who rowed competitively for more than a decade, there is something essential about outrigger canoeing that is missing from other paddle sports. “Particularly in New England, where the climate and landscape don’t resemble Hawaii at all, it’s the aloha spirit that sets the sport apart,” said Ms. Marlin, who is an assistant attorney general in Massachusetts. “When teams from all over get together to race, there is a certain synergy among the paddlers that to me says ‘aloha,’ which can mean a lot of things in native Hawaiian: affection, love, regards.”

Thirty-five miles southwest of Galveston, Tex., where the bay waters are often brown, members of the Texas Outrigger Canoe Club also try to transcend their physical surroundings. “Some people who have come from paddling in the islands find it really hard to relate to Hawaii here,” said the club’s vice president, Paul Dunham, who works for Continental Airlines. “You’re just not in paradise in the same way.” But despite that, he said, the harmony of the sport and the club’s dedication to the roots of Hawaiian culture make it more than worthwhile. Each October, the club gets together with local Polynesian groups for the Aloha Festival in the Clear Lake area near Houston.

The attraction to community inherent to the sport is commonly expressed among most outrigger paddlers, no matter where they are from. “As far as other places – Florida or wherever – I just think it’s great that they’re perpetuating the sport of Hawaiian outrigger canoeing,” said Mr. Siaris of the San Francisco club, who was born and raised in Honolulu. “They may be doing it a different way, but it’s all in the same spirit of the sport. What I try to teach the paddlers is to have respect for the canoe and for each other.”

That spirit and a bit of humor, too, also draw Mr. Meyer, of the New York club. “Every year we have a luau — and I do admit, we probably embarrass the culture a bit,” he said. “Seriously, though, I’m not a big fan of watching people emulate what they don’t understand. The most important thing to us is that there’s a lot of soul involved in the paddling culture. The Hawaiian energy and spirit is what makes the sport so attractive – here, the first thing is always the connection, to one another and to the elements.”
By Bonnie Tsui