Thursday, April 1, 2010

Novice Year In Outrigger

*Today's piece is a guest post by my surf bud and all-around cool chick Becky Leetch. This incredibly dedicated sportswoman has taken up an new sport and took time out to write about it for us.

What is outrigging?

Outrigger canoeing is a sport in which an outrigger canoe is propelled by means of paddles. A variety of boat types exist including the OC1, OC2, OC3, OC4 and OC6. Single hull outrigger canoes have an ama (outrigger float) connected to the main hull by spars called iako . The ama, which is usually rigged on the left side, provides stability. The paddlers need to be careful to avoid leaning too far on the opposite side of the ama, as that may cause the canoe to capsize (huli). I am participating in OC6 with Dana Outrigger.

How I came about the sport.

I first came across outrigger canoeing by total accident. I saw a local shop with SUP (Stand-Up Paddle) boards, and I went in looking for more information. I already surf, so SUP seemed like a natural transition. As soon as I walked in the door the owner said to me, “You’d be perfect for seat-4 in outrigger”! I mentioned that I had just come from a long-standing, multi-year sport commitment and that I wasn’t looking to get fully committed to something just yet. I wanted to enjoy my Saturdays for a while. Right then, the seed was planted.

Several months later, I befriended some old high school classmates on a social networking site who paddle. One of them even posted pictures of the last race of the season - the 9-man Catalina Crossing. Just seeing those pictures and seeing how some of the classmates talked about the sport and different races piqued my interest again. I got the information from my classmates and showed up on the first day of tryouts. The way that these tryouts work is that you tryout the club to see if this is something that you want to do and something that you want to commit your time to.

Leading up to race season.

We have 4 months of practice until the start of race season, which starts in May and ends in September with the US Championships 9-man Catalina Crossing (26 miles from Newport Beach, CA to Catalina Island)!! Practices are Saturday and Sunday from 10am – 12pm and a couple days during the week once the time changes so that it’s lighter later.

My very first day with outrigger was fun, but also boring, as I wanted to get to the “meat & potatoes” of it all. However, before you run you first need to learn to walk so the boring, going slow and learning proper technique must take place before I get all hard core and start paddling in the open waters. After that first day, it did get more exciting. Spending more time in the boats and being out on the open waters. It seems that most of the newbies (like myself) all have a competitive spirit so when we’re practicing we try and race the other boats. Still working on technique, but at least it’s more fun. Being outside of the harbor lets you see a lot of marine life; from the sea lions sleeping on the buoys to the dolphins swimming alongside your boat. It’s coming up on whale season, and to be honest, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t scared to be in a small OC6 canoe and see some enormous Grey whale swim by.

I've also been learning how to steer the boat. I feel like I'm a natural at this! The steersman is the captain of the boat. They give the orders and they motivate their crew. Since they are sitting in the back of the boat, they see everything with the crew members as well as what's going on around the water. If the timing is off, they can re-focus their crew. If they see a boat or other such object floating object, they can direct to slow on the paddle, or to direct seats 1 & 2 to either "draw" or "uni". This, along with the steersman helps to turn the boat quicker. I like to tell my crew members that my boat turns like my Jeep... It has a super tight turning radius!

Outrigging isn't without it's dangers, though. It is definitely NOT the canoe ride at Disneyland! This past weekend showed me two of the many dangers of being on the water.

The first is when this tandem kayak passed us (inside the harbors channel). They cast a fishing line and were "trolling" at they paddled back to the beach (which is totally illegal). The bad news is that the girl in seat 1 on my boat got hooked on the pinky finger and at the knuckle through her gloves with a three-barbed, 3 pronged fish hook. These jerks had no idea that she was caught in their line. The second of the many dangers is a huli. If you're sitting in seats 2-5 (but more so in seats 3 & 4), when the boat hulis, you have to watch out for the ama coming over and smacking you on the head. Yes, the amas are light, but when they are coming down with force, watch out! The guy in seat 4 got a decent bump on his head from the huli this weekend. Note to self: jump down and not out away from the boat.

Thus far in the two months that I’ve been doing this, my greatest accomplishment is hauling my own butt back in the boat. Week 1 (day 2) I jumped out of the boat on purpose (to change seats), and was humiliated when I couldn’t pull my butt back in the boat without help from others. This past weekend I was tossed out of the boat by a huli and after leaning some technique tips from others, I was able to haul my own butt in the boat without any help!

Everyone is someone’s hero. I thank Apryl for allowing me to share my experiences with outrigger with you all. Stay tuned for my next update after racing season begins!


Lindsay said...

Sounds like a pretty hard-core sport! I can't believe your friend got caught on a fishing line! That sounds so painful!

Good luck with racing!

Apryl DeLancey said...

I can't wait to hear how Becky's season goes!