learning how to paddle an outrigger

Outrigger canoes are gaining in popularity on the East Coast and more folks are interested in learning how to paddle an outrigger.  I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has asked me about mine or has outright expressed more than a casual interest in adding one to their quiver. And we think that is awesome!! Harrison Deisroth and I got our heads together and came up with a list of things to keep in mind as you take the plunge into the wonderful world of OC paddling, whether it’s OC1 or OC6.

Why should I get into Outrigger?

  • It is fun!!! Serious fun!!!!
  • It will help improve your sup paddle stroke. By taking away the standing balance component and being closer to the water, you can really dial in your catch, power and recovery techniques.
  • It’s fast!
  • Paddling into the wind can be much, much easier.

General Considerations

  • OCs are loooooong. You’ll need space. And they need tender loving care, so you will want adequate padding/racks and storage protection for both the wa’a (canoe) and ama (outrigger)
  • Transport: best to get a V-bar rack to carry your new baby, too. You may have to rethink how and where you park when carrying your OC since it is longer than a SUP.

learning how to paddle an outrigger

  • There’s a whole new vernacular. In other words, Hawaiian names for things.  You’ll want to learn “OC speak.” Here’s a great glossary of terms from the Hokuloa Outrigger Club
  • With that said, there is a lot of culture behind the canoe you’re paddling. Never disrespect the canoe.
  • When buying a canoe, you should be looking for comfort!
  • Rigging? What do you mean rigging? That’s the term used for the way the ama is attached to the canoe via the iakos (the spars or booms that connect the two parts of the canoe togther.) Every canoe has its own system for rigging – find it! Have your dealer/seller show how you how the canoe is rigged and unrigged.
  • Remember your canoe is much lighter than most paddleboards. Make sure it is strapped down or secured when you put it down. Think: if a gust where to come through, what would happen?
  • Don’t stress over a tiny pressure ding – There will be more. This is easier said than done!!

Learning the Canoe

  • Even if you have been a sup or kayak paddler for a long time, there will be a learning curve.
  • OC1s are tippy. In a way that will likely be new and different, even if you have paddled kayaks.
  • Just remember that there is always something to learn, something to improve on.  Take clinics. Read Steve West’s books. Watch videos. Talk to other OC paddlers.
  • Be coachable!
  • Be open to change whether it’s changing conditions, a switch in your seat, or stroke technique.

learning how to paddle an outrigger

  • You WILL huli or flip. Even Johnny Puakea hulis. It is just part of OC paddling.  The sooner you accept and embrace that, and know that it is OKAY to huli, the more fun you will have.
  • Learn how to properly recover from the huli, then practice, practice, practice.  Every paddle session should include a session of flipping and recovering.
  • Learn to love your right side! At first, you will favor the more stable left side, where the ama is.  Stay loose!!! Leaning, both literally and figuratively on that left side can lead to gluteal pain.
  • That pain on the left side will go away with time, practice and as you dial in your technique and get more comfortable in the canoe.
  • Don’t be afraid to play around with modifying your seat position. Find that comfy sweet spot. Experiment with more or less padding.
  • If you have right-side anxiety, flip, flip, flip! Then learn how to prevent flipping by bracing – a paddle technique that is invaluable to ALL types of paddling. You use the paddle blade on the right side to keep the canoe balanced and prevent the huli.
  • When in doubt, brace!

Dealing with Conditions

  • Paddle straight into waves.. NEVER be parallel to a wave.
  • Having a “heavy” (not tippy) ama setting is better than a “light” (tippy) ama setting.. especially in the bumps or on a windy day. Remember, you want to be comfortable.. Your left leg cramps will be the judge on whether or not you’re comfy.
  • Always point your canoe into the wind when you’re carrying it

 Longer Paddles

  • Paddling for a long period of time? Vaseline down under!
  • Invest in a good pair of paddle pants or shorts.
  • Bring water and nutrition; that goes for 6-man too, where it is still acceptable and encouraged. 
  • Stretching your legs is highly recommended for long paddles.

learning how to paddle an outrigger

  • Carrying  a spare paddle is wise for a long, solo paddle. Learn how to tie it on to an iako.
  • Cut-up bike inner tubes are the best thing for attaching things like paddles to your iako. They are also great for those “Oh S***” moments!
  • You can put your gps watch on the front iako (super helpful!)

Fun Factor

  • Be positive, especially if you are paddling  in a 6-man canoe; “A rotten apple spoils the barrel.”
  • Flying the ama is totally as cool as you think it is!
  • Learn how to Shaka – use frequently
  • Chase bumps.. Go fast.. Have a ton of fun!

Thinking about paddling OC but have questions?  Cue ’em up in the comments and we will do our best to answer or point you to the right sources!


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