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27.Road Trips

Road Trips | 409


Road Trips | Outrigger Canoeing 'A Paddler's Guide'

One of many factors making participation in this sport so enticing, addictive and alluring is the uniquely beautiful locations where it is practised. In so many ways, the sport allows you to combine overseas travel, vacation time and sport all in the one package in a way that few others can emulate. Additionally, the strong cultural affinity the va`a commands in many areas of the Pacific makes the experience educational and culturally enlightening. Fundamentally, travel to new venues to compete provides a uniquely profound prism of experiences, which opens your mind up to the world, new friendships and greater affinity with the sport as a whole, taking your participation beyond the physical to a very much higher level of awareness.

Possibly the most confusing issue is in choosing which event to go to, made all the more difficult when many of the most appealing events all seem to fall one after the other (or even on the same day) at around the same time of year, notably through September and October. California’s Al Ching reinforces this issue, ‘This drains the

attendances to all the races. Races have become so popular that clubs have to make choices to conserve their energy and flow with their training schedule. Of course there is the small matter of finance we have to contend with. Before the explosion of the sport, we had fewer choices and attendance was huge.’ This has been a growing problem for some time as the sport has grown and expanded. By some perverse failure to see this an issue, associations and race organisers seem happy to keep compounding the problem, unwittingly but ultimately creating an atmosphere were one event is now having to compete against another, especially in view of attracting overseas crews. Mere mortal’s bank accounts are limited and finite and therefore selecting which event to invest in is a critical issue. If it weren’t, the advice would be, pack up and hit the road from September to the end of November and enjoy the premier events of Hawai`i, Tahiti, Micronesia and end it with a flurry in the Cook Islands. The best advice I can give is ‘don’t get tunnelvision’. Make sure you try them all rather than becoming locked into returning to the same event year in and year out as many paddlers do. Outrigger Australia road trip to the Marquesas Islands post race relaxation. 410 | Road Trips


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When travelling to more remote areas, do so in the company of low maintenance individuals content just to be in the moment, happy to experience new sights and cultures without judgement. Don’t expect the best equipment and do expect inconveniences all of which will add to your ‘Road Trip’ experience. To quote Tom Conner from a paddlers perspective, 'It’s how you deal with the obstacles (in life) and

how you react to them which counts the most’. When in the Marquesas on one occasion, the va`a supplied to the Australian crew was so woeful, that it took an entire day to repair the seats and make a new splash guard from wood scraps and this va`a was in good shape compared to the one they were supposed to use. The ama and i`ato arrived late in the day on a ferry from a nearby island, while in the meantime, all other (local) crews were rigged and sorted and home relaxing. Sabotage? No, not at all, because at the end of the day the locals were doing all that they could with what they had. Circumstances ‘in the islands’ often take an odd direction and rarely resolve themselves quickly, directly or as you would like them, but amazingly ultimately seem to fall into place, even if in ‘island time’.

French Polynesia There are so many reasons why, as a paddler, you should make the effort to visit French Polynesia to experience va`a paddling and its culture at its best. Yet ironically, Tahiti remains to paddlers especially those of European decent, from Pacific Rim countries and even Hawai`i as somewhere revered, mysterious, often referenced but rarely visited. It seems incredulous that on the one hand much is made about respecting the culture of the sport, yet many paddlers seem squeamish in actually fully diving in and embracing it, preferring a thin veil of euro-centricity to gloss over any real or genuine cultural depth, hence why paddlers of European decent from around the Pacific feel far more comfortable visiting and competing in Hawai`i where competitors are largely of similar ethnicity and where much of the cultural aspects seem at times eroded. In Tahiti, the competition is indigenous and of a very high level.

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Road Trips | Outrigger Canoeing 'A Paddler's Guide'

That paddlers the world over would continue to invest their money by revisiting the same old races, year in and year out seems a narrow interpretation of what the sport offers. Issues of language barriers, expense, equipment worries, competition levels and the mystery of it all, seems to intimidate would-be visitors, to the point where ‘xenophobia’ seems to set in. Those paddlers who have made the journey and embraced the natural beauty and felt the passion for the va`a which emanates from the paddlers and the communities of the islands, can be said to be enlightened individuals, who doubtless no longer question why the paddlers of French Polynesia excel on so many levels within the context of the sport. The most spectacular va`a races in the world happen right here and the only reason they are not judged so, is due to a general lack of press and exposure, keeping these events all but a mystery. The October Hawaiki Nui Va`a is a three day event, begins from the island of Huahine, crosses to the island of Ra`iatea 48km away, then 26km to the island of Tahaa and finishes on the final day with a 60km race towards the most mythical and stunning of all Polynesian islands, Bora Bora. It is in short, the most spectacular va`a race on earth, without equal anywhere. The Heiva Va`a races and the 86km change-over race depart from Tahiti around Moorea

and back are held in July during the month long festivities of the Heiva Festival. In June there is the Heemoana Va`a race, chasing the big South swells, born thousands of kilometres away in the frigid waters of the Antarctic, the same 412 | French Polynesia


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swells that create those big waves for Teahupoo’s world famous surfing ASP contest, Billabong Pro. It’s a 60 km change-over race with 9 men paddlers, which begins from Teahupoo, where the only road around the island comes to a dead end. The race ends at the opposite end of Tahiti, to the West in Punaauia. And, if you are into rudderless V1 paddling how about the Aito race in Tahiti where over 600 paddlers line up on the start line or the Super Aito from Moorea to Tahiti, a 36km ocean race? Then there’s the Marquesas, one of the remotest island groups on the planet. The Vakauhi Race between Ua Huka and the fabled isle of Nuku Hiva covers 35miles of deep cobalt blue ocean and epitomises the primal elements of the origins of the sport; the Jurassic park of va`a racing as you paddle between island mountains that are emerald green, wind worn and wiry, arriving to the sound of beating drums and chants, you feel like warriors returning after battle.

Hawai`i The Hawaiian Islands offer a wide variety of events and in recent years the proliferation of OC1 and OC2 races in particular have increased paddlertraveller numbers greatly to the islands during AprilMay. Notable relative newcomers are the Maui to Moloka`i Challenge Race,

which is rated as one of the best direct downwind courses in the world and the Kauai World Challenge which has risen to be one of the world’s most prominent due to the professionalism of its organisers, incorporating lead up races during the week before the main event, which follows the coastline and involves beach changes.

Honaunau Bay ʻPlace of Refugeʼ where the women finish and the men begin the paddle back to Kailua. Dawn breaks in Kailua Kona Hawai`i, the starting point of the Queen Lili`uokalani race.

Longer running events such as the Kaiwi Challenge Hawai`i | 413


Road Trips | Outrigger Canoeing 'A Paddler's Guide'

(Hawaiian Island Paddlesports Assocation) a 39mile race between the island of Moloka`i and Oahu held every year in May and the Moloka`i Challenge Solo (Kanaka Ikaika) races remain pinnacle distance events. The island of Kauai ranks as one of the most scenic in Hale O Lano starting point of the the world and each year Na Wahine O Ke Kai and Molokai Hoe. paddlers from the Hawaiian Islands and abroad gather on Kauai for the Kauai Na Pali Challenge Race, which departs from the beautiful town of Hanalei on the North Shore and around the Na Pali. Crews pass some of the most beautiful coastline in Hawai`i; majestic cliffs, sea caves and arches. The race ends on the West Side of the island at Waimea Plantation Cottages. In the lead up the Molokai to Oahu races, the distance season beginning around August offers a variety of races, including the Duke Kahanamoku put on by Lanakai CC, the Dad Centre Race run the Outrigger CC and the Henry Ayua Memorial Race staged by Hui Lanakila. Traditionally the 42mile women’s September Na Wahine O Ke Kai and the mens in October. Molokai Hoe are regarded as pinnacle OC6 open ocean change-over events raced

between the island of Molokai and Oahu across the Kaiwi Channel and dubbed the unofficial ‘world championship’ events in this discipline. These events tend to lack somewhat in the socialising stakes as its predominantly all about the racing, but offer challenging open ocean racing. In contrast, the two day September Queen Lili`uokalani event, the Largest long distance race in the world as it boasts, is truly a great Hawaiian experience, where socially, culturally and competitively the event offers it all. Held on the island of Hawai`i from the town of Kailua, the setting is languid, tropical and laid back. The 18 mile women’s course follows the coastline to Honaunau, known as the Place of Refuge in ancient times and the men paddle the course back to Kailua later that day. The following days races include DC12, OC1 and OC2 craft.

California California has an ambience all of its own, uniquely different from the Hawaiian scene. Although there are strong bonds between the two states, there is a curious 414 | Hawai'i | California


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tension which exists between the differing subcultures of the va`a. It was possibly spurned ever since Californians flopped a mould from the Hawaiian koa Malia and began churning out fibreglass wa`a, setting in motion the globalisation of the sport on many levels; akin perhaps in the same way as Tahitians recoiled when AngloHawaiians moved the goal posts and instigated specification rulings in the late 1970s. Two primary distance races come to mind on the Californian racing scene. The Catalina Classic

founded in 1959 is a 30 mile change-over race between Newport Beach and Avalon on Santa Catalina Island women / mixed, followed the next day by the men’s return. Conditions are generally flat to moderate, the water on the cool side if you are from the tropics but the air temperature is generally very pleasant. Just as well to take some lightweight thermal tops just in case. Generally speaking if, Molokai is a ‘steerers’ race, this is a ‘paddler’s’ race as conditions often do not present well for assistance. Socially, the atmosphere feels typically ‘laid back’ Californian style and very enjoyable. Historically this stretch of water, the San Pedro Channel, is Californian’s nemesis crossing as the Kaiwi Channel is to Hawaiians. The Catalina OC1 / OC2 race is also a highlight on the racing calendar. Not as well known, the Whitey Harrison Canoe Classic is a 20 mile change race run by Dana Point OCC which has become a classic event and historically significant. It was named after Lorrin “Whitey” Harrison, who learned to paddle and make wa`a in Hawai`i in the 1930’s. Women race in the morning followed by the men in the afternoon. This long distance race begins just outside Dana Point Harbour, turns California | 415


Road Trips | Outrigger Canoeing 'A Paddler's Guide'

around off Main Beach in Laguna Beach and finishes at Doheny Beach. This event is historically very central to Californian wa`a paddling and racing largely due to the influence and charismatic personality of Harrison.

Australia Australia’s premier event is the June/July Hamilton Island Rocks! Evening aerobics and hydration session. Below: Catseye Bay Hamilton Island. Below this, Gold Coast Cup Australia.

416 | Australia

Hamilton Cup Race

known as the ‘paddle and party hard’ event, this 4 day event crams in everything for everybody. OC1 and OC6 events over sprint courses, longer races over 16km and change-races over 42km. The 42km Hamilton Cup race itself is one of the leading prize money events, with AUD $100,000 distributed throughout a wide range of place-getters. The event is held on Hamilton Island in the Whitsunday region of North Queensland. South East winter trade winds are common which often means very changeable weather from balmy to cool, calm to very windy. Course changes are not uncommon.


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The 42km event is considered by many as tougher than the Moloka`i to O`ahu race on a good day, as there are long up-wind legs, heavy currents and short steep choppy waters to contend with. This course is very demanding on the steerer as you attempt to take the best line between islands and negotiate currents. Significantly, the event is also well known for its professionalism and organisation. Of notable mention is the Gold Coast Cup race in April / May, which begins at Greenmount and travels North to Southport. Not as well known or long running as the Hamilton Cup, the Gold Coast Cup offers, when conditions permit - South East trades, Australia’s best downwind distance change-over event. Socially lacking in any atmosphere, the event is all about the paddling. Australian crews use the event sometimes as a build up to the Hamilton Cup event. The Coffs (Harbour) Coast Cup race also offers a great weekend of racing, held early in the year.

New Zealand New Zealand predominantly has a great love of sprint / regatta racing, in contrast to Australia where the reverse is true. The Hauraki Hoe event in March is New Zealand’s longest running change-over event, which leaves from Auckland Harbour and makes its way out and around the outer islands within the Hauraki Gulf. It can be a gruelling event in big seas. Water temperature is cool, cold if you’re from the tropics and the air temperature can also be cool at this time of year. It is a very scenic race and very low key which is regrettable as it has great potential. The Tauranga Harbour Challenge is possibly New Zealand’s best attended event, comprising of a 26km W6 race as well as W1 and W2 races over 16km. Socially it offers a good opportunity to really get to meet New Zealand’s best paddlers while enjoying the evening events which can extend to Fijian kava parties, Hawaiian Hula, Tahitian singing and English pub songs. Tauranga is on New Zealand’s East Coast of the North Island. Racing is predominantly in sheltered waters.

International Va`a Federation World Sprints Held every two years by varying host countries, the IVF World Sprints are a truly international occasion bringing va`a paddlers from around the world together. From a cultural perspective, the event is very rewarding as Pacific nations, Pacific Rim, New Zealand | International Va`a World Sprints | 417


Road Trips | Outrigger Canoeing 'A Paddler's Guide'

European and South American paddlers come together. Sprint racing in V6, V12, V1 and V2 - rudderless, does not appeal to all, especially those paddlers more driven to compete in open ocean conditions and in this respect the event tends to reinforce the notion of sub-cultures within the sport; flat water and rough water ocean paddlers. That being said, many of the worlds best va`a paddlers attend the event, revelling in the social atmosphere, the racing is great but its all about the people at these events on so many levels. The organisation tends to be inconsistent between events which can be frustrating, but all in all, it provides a great celebration of the va`a sport with flag bearing ceremonies and different va`a cultures proudly sharing their dance, song and ceremony. The Fiji International held in April in Nadi is continuing to expand as a good value for money, feel good event. The October Micronesian Cup events held alternatively in Guam, Saipan and Palau offer a genuine grass roots event, low key, sociable and highly enjoyable. The Guam Cup is also a great event staged in October and held in a fantastic location. The Cook Islands, November Vaka Eiva event is gaining great support and offers a great variety of events including racing around the island of Rarotonga. The Rio Va`a event held in Rio De Janiero Brazil is growing in popularity and offers a unique opportunity to visit and compete in a truly vibrant part of the planet. New Caledonia continues to pursue ultra distance events, seemingly wanting to out do the Tahitians, but seem to struggle with consistency despite great efforts. While in Europe the sport is soon to explode with races such as La Porquerollaise (Toulon), the North Sea Outrigger Canoe Championships the Internationaux du Va`a, Rallye De La Baie Des Phoques. Much of this is due to Tahitian paddlers serving national service in Southern France. They have managed to bring va`a with them, courtesy of the French Navy and now manufacturing has begun in various part of Europe. Other races include the Statue of Liberty Race in New York which provides va`a racing in one of the most unlikely venues. Canada’s Gibson Race is hailed as uniquely scenic and a must do event, while there are also uniquely different races such as the race from the island of Bimini Atoll to Florida. Micronesian Cup

418 | Other Great Races


Road Trips