CNN – July 1997


Outrigger racing creates quite a splash …

… from the South Seas to the Big Apple

NEW YORK (CNN) — They came, they rowed, and — perhaps — they conquered.

Teams of six in outrigger canoes, paddling a daunting course. Not along the shorelines of Bali or Oahu or Pago Pago, but around lower Manhattan.

Under Lady Liberty’s astonished gaze, and with historic Ellis Island as a backdrop, New York held its first-ever international outrigger canoe race this weekend.

Teams from Maine to Florida took part in the contest. Of course, New York was represented, too. No matter that the local team initially had a hard time finding enough paddlers. Organizers scoured local gyms and found athletes willing to give the sport a whirl.

Outrigging is nothing new, of course. It dates back some 2,000 years, originating in the islands that dot the southern, western and central Pacific Ocean.

The sport involves six-person teams paddling in perfect unison. The first person in the canoe sets the pace, and the other team members match his or her strokes.

The canoe itself measures 45 feet (13.6 meters), and is made of wood or — in this high-tech age — Fiberglas. Its narrow 18-inch (46-centimeter) hull is stabilized by an outrigger, also called an ama.

Outrigging enthusiasts say that while the sport is technically not very difficult, it builds up a great sense of participation. As in kayaking and other canoeing activities, each team member literally pulls his or her own weight.

What sets outrigging apart, say enthusiasts, is that it takes place in the sea — and the unpredictability of the waves gives the sport that extra thrill.

In recent years, outrigging has been increasingly popular in Australia, Hawaii and even the west coast of the United States.

Now outrigging advocates hope the International Olympic Committee takes notice. They want their sport to become the next Olympic water event, perhaps in time for the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.

CNN’s Cynthia Tornquist contributed to this report.