Have you seen Moana? Then you’ll have seen an outrigger canoe!
An outrigger canoe is a boat that has lateral floats fastened to the hull, or the main body, and can either be on one or both sides.
This type of canoe has evolved over thousands of years and what once was used as a means of transportation of people and goods, or exploration, is now used for racing in Hawaii and has been since around the 1700s. This sport has become so popular it is now the official state team sport and racing club are located across the world. Due to the way they have been built, outriggers are faster than typical canoes and can withstand more harsh waters because of the floats on the side. They were originally designed to be able to handle the rough sea conditions for those having to travel in the Pacific Ocean and they have mostly been used by islanders like Hawaiians, Tahitians, Fijians, or people living in New Zealand.
The sport is more than a canoe, it is steeped in tradition and focused on the promotion of the paddling family, the Ohana.
Since this was one of the only ways of travel among these islands, these outrigger canoes had to be designed in the best way possible and were built in a way they could be paddled, or they could be sailed. The sail would be used if a long distance was to be travelled, like to different islands. If they were paddling the canoe, it would be just used for fishing close to land.
The sides that hold the flotations are the most important part of this canoe, they are what makes the boat the best possible. Ancient canoes would have two floats, one on both sides and this is what helped to create the more stable canoe. Today’s racing canoes have a float on one side. The floats are rigged to sit at the same angle as the water which helps to make the boat go faster and smoother, so the hull does not have to do all the work.
Although they are mainly used for racing in today’s time, they still can be used for things such as fishing. Islands also still use them today because of the convenience of them and because of how reliable they are.
As mentioned, the outrigger canoe has evolved over time and has adapted to it’s uses. Ancient and original boats were made from wood, traditionally wood from the Koa tree that had blessed by a priest. An entire hull would be made from one Koa tree and many hours of craftsmanship would go into completing the canoe.
Today, they are mostly made from glass-reinforced plastic. This helps keep the canoes afloat for much longer than the Koa tree ones. Although the ancient canoes could probably keep for a long time, today’s modern technology secures the lifetime and integrity of this canoe.
In modern sport outrigger canoeing, ships are classified according to the configuration and number of the hulls and the number of paddlers, including the OC1, OC2, OC3, OC4 and OC6 (with the respective number of paddlers using a single-hull outrigger canoe), and the DC12 or OC12 (with twelve paddlers using a double-hull outrigger canoe, two six-person canoes rigged together like a catamaran).
Outriggers without a rudder are referred to as V1, V2, etc. (where V refers to vaʻa).
In an outrigger canoe, the paddlers sit in line, facing toward the bow of the canoe (i.e., forward, in the direction of travel, unlike rowing). The seats are numbered from 1 (closest to the bow) to the number of seats in the canoe, usually 6. The steerer (or steersman or steersperson) sits in the last seat of the canoe (seat 6 in the common OC6) and, as the name indicates, is primarily responsible for steering.
The paddler sitting in seat 1 is called the stroke and is responsible for setting the pace of the paddle strokes. The stroker should have a high level of endurance to keep the rate (the number of strokes taken in a given amount of time) manageable for whatever the situation may be. The first two positions may also be involved in certain steering manoeuvres.
In the middle of the canoe (seats number 3 and 4) known as the powerhouse are the strong and powerful paddlers. Any of the 2 can be the 'caller' who directs when to switch over their blades, when to pick up or slow down the stroking pace, etc. Whoever is caller must have very good leadership skills and know how to think off the top of their heads in any situation.
Every position has an important role to play in the canoe.