Just about 50 years ago, outrigger canoeing made its first waves in California, and the Noah Kalama Outrigger Classic will pay tribute to the sport and the man who helped bring it here, organizers said.
“Noah Kalama is the man who basically brought outrigger to California from Hawaii,” said Shari Anderson, race coordinator. “Outrigger canoeing is basically an ancient Hawaiian tradition. That’s what they used to travel back and forth between islands in the 1700s and 1800s.”
Anderson said that competition teams began to form in the 1900s to encourage racing in the canoes.
“I’m actually a transplant Hawaiian,” she said. “My uncle used to race when I was a kid and my cousin still races in Hawaii.”
Outrigger canoeing involves a larger craft that generally sits six people.
“Basically, we paddle in unison,” Anderson said. “Six-is-one is kind of our motto.
“It’s a very addicting sport. You’re out in the ocean and you’re with a lot of people, so it’s very social. These people become part of your family — the Hawaiian word is ohana.”
Anderson is part of the Imua Outrigger Canoe Club, which is run out of Newport Beach and will be sponsoring the races.
“It’s our first time working in conjunction with Sea Festival,” she said. “This event has gone on before — it was just another club running it.”
On the outrigger side of the competition, only members of the Southern California Outrigger Racing Association are allowed to compete. That larger organization stretches from San Luis Obispo to San Diego.
The competitions are divided into skill level divisions (i.e. open division, masters, senior masters, gold) and the age of paddlers generally will be 18 and older, Anderson said.
“I wasn’t very athletic, so you don’t necessarily have to be super athletic to get involved,” she said. “There are all sorts of levels of competition and age groups. We have people racing who are 70 in our club.”
There will be multiple competitions in the OC1 (single paddler) and OC6 (traditional) classes, along with standup paddle boarding (SUP) classes.
“We’re bringing SUP into it because it’s a great crossover sport,” Anderson said. “It’s a super similar sport so a lot of people who do outrigger cross-train with SUP. It’s another fun way for us to be on the water.”
There is no SCORA membership required to compete in the SUP divisions, and registration will be open through Friday. The course will be within the breakwater — more difficult than harbor SUPing, but not as hard as in the open ocean, Anderson said. The course will run a modified triangle.
For the outrigger competitions, there will be a course between 1,000 and 2,000 meters long with three turns. Most races will include eight canoes competing at one time.
“These kinds of races are the fun ones to watch,” Anderson said. “The others are usually miles out in the ocean. The sprints are close to the shore so people can actually see us.”
For Anderson, she said that the competitions are not only fun for her, but also important to keeping a hold on her personal history.
“It’s just about feeling connected to the water and connected to people,” she said. “I think that’s one of the biggest cultural aspects of it. Hawaiians feel a deep connection to the ocean. For me, personally, I know my ancestors paddled to Hawaii and populated the island, so it’s a way to feel connected to my heritage.”
The Noah Kalama Outrigger Classic will take place from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 9 in the ocean in front of the Belmont Plaza Pool, 4000 E. Olympic Plaza.
For more information, visit www.imuaoutrigger.com.