Outrigger canoe races paddle through Oceanside

OCEANSIDE — Top teams of paddlers took to the water off Oceanside Harbor in the 13th annual Paopao Nine-Man Outrigger Race on Aug. 27. Competitors came from California and Arizona to take part in the 21-mile race and get ready for the upcoming 34-mile Catalina Channel Crossing, which is also part of the Southern California Outrigger Racing Association (SCORA) race series.
The grand championship race of the nine-man season is the 42-mile Molokai race in Oahu that draws worldwide competitors.
“It was beautiful out there,” Heather Picquelle, of team Newport Aquatic Center, said.
“We were fifth and we moved up to take third. We hung in there and it worked out.”
The nine-man crews allow six riders in the boat. Then three alternates switch off with fellow paddlers at key intervals in the race with the help of a motorized chase boat.
“When you line up at the right spot at the right time it’s almost seamless,” said John Wacher, board member of the Oceanside Outrigger Canoe Club.
Teams took off in women and men’s heats with all age groups starting at the same time.
The youngest paddlers on the boat determine a team’s age group category. Competitors ranged in age from 16-year-old keikis to 60-year-old golden masters.
“The best performing age groups are 30 to 40,” Wacher said. “A lot of finesse and technique comes into play.”
The sport calls for precise teamwork that prompts teams to become an ohana family unity. “Six of you are chained together to do the exact same thing at the same time and go fast,” Wacher said. “If one person in there is off timing or off technique it can throw the boat. When you piece it all together it’s really fun.”
Many who compete have been watermen their entire lives. “Generally it’s local people with a love and passion for the water,” Wacher said.
This year conditions were favorable for racing with rolling waves and a rising wind swell that allowed paddlers to ride the momentum of waves.
Last year choppy, rough water caused several boats to huli and flip over. Last year’s conditions also prompted the safety measure of requiring teams to have spray skirts to keep water out of their boats if judges warrant water conditions are rough.
For final Paopao Nine-Man Outrigger Race results, go to socaloutrigger.org.

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