Paddle power worth effort


TWO things you never, ever do when getting into and out of an outrigger canoe.

You never jump in from the right hand side, and you never step over it.

So, of course, when I first attempted to seat myself into the canoe with the Kawaihaae Outrigger Canoe Club, Ballina, I tried to do so from the right-hand side.

"Hold up," shouted club president Steve Cooper.

"Oh yeah, I forgot," I sheepishly replied as I went to step over it and jump in from the left-hand side.

"No, no, no," Cooper shouted again. "Never step over the canoe, it's considered bad luck."

"Sorry," I said as my cheeks flushed red with embarrassment and I ran around the back to try, for the third time, to sit my butt in the craft.

Making the episode even more embarrassing was the fact Cooper had already warned me about those two little intricacies of his sport.

So there I was, with the Ballina Outrigger Canoe Club, on a rather uninviting Sunday morning to have a crack at outrigger canoeing.

Being a Sunday meant I was still battered and bruised from footy the day before and the particularly overcast and cool morning wasn't the kind of weather which makes you eager to hit the water.

I was so cold that even my flushed-red cheeks from trying to get into the canoe didn't warm me up!

But members of the club, some of whom had recently returned from a successful National champs in Coffs Harbour, had volunteered their Sunday morning to show this hack how it's done. So I stopped whingeing and jumped, or attempted to, in the boat.

Being lanky is a bonus? Awesome! EVERY paddler I've ever met whether it be canoeist, kayaker or rower, for that matter has asked if I partake in their form of water sport.

Cooper was no exception, remarking that my two-metre frame was perfectly suited to the sport.

Apparently, my lankiness and go-go-gadget arms are a major plus.

Cooper and I were joined by club members Tom Silver, Raz Burtonwood, Kim Raguse, Veronica Monkley and Cobber the dog (apparently a club stalwart).

They were all pretty experienced and knowledgeable about the sport and more than happy to help me out with any deficiencies of which I had many.

One thing I did know was that outrigger canoeing is all about team work. A full crew is made up of six people and if they aren't all working in perfect unison, things can go pear shaped pretty easily.

Races, which range from eight to 20 kilometres in length, always involve some sea faring, which Cooper reckons is just about the best part of the sport.

But I was disappointed to be told we wouldn't be able to head out to sea. Cooper said the laws governing bar crossings meant they rarely did, but then I remembered I threw up last time I left dry land. I got over my disappointment pretty quickly.

Steve gave me a quick rundown of the technique needed for piloting the 20-foot craft through the water and it sounded surprisingly easy.

Brace your leg (left leg if paddling on the left side) against the inside of the canoe, twist from the hips, reach out as far as you can, pull the paddle through the water until mid-thigh, take it out and repeat.

Repeat for 12-16 strokes, that is, until someone in the canoe (I had no idea who in this instance) calls 'hutt' at which point you prepare to change sides then 'ho', when you do change over.

Cooper sat me down in seat four, typically the 'engine room' of the canoe. Usually comprising of people with muscles and technique, seats three and four provide most of the power.

According to Cooper, they're the ones who can 'grind it out' for the duration of the race. Obviously this time he was going against accepted wisdom.

So into seat four I eventually plonked, grabbed the carbon fibre paddle a little gingerly at first and prepared to enter the water.

Was I paying attention? COOPER'S instructions were going through my head over and over as we started off from the bank.

My lanky arms and battered body were coping pretty well with the monotone paddling and I found that, at first, it wasn't as difficult as I expected.

The only problem I had was changing sides.

No matter how hard I concentrated, as soon as the 'hutt' and 'ho' calls came out I stuffed up. I would try to change on the 'hutt' call or I'd fumble the paddle or forget to change there was always some stuff-up on my behalf.

Thankfully there were only two people sitting behind me to see how badly I was doing!

But, that wasn't my only problem

Early in the proceedings the paddling was fine and I found I could keep up the pace pretty easily.

Although Cooper said later my technique was a bit 'army', I could feel my back, shoulders and abs getting a good workout as I plunged the paddle, twisted, pulled and reached out again and again.

But it didn't take long before fatigue set in.

The burning sensation of lactic acid began to creep into my shoulders and back and the longer we went on the heavier the paddle began to feel.

I stopped twisting and reaching as much as my abs began to scream out and I struggled to keep up.

Thankfully Cooper steered the craft to shore not long after my torture began and I was spared the ignominy of stopped paddling mid-stream, Sally Robbins style.

But once on land, I embarrassed myself again by trying to get out of the right-hand side! I blamed the lactic acid going to my brain and making me delusional, although I don't think anyone bought it!

Even though I was drained and feeling as heavy as a rock, I loved it.

There's something magical about being on the water, with the sea-spray blowing in your face.

I've always loved being near the sea and although I hadn't got into the paddling side of it before, I could definitely get into outrigger canoeing.

Being outdoors and on the water is only one of its benefits. It's not only fantastic for your fitness, but its emphasis on team work and camaraderie makes it perfect for those who love a water-based team sport, (of which there aren't many).

Yep, it's definitely something I'd do again.

And I'll pay more attention when getting in and out next time!

THANKS to Adrian for this last in a series of columns documenting his experiences in trying new sport. Adrian has left The Northern Star to work as a motor racing journalist in Brisbane.

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