Sunday | May 03, 2015
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Paddling passion

After completing the first leg of the Jackie Rey’s Relay, Tyron Libarios-Moses admitted he was tired and “real sore.” There was “nothing” he’d rather be doing on a Saturday morning, he quickly added.

The 13-year-old was one of 77 paddlers competing in the inaugural Jackie Rey’s Relay Jan. 19. The race, from Keauhou Bay to Kamakahonu Beach and back, featured solo and two-person outriggers, surf ski and rudderless divisions, with OC-1 (one-man outrigger canoe) making up 22 of 31 teams.

Solo outriggers have been around since ancient times, said Greg “Knapper” Knapp, president of the Hawaii Island Paddlesports Association. Recreational OC-1 paddling, however, is a relatively recent development.

Exactly who crafted the first “modern” OC-1 is open for debate, but Knapp said its evolution can be traced to the ocean kayak community about 30 years ago. Seeking stability on the open sea, some began affixing iako and ama, or outrigger boom and float, to their crafts.

Susan Lalanne, owner of Polynesian Paddling Products, said interest in OC-1 really took off as production numbers increased and outriggers became more available and affordable about 12 years ago.

Early incarnations were built using fiberglass, but today’s hulls are crafted primarily from carbon fiber, weighing as little as 15 pounds.

Lalanne said when someone decides to take up OC-1 paddling, he should anticipate spending about $4,000. A new entry-level outrigger, she said, costs around $3,550. A $120 paddle, a transporting rack and accessories make up the balance.

Used boats are available and offered in classified ads, online and on bulletin boards at the various clubs’ halau. Potential buyers should check the craft for seaworthiness and obvious damage, but also make sure they “fit” the boat. Some are built with movable seats, but others are molded to fit a measured inseam. A garage sale bargain, though enticing, could lead to frustration if the ride is uncomfortable.

The OC-1 is steered using foot pedals attached to a rudder. While learning to operate an OC-1 may seem intimidating, Lalanne said “the learning curve is not very big.” On a scale from one to 10, she’d call it a four.

Paddling attracts enthusiasts of all ages. Knapp said the Jackie Rey’s Relay had competitors in their late 60s, at least; paddlers can continue with the sport “until they want to stop.” The one-time Ironman finisher continued, when you fall into the water, it doesn’t hurt like falling off a bike.

One of the youngest racers at the event, 11-year-old Livi McClure, said though she prefers the camaraderie of paddling with others, the benefit of OC-1 is choosing your own pace and “doing the best you can.”

Amy Young, an 18-year paddling veteran and member of Kai Opua Canoe Club, said, “Training on your one-man gives you closer contact with the water.” It helps you understand “how the canoe reacts to the water and how the water reacts” to the boat. “People who learn that can take it to six-man.” She estimated that 95 percent of people involved in six-man paddling also paddle OC-1, either competitively or just for fun.

Young recommends anyone interested in paddling join a club. Coaches teach the proper techniques, whereas those who go it alone miss out on that important instruction. Club membership, typically $100 to $150 per year, helps the novice paddler network with experienced paddlers who can assist them as they learn the sport.

Local canoe clubs offer recreational outings for the uninitiated to decide if paddling is a sport they’d like to take up.

Young paddles at least six hours every week with her club.

“There is nothing better,” she said, “than how you feel after practice.”

Young said it is “always a good day on the water.” And this time of year, “whales make it that much better.”

Knapp said the best time to hit the water is “anytime you can get out.” Being on the ocean, with dolphins, turtles and sea birds checking out the boat and looking at the island from a different perspective, gives paddlers the most “wonderful feeling in the most beautiful spot on earth.”

Several paddlers at the Jackie Rey’s Relay spoke of the paddling community as an “ohana” and members as their extended family.

During the prerace meeting, Paul Streiter, who with his wife, Angela, owns Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill, credited the paddling ohana with some of his restaurant’s success and thanked them for their support. Sponsoring the race, he said, was his “individual way of giving back.” The restaurant provided food and postrace entertainment for the participants and donated $500 each to Kai Ehitu, Kai Opua and Keahou canoe clubs’ keiki programs.

The Hawaii Island Paddlesports Association race schedule runs from December to May, with races planned every two weeks, alternating between races on the west and east sides of the island. Members and nonmembers are invited to participate. Members pay $25, while nonmembers pay $35. Junior paddlers race for $10. The East Hawaii Challenge is the next event, slated Feb. 2 at Richardson’s Beach Park.

The association oversees nine races this season, but Knapp said HIPA would add races to future seasons if it had sponsors. For information on sponsoring a race, call Knapp at 937-3540.