Paddling a Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe
As we paddled ashore at the Cape Henlopen fishing pier last month, sunbathers cheered us on. Some even ran to help us lift the more than 100-pound fiberglass boat up the beach onto the horses used to keep the boat secure.
It was my second time paddling with the newly formed New Hope Canoe Club Team Atlantic (NHCCTA). During my first short paddle a week before, we went out near the lighthouse where dolphins, playing and foraging, came up to the side of the boat to check us out. But I wasn’t sure how I would hold up paddling the 4.5 miles from Riverside Marina in Lewes to the fishing pier in the wind and choppy water. I was excited to find out how I’d do.
Several decades ago, when I lived in Hawaii, I was a member of the Healani Canoe Club in Honolulu where I competed in sprints and a long-distance race. When I lived in Washington, DC, I paddled dragon boats for a very short time. Since moving here during COVID, my workout routine had been inconsistent.
Head Coach David Schofield, who welcomed me and valued my past experience, offered me an opportunity I didn’t think I’d have again. Schofield brought the sport (and boats) with him when he moved to Lewes from Honolulu last November. He’s a marine mammal conservation expert who paddled in Hawaii for 12 years. “Wouldn’t it be cool to bring aloha to the east,” he said. “There didn’t seem to be a club in the Mid-Atlantic.”
While I love kayaking solo or with a friend in another kayak, it doesn’t compare to the exhilaration that envelops me, and the connection I feel to the water, the waves, and the other five paddlers in the canoe with me. Paddling with New Hope has stirred up memories buried deep. It makes me smile when I think of my experiences at races, and the people I paddled with so many years ago. Living in Hawaii was a magical time for me and paddling was a big part of it.
Paddling takes stamina and conditioning but doesn’t have to be hugely intense. It’s a way of getting your heart working and blood flowing. Paddlers use core muscles (back, hips, glutes), not the arms. It does require focus and breathing and awareness of the person in the seat in front of you and behind you. Everyone has to be in perfect rhythm in order to move the boat smoothly; everyone can feel the jarring and slowing of the canoe when paddlers are out of sync.
Schofield is currently working to make NHCCTA a non-profit association and is teaching Hawaiian canoe paddling to kids at Camp Arrowhead this summer. He plans to model both the competitive and the recreational outrigger canoe paddling program in Sussex County on the structure of the club he paddled with—the New Hope Canoe Club in Hawaii.
“Canoe paddling can show us a way of living outside the canoe as well as how we act while in the boat, if you follow the five steps of aloha,” said Schofield. “Aloha doesn’t just mean hello or goodbye. Consider the essence of the word by its components. Akahai means kindness; Lokahi means unity; Olu’olu means to be agreeable; Ha’aha’a means humility, and Ahonui means patience. Act with kindness, be together and agreeable, be humble, and practice patience. It’s a life lesson.”
I was pleasantly surprised how much my heart loved the longer paddle. I felt open, free, and happy. Some other parts of my body—not so much! My core muscles were yelling ‘uncle!’ But, to my amazement, after a good night’s sleep all discomfort disappeared.
Paddling is a great workout. Plus, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great way to release stress. If you are someone who counts steps on a phone, Schofield noted that 10 miles in a canoe is the equivalent to doing 18,000 steps. WOW!
He also said it’s the ultimate team sport. “You have to work together (with your strokes); you can’t stop paddling because you have to honor the person in front and behind you and you are connected to nature and the environment.”
Schofield’s philosophy: “It doesn’t matter whether you paddle recreationally, competitively, or have no experience at all. There is always a seat in the boat for you.” You need to be a strong swimmer, competent in water, high school age or older (no limit), and moderately fit.
We live in a beautiful beach resort town. We owe it to ourselves to take advantage of what this environment has to offer. If you are one who doesn’t like to sweat or likes to stay out of the heat during the summer, canoe paddling is the perfect exercise. Slather on sunscreen and give it a try. It’s an experience you’re not likely to forget.
For information contact Schofield at: 808-347-2587, or visit newhopeatlantic.org. ▼
Pattie Cinelli is a health and fitness professional and writer for more than 25 years. Contact her at: email@example.com.