Warren Lynam

OUTRIGGING: Aussies embrace canoe racing as a sport

OUTRIGGING'S rich history started through ancient cultures and gained popularity further afield - particularly in Hawaii and other Pacific coastal areas.

The Australian Outrigger Canoe Racing Association - the primary national governing body - stresses that outrigger canoe racing is a relatively young sport in Australia.

Seventy years after Hawaii's first outrigger canoe club was formed, the first club in Australia began in 1978 on the Gold Coast.

The first regatta in Australia was held in 1981 and the national body was formed in 1988.

In 1989, the year of the inaugural Australian championships, the first club in Sydney was formed.

The sport has enjoyed rapid growth in recent years with the development of clubs in other states of Australia, expanding the sport's power base from its spiritual home of northern Queensland and the Whitsunday region.

In 1990, there were 11 clubs in Australia, mainly in the Whitsunday area.

This doubled to 23 in 1991, hit 37 in 1994, 45 in 1995 and 50 in 1997.

Now there are more than 60 clubs in Australia.

Different zones have been established to oversee regattas, registration and other decisions, to ensure the continued success of the sport throughout the whole of Australia.

Although initially a male-dominated sport, outrigging has been opened up to women and junior competitors with the evolution of the boats into sleeker race versions.

While the boats are still basically a lengthy canoe, the outrigger "ama" is added for stability.

The 13.8-metre canoe accommodates six paddlers, each of whom carries a single-bladed paddle.

Control of the canoe is left to the paddler in the sixth seat. He or she uses their blade in a similar fashion to a rudder to determine direction. Outrigger canoes are also available in one and two-person varieties.

Racing takes on two forms - marathons and sprints - both in six-person canoe and solo canoes.

Sprint races are held over 500 to 3000m, and marathon races vary between five and 30km.

The beauty of outrigging is that it is not limited by age. There are junior divisions for eight to 18-year-olds, and divisions for open men and women, master men and women over 35, senior master men and women over 45 and "golden" master men and women over 55.

As well as an enjoyable outdoor sport, outrigging is physically challenging and requires plenty of training to ensure the team works effectively together.

It is no wonder then that it is often used as a team-building sport for organisations wanting their employees to appreciate the importance of bonding and working together with one purpose.

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