4 Reasons You Should Get On An Outrigger Canoe: How Outrigger Paddling Will Help Your Dragon Boat Skills

A new dragon boat paddler doesn’t get many weeks in a boat until they’re asked, “But, have you ever tried outrigger?” An astute new paddler will note that dragon boating is but one fast, sprinty, splashy, corner of a very large and comprehensive paddling universe. Becoming a part of the broader universe of single-bladed paddling should be a goal of any dedicated dragon boat paddler.

For many people, dragon boating is like a “gateway drug” to the paddling universe. Tweet it!

A new paddler is likely to wonder, “What do I gain or lose by doing something else in addition to dragon boat paddling?” “I’m not a distance paddler, why would I train for 13-mile races”; “Aren’t there sharks out there?”; “What does a 6 person boat have in common with a dragon boat?”; “I don’t want to flip over in one of those things!”; “The strokes are different, won’t OC ruin my dragon boat stroke?”

Catalina outrigger race. Photo: Chris Silvester

Catalina outrigger race. Photo: Chris Silvester

First, let’s clarify the different terms you may hear as you consider outrigger canoe paddling. OC6 refers to a 6-man outrigger canoe. OC2 is a 2-man outrigger canoe. And OC1 is a one-man outrigger canoe.

There are 4 important reasons for a dragon boat paddler to get into an outrigger canoe:

1. To Develop a Better Crew Sense:

We have all had days in the dragon boat where we feel like half the boat, whether in front of or behind us, is dragging their blades. With 20 people, it can be hard to estimate the contribution of any one paddler. In a 6 person outrigger, the importance of any one person becomes obvious: you can feel every paddler’s contribution or lack thereof. In technical conditions, where the steer may be forced to poke more than paddle-steer, experienced paddlers can feel when the steer is able to come back in for a few strokes. In long distance events, when a single person might have to stop paddling for 2-3 strokes to drink, take a gel, etc. it becomes easy to feel the contribution that person makes.

More than on an OC6, a paddler on an OC1 or OC2 can feel his or her contribution to the boat, whereas on a dragon boat with 19 other paddlers, it is easy for a paddler to think that he or she is propelling the boat when in actuality he or she may simply be a passenger. On an OC1 it is fairly straightforward: if you aren’t finding a solid catch, you aren’t moving the boat through the water much.

Team USA paddler Bob Mina on an OC1. Photo: Jim Morris

Team USA paddler Bob Mina on an OC1. Photo: Jim Morris

Learning to appreciate each paddler’s role is important for crew cohesion, however, it is also invaluable for each paddler to learn how critical it is to “blend” in a crew. A well-blended crew—one whose strokes are “in together/ out together” and whose catch, drive, exit, and recovery are well coordinated—may effectively out-paddle crews that not only look much stronger but might also be in lighter boats.

2. To Develop a Better Boat Sense:

It can be difficult to “feel” the water in a dragon boat. Not only are the boats designed in such a way that the movement of the water under the hull is not commuted to the paddlers, but with 19 other paddlers plus a steer and a drummer it can be difficult to differentiate the movement of the water from the movement of another paddler. Being in an OC, particularly in an OC1 or OC2, allows the paddlers to feel the difference between choppy water, smooth water, swell and surfable chop. It also allows for the paddlers to feel the difference that their body position (forward, backwards, side to side) and stroke mechanics (effective catch, too long an exit) makes on the stability and movement of the boat.



3. To Improve Paddling Skills:

It is imperative that all members of a crew have (nominally) the same stroke mechanics. However, in order to develop a range of stroke forms and paddling abilities, being trained for multiple paddle craft helps. This allows for experienced paddlers to “work around” new paddlers effectively, to form effective composite (aka “scratch” or “barbarian) crews with others, or for men and women in mixed crews to come together more effectively. Likewise, learning how to effectively cope with wake at the front of an outrigger can help dragon boat paddlers cope with the wash at the front of a strong race crew.

An OC1 race in California. Photo: Chris Silvester

An OC1 race in California. Photo: Chris Silvester

4. To Improve Paddling Endurance:

Even a 2000 meter dragon boat race is short by OC standards. And a 16 mile OC race is hellishly long for most specifically sprint-trained athletes. However, “overtraining the distance” for a sprint or middle distance race is an effective way to become better at increasing the intensity and ability to manage the physical stress of sprints. A paddler dedicated to improving his or her performance as part of a crew for 500 meter races may not be well-served to change his or her training to reflect that of a person training for the Kaiwi Channel 39-mile Solo race. Attending a 1-2 hour OC training session, however, might improve overall endurance, which in turn will allow the paddler to perform better in longer dragon boat training sessions or multiple (perhaps back to back) races throughout a regatta day, or to be more efficient and powerful overall.

For many people, dragon boating is like a “gateway drug” to the paddling universe; it’s the first thing you try before you try paddling OC-6, then maybe OC-1, or perhaps marathon canoe (C4, C2, C1), or even cayuco. Some single-blade paddlers then start to switch to the double-bladed craft, such as surfskis. Which paddling sport you try in addition to dragon boating depends largely on where you live and what is available to you, but dragon boating is a gateway to all other manner of paddling sports, so don’t be afraid to get out there and try any and all.

USA paddlers Cat Dailey and Sara Jordan with Canadian paddler Kamini Jain racing on a cayuco through the Panama Canal in the Ocean to Ocean Cayuco Race, 2013. Photo: Trois

USA paddlers Cat Dailey and Sara Jordan with Canadian paddler Kamini Jain racing on a cayuco through the Panama Canal in the Ocean to Ocean Cayuco Race, 2013. Photo: Trois

Although this post has focused on OC, in future installments, paddlechica contributors will cover the wild world of marathon canoe as well as sprint canoe.



Contributing author Sara Jordan.


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6 Discussion to this post

  1. Lorelei says:

    50 years young and I love all your articles, I started dragon boating in July 2014. In the midst of race training, it was brutal for a non fit Mom of 3. I made about 7 sessions with our local woman’s team in Squamish , B.C, , Canada that year. In January of 2015, I was invited to try poolside paddle training , although I describe myself as a paddle idiot, I decided to hang in for the long haul. A fabulous group of ladies they are, ever so patient and encouraging. I listened to everything they said: head up, breathe, timing, relax, A-frame, twist and so many smiles and lots of laughter. Long story short, I have made it through personal time trials and a few races (nervous nellies and all). Thank you and all those wonderful people in Squamish, I think I’m hooked!

  2. John Murillo says:

    Hi Kristin,

    Great article and thank you for opening the paddling eyes to all that is out there for single blade paddlers. The article is spot on and not surprising coming from an oc-2 and oc-6 paddle mate Sarah Jordan. There is something else I would like to add to this great article. Not only does the distances paddled on an OC help with stamina and strength but, it also allows the paddler to connect with the craft they are paddling. Connecting, feeling, sensing your teammates brings more harmony to the canoe as a whole. There is something special about becoming one with the water, canoe and teammates that will also carry over to Dragon Boating. This gets to the spiritual reasons why we do what we do that makes a difference.


  3. Wendy Rose Davison says:

    I love the outriggers for winter training when not enough paddlers turn up for training. Just jump in the outrigger and paddle round the lake (3 times = 6kms) perfect for endurance training and this year it gave me an excellent fitness level for the start of our season.

  4. Cheryl says:

    Another great article! Thanks Sara x

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