What You Should Know About Time Trials on an OC1

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

Team USA paddler Bob Mina time trialing in Philadelphia. Photo: Jim Morris

What’s With the OC1 Time Trials for Dragon Boat Crews?

So much time and energy goes into debating the question: “How will we select the best paddlers for the race crew?” I can assure you, your coaches and/or captains lose sleep on this question and realize that you are also losing sleep over this question! That’s partly why there is so much variation in how crews conduct their selection exercises.

Some crews run trials where a pair of paddlers must move the whole dragon boat together over a distance; some crews introduce the variation where one member of the pair trials “out” from the dock, and the other trials “back” to the dock; some crews do boat pulls of singles, pairs, or quads, one boat against another, over a distance; some crews do OC-2 time trials with the same person steering from either the front or the back of the OC and a paddler paddling the set distance; other crews do OC1 time trials. There are probably multiple variations not mentioned here, but the goal is effectively the same: to determine how quickly one person (or one partner pair) can move a boat.

2013 Team USA U24 paddler Ryan completing an OC2 time trial. Photo: Amanda Dugan

2013 Team USA U24 paddler Ryan completing an OC2 time trial. Photo: Amanda Dugan

The goal of a single-paddler outrigger canoe (OC1) time trial is NOT:
1) to determine your ability as an OC paddler (though time on an OC helps);
2) to embarrass you for having to do something alone in front of all other paddlers (your coach is trying to name you onto the crew, why be unnerved to show your individual talents?);
3) to trick you into huliing (flipping the boat) and hurting yourself;
4) to convince you that you need to do another sport;
5) to persuade you to buy an OC

There is one goal of an OC1 time trial: to measure you, by yourself, against others by assessing your performance over the same distance under similar conditions. An OC1 time trial removes many of the variables that would be introduced with the other methods listed above, allowing your ability to shine through.

“How will we select the best paddlers for the race crew?” I can assure you, your coaches and/or captains lose sleep on this question! Tweet it!

It is not uncommon for paddlers to be upset at the idea of having to trial, particularly on a craft they aren’t familiar with. Thus, for paddlers on a crew where an OC1 time trial is a known component of crew selection, it can be helpful to get some time on the trial boat or at least one like it.

Paddlechica OC1 JP Aixa Ramos

Team USA hopeful JP time trialing in Philadelphia

A common complaint about the OC1 trial is that “an OC1 is nothing like a dragon boat!” While this is true, no better single-person analog is readily available. While a paddle-erg trial is a fine choice as well, common complaints against the paddle-erg are: 1) it can be “gamed,” 2) the catch is totally different, 3) it’s not on the water/in the boat so it’s not a good analog, 4) the paddle/seat/catch/return are all different from a dragon boat. The list against the paddle erg is probably as long as that against the OC1 trial. Given two highly imperfect options, an OC1 trial has many positive aspects:

  1. Since the trial takes place on water, it tests the paddlers’ ability to move the boat through the water
  2. The trial is single, so it tests that particular paddlers’ singular ability
  3. The OC1 is affected by bad form in the stroke (lunging, bobbing, leaning side to side) which become obvious during a time trial
  4. OC1 trials may take a while, but they are still relatively quick
Paddlechica OC1 AImee Edwards2

Team USA Premier paddler Aimee Edwards time trialing in Tampa. Photo: Vanessa Lee

What About the Righties?

A frequent question that comes up is, “Since the ama is rigged left, how is this fair to right-sided paddlers?” Although it is intuitively obvious that the OC1 is more likely to huli (flip) when someone leans to the right, a stable paddler paddling on the right has an advantage over the same stable paddler paddling on the left. That advantage arises because the ama becomes lighter, introducing less drag, when paddled on the right. So, while right-sided paddlers may feel a bit more tentative, if they can maintain a stable body position (which comes with time on the boat), they have the advantage over their benchmates on the left when doing an OC1 trial.

However, there are two important points to keep in mind here. Firstly, coaches are comparing rights to rights and lefts to lefts, so it doesn’t matter how a left-sided paddler does in a time trial if you are a right-sided paddler. You are only competing for a seat with other right-sided paddlers. And secondly, right-rigged OCs exist and many teams use them for time trials, so in many cases a right-sided paddler need not worry about balancing on a left-rigged OC.

Get on the OC

If you are planning on trying out for your country’s national team, it is highly likely that you’ll have to trial on an OC1 at some point, so the more comfortable you can get on one, the better. Having to steer and paddle at the same time can prove daunting for beginners on the OC, so getting some experience in that area will help immensely.

Paddlechica OC1 Aimee Edwards

Team USA Premier Paddler Bren Trask time trialing in Tampa. Photo: Hype

How Do You Get More Time on an OC?

Ideally, your team will have an OC1 for you to borrow. But realistically, most teams, especially newer ones, may not have the available funds to purchase an OC, nor the available space to house one. So, what can you do?

If you are interested in purchasing one, I suggest that you check online sites such as Craigslist or Kijiji (or any other online classified ads). For Craigslist (and some other sites) you can set up alerts to let you know as soon as one gets posted. At the end of this post, you will find directions for setting up an alert. It’s relatively easy.

Australian paddler Shirleen Ho. Photo: Marc Applewhite

Australian paddler Shirleen Ho practicing on an OC1. Photo: Marc Applewhite

Until someone comes up with a better testing method, OC1 time trials are likely to be the primary method of team testing, so you might as well embrace it! Spend as much time as you can on an OC1. Go exploring, get comfortable on it, test your balance, even let yourself huli so you know where the fine line of balance is. The more time you spend on an OC1, the better paddler you will be. You can really learn your individual contribution to the boat because you are the only one paddling. In time, you will likely develop an improved connection with the water which will then carry over to the dragon boat. And when has more time on the water ever been a bad thing?

Paddlechica Hornet Paddle In the Water


How to Set Up an Alert for Items Posted on Craigslist:

  1. Make an account on IFTTT.
  2. Create a recipe by clicking “my recipes” then “create a recipe.”
  3. Click on the word “this” in the words “if this then that.”
  4. Choose a trigger channel by scrolling down and clicking on Craigslist.
  5. Click “new post from search.”
  6. Go to your city’s Craigslist in a separate tab, and do the search for what you want. (Example: click on “sporting” and then search “outrigger canoe”)
  7. Copy + paste the URL from your Craigslist search back into IFTTT and click “create trigger.” (Note: use the URL from the search, NOT the URL from an individual posting)
  8. Click on the word “that” in the words “if this then that.”
  9. Choose an action channel. I suggest SMS, which sends you a text (so you can jump on those deals quickly!). Email or even calls could be good options for this, too.
  10. Click on “Send me an SMS.”
  11. Click on “Create Action” (leave the message box as is; that will send you the title of the post and the URL in the text).
  12. Name your recipe (e.g. OC1)
  13. Click “Create Recipe.”

Or, if you prefer, there is an app through a different source that will help you with that.

Good luck!

Contributing author: Sara Jordan, Team USA Premier paddler, and paddler of pretty much anything that floats.


Photo provided by Sara Jordan

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3 Discussion to this post

  1. Wendy Rose Davison says:

    One thing you forgot to mention (or perhaps avoided) is the variation in steering ability, or the fragile mechanisms the OC1’s have. The small lever held in between your feet in ours takes all your mind focus away from paddling, just to get the boat to go down the course in a straight line. The variation between boats does not make a level playing field, and the paddlers ability to steer (totally alien to a Dragon Boat paddler) has a big impact. Some OC1’s do not allow you to paddle between the bars that hold the float, so you have to paddle on the non float side. The stress of time trials for people is more misery than it’s worth. A necessary evil perhaps but for those who have difficulty, and who are good paddlers, it is just evil.

  2. Clay Tyler says:

    Kristin, Great article! As a member of the ’83, ’84, ’89 USA San Diego Dragon Boat team and steersman for the San Diego Outrigger OC-6 National Championship team. I’ve been doing this a long time and everything you’ve said is spot on. We did our dragon boat time trials in a 400lb OC-6. The person on trial sat #2 while the same steersman sat #6. We had to pull for 500 meters. Talk about a lung explosion, and to hold your form through it all. But, you were also graded on adaptability of the stroke within the dragon boat.

    To all the dragon boat prospects out there. You need to be versatile and adaptive. As you recommended; get time on an OC-1 to get comfortable. The sport has come a long way, but it still relies on the coaches expertise. Paddlers want objectivity in time, but there’s always “fit” factor.

    Keep up the great work and look forward to seeing success!
    Clay Tyler
    San Diego, CA

    • Paddlechica says:

      Thanks for reading, Clay, and for your kind comments. It sounds like you have quite a lot of experience and I certainly appreciate you weighing in on the topic. I can’t believe you had to do time trials in an OC6. And for 500m! Ouch! That hurts me just thinking about it.

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