Outrigger canoe club inspires love of competition and the ocean

By Alex Wilson 11/24/2010

Members of a Ventura outrigger canoe club are fortunate to have the beauty of our local coastline as the backdrop for their strenuous, historic and spiritual pursuit.

I joined an early morning practice session with the Hokuloa Outrigger Canoe Club to try it out. The hard work paid off with gorgeous views of local mountains, as well as encounters with wildlife, including dolphins, pelicans and sea lions.

We started off with some stretching and calisthenics on the sand of a beach near Ventura Harbor. The friendly and enthusiastic team members gave me some pointers about proper technique for the sport that was developed centuries ago by mariners living on far-away Pacific islands.

Even though their outrigger canoes have some high-tech materials, the body movements echo those used by the first canoe builders. One person keeps everyone in sync by shouting out commands. I learned to avoid tiring out my arms by keeping them straight, and using core muscles to propel the canoe through the water. When everybody got in unison, it felt like we were all pistons in an engine propelling the vessel.

It’s a competitive club affiliated with a group called the Southern California Outrigger Racing Association, and members race against about 40 other clubs spanning from the Mexican border and inland toward Arizona. They race from May to September but train all year. They also host a Channel Challenge race every June that draws about 1,100 competitors to Ventura. It’s a growing sport that might soon be included in the Olympics.

Dwight Hochstein is a board member and says Ventura is the perfect place for ocean canoeing. “I pinch myself. I think it’s amazing what we have in Ventura. It’s a well-kept secret; we’ve all heard that. We have great access to the coast and the beach, the mountains are behind us,” says Hochstein. “I think we’re incredibly fortunate to have the shadowing of the islands so we have a reasonably calm ocean. We have a beautiful coastline and an amazing amount of sea life.”

Hochstein says it’s a fantastic way to forget about the worries of modern civilization. “You leave a lot of stuff on the beach, and that’s the first beauty,” says Hochstein. “Breathing ocean air, seeing sea life, and looking back at the mainland while you’re doing a workout is the ultimate. And doing that with a bunch of competitive people who are there for the same reason is a rush.”

There’s also a spiritual aspect to participating in the traditional sport, according to Hochstein. “It’s very much steeped in the Aloha Spirit, and the Aloha Spirit is more than a lifestyle. It’s an ethic, it’s a theology almost, and people deal with each other in the Aloha Spirit,” says Hochstein.

“The sport is filled with people who respect one another. They respect the sport; they respect a code of conduct and get along on the beach. They compete hard but are best friends on the beach, and that’s so nice, to be in a sport, have rivals, but also hang out and drink beer and laugh and enjoy time together,” says Hochstein.

They love helping newcomers try it out, and have an Internet website with more information about getting involved at

Club member Ona Shiroyama of Camarillo says it’s well worth the effort.  “I love to be out in the ocean. I get great exercise, and you get to see all the critters that are out there,” says Shiroyama. “It makes you feel like you’re part of nature.”

Please contact Outdoor Observer with details and contact information about environmental events, volunteer opportunities and adventure sports at outdoors@vcreporter.com.


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