Master the art of Outrigger Canoe Paddling

Learn the canoe parts, some history, and paddling basics

Canoe Diagram

Pay particular attention to the ama and iako
The outrigger ama (float) is the essential design modification which sets outrigger canoes apart from all others. It evolved through thousands of years of experimentation and it is the most efficient way to stabilize a dug out canoe. Traditionally, the ama has always been fitted onto the left side of the canoe and this remains the same for paddling today.
The Hawaiian outrigger canoe is one of hundreds of outrigger types across the region of Oceania, encompassing Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. The ama is attached to the canoe hull by way of two iako’s (canoe spreader bars).
Outrigger Terminology

AMA (ah-mah): The outrigger float

‘IAKO (ee-ya-ko): Bars that hold the ama to the va’a

VA’A (vah-ah): The canoe

UNE (oo-nay): To lever. The action a paddler takes to help turn the bow of the canoe.

KAHI (kah-hee): To cut. Using the blade of the paddle cut in the same line as the canoe.

HO‘OMAKAUKAU! (Hoh oh MAH cow cow): Get ready or get set!

KAU! (Kah Oo: )Place (or plant) the blade.

HOE (ho aee): Paddle! And off you go.

HUKI!!! (hoo key): Pull, GET INTO IT!


Outrigger canoe racing evolved as a natural extension of the peoples of Oceania’s use of these amazing craft for their everyday survival in fishing the oceans and in traveling between island groups, culminating in epic journeys of up to and over 3000 miles. These people journeyed in double hulled voyaging canoes which still exist today.

Canoe racing became an important part of island life, as much pride and prestige was placed on victory. During the European occupation of many of the islands, specifically in Hawaii in 1820, canoe racing was effectively banned and paddles were replaced with bibles. Later in 1876 King David Kalakaua reinstated the sport. By 1908 the first two outrigger canoe clubs were founded; Outrigger Canoe Club and Hui Nalu.

Hawaii became the birthplace of contemporary outrigger canoe racing, with a governing body being established in 1950 the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association. The sport has since spread far and wide to Tahiti, New Zealand, Samoa, Cook Islands, New Caledonia, USA, Canada, France, England, Italy, South Africa, Guam, Hong Kong, Australia, Fiji and is expanding all the time. There are an estimated 35,000 outrigger canoe paddlers worldwide, and the sport is currently experiencing huge growth.
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