Tale of a Dragon Boat Paddler (Racing Outrigger)

Cali Paddler welcomes our friend Ellen Lee who this year decided to stray slightly from her dragon boat background and give this whole outrigger canoe thing a shot. So after she recently finished her first outrigger race, she shared with us the answer to an age-old question people have when they try a different craft.

Dragon Boat to OutriggerNow that my first novice outrigger race is complete I can properly answer the question I get often “How’s this different from a dragon boat race?

So many things come to mind, so instead of word vomiting like a teenage girl, I’ve categorized my experience thus far:

Actual Paddling:

  • I thought I had decent hand eye coordination (Zumba teacher said so) until the changeovers. During practices my top hand was simply grabbing air summoning my paddle to come to me (has anyone thought about magnetic gloves and handle?) followed by a lot of screaming, some banging against the gunwale, and nearly losing the paddle. Not a pretty sight.
  • ‘Are we there yet?’
  • ‘Is anyone else paddling behind me?’ (experience from the bradley boat)
  • ‘Where are these waves coming from?! (insert scream)’ (first time out in the ocean)
  • ‘Look, a seal!’

Outrigger Canoe Starting Line

The Race Itself

  • I didn’t know outrigger was a contact sport. WTH is that cluster of bumper boats at the starting line (what start?!)
  • In lieu of marked lanes, I had to rely on my epic steerswoman (thanks Crystal Wood) and seat 2 (thanks Lisa Solis) to stay focused. As a stroker in dragon boat I have a village: the drummer, co-lead stroker, row 2 strokers and steersperson to coordinate power and finish. In outrigger the stroker position feels like a time out seat or a baby eagle being pushed out of the nest (what do you mean my coach won’t be in the boat?!)
  • Imagination helped big time. I pretended I was in a video game, Galactica, taking out other boats as we pass by each...a little rage helped too.
  • I love that when you’re done racing you’re really done, whereas dragon boat races feel like Groundhog Day across 2 days. Sometimes you don’t even leave the marshalling area when you hop from boat to boat racing in different divisions/ teams.
  • Instead of being neurotic about which heat is going on, constantly running around to gather teammates/ borrow teammates to marshalling area, checking on results of each heat to determine the subsequent heat and time, I simply had to wait for boats to come in. The clock becomes a reference only (to when the beer garden is open).

Outrigger Canoe Race


I (more accurately my rear) was fortunate to have been exposed to the common paddling
aches/ injuries from dragon boat paddling. Just as I thought my body has been broken in and seat trained, my paddling survival kit continues to expand. In addition to the good ol’ electrolyte water, recovery drinks, KT tape, vaseline and Paddle Me neoprene shorts,  thanks to input from other veteran outrigger rockstars, I’m now a bit high maintenance:

  • Body Glide (thanks Jose Luis Heredia Jr.)
  • Chamois Butt’r (thanks James Rojas)
  • Buttsurrector (thanks Leeann Bare) secret wound care recipe that resurrects your dead rear in 3 days
  • Nike or Under Armour Compression Shorts I’ve never paid more attention to where seams are sewn and the direction of the fabric weave (OCD?!)
  • Whiskey/ Scotch best thing to flow through my system at the end of a cold weekday evening practice.

In short, nothing prepares you for this insane sport other than actually getting out there and paddle and paddle until the coach tells you to stop. Afterall, we are blessed to be living in the gorgeous state of California with fair weather and access to water within 20 minutes, why limit our lives to the land? #ifyoupaddleyougetit

See you on the water!

- Ellen

[photo credits: Chris and Cody Silvester. Our sport owes you two so much!]

As you may know, Cali Paddler is committed to sharing the stoke each of the various paddle craft provides. And encouraging people to paddle as many different ones as they can. Below are a few articles of experiences people have had in this adventures.

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