Outrigger canoeing is a sport in which an outrigger canoe (vaʻa, waʻa, and waka ama in Tahitian, Hawaiian, and Māori languages, respectively; similar words are used in other Polynesian languages) is propelled by means of paddles. Its umbrella organisation is the International Vaʻa Federation (IVF, formerly International Polynesian Canoe Federation or IPCF). Outrigger canoeing has grown from its roots in Polynesia to become a very popular paddling sport, with numerous sporting and social clubs located around the world. Sporting clubs are also often involved with dragon boat racing.
A variety of boat types exist, including the OC1, OC2, OC3, OC4 and OC6 (with the respective number of paddlers using a single hull outrigger canoe), and the DC12 or OC12 (with twelve paddlers using a double hull outrigger canoe, two six person canoes rigged together like a catamaran). The shorthand form is also commonly written as V1, V2, V6, etc. (where V refers to vaʻa).
Single hull outrigger canoes have an ama (outrigger float) connected to the main hull by spars called ʻiako (Hawaiian), ʻiato (Tahitian), or kiato (Māori). The ama, which is usually rigged on the left side, provides stability. The paddlers need to be careful to avoid leaning too far on the opposite side of the ama, as that may cause the canoe to capsize (huli or lumaʻi).
There are also outrigger sailing canoes ranging from smaller three or four person canoes to large voyaging canoes. Sailing canoes may have one ama, two amas (one on each side, but only one side is normally in contact with the water), or a double hull configuration (like a catamaran).
In an OC1, the single paddler must also steer the canoe. Some OC1s have rudders operated by foot pedals, while OC1s without rudders must be steered by drawing and paddling as needed for steering purposes while paddling to move the canoe forward.
A good steerer is able to maintain the straight attitude of the canoe throughout the course of a race, and also keep the boat and the crew safe in rough sea conditions. S/he may also take advantage of water conditions to gain extra speed by surfing. The steerer uses a single bladed steering paddle which has a larger blade than a standard outrigger paddle, is built stronger, and has less or no bend in its shaft. S/he steers by the following methods:
A steerer also skippers the canoe and instructs all other the paddlers as necessary. As an outrigger canoe is a long narrow canoe with the steerer placed at the very end, the steerer must give instructions sufficiently loudly and clearly for the entire crew to hear. From a water safety perspective the steerer should also be amongst the most experienced crew members, and be knowledgeable with the waterways and weather conditions, relevant maritime rules and other safety considerations such as the use of personal floatation devices, rigging of the canoe, placement of paddlers in the various seating positions, and recovery from a huli by righting the canoe and bailing out the water.
Paddlers use single bladed paddles, usually with single or double bent shafts. The paddling stroke is similar to that of most other racing canoe paddling strokes, involving primarily core and lat strength. Generally, each paddler paddles on the opposite side from the paddler in directly front (for example, in an OC6, paddlers in seats 1, 3, and 5 paddle on one side, while paddlers in seats 2 and 4 paddle on the other side). All paddlers switch sides simultaneously on a call from one who is the designated caller. The steerer may paddle either side or switch sides as needed for steering purposes.
Stronger paddlers are typically placed in the middle of the canoe, while paddlers with the most endurance tend to be placed at the front, as the lead paddler sets the pace for the crew. All other paddlers synchronize their strokes to the paddler in front of them (whom they can directly see).
In rough water, it is often desirable to have a paddler with steering skill in seat 5 (of an OC6), to allow for the steerer to have that paddler also take steering strokes if needed in some situations. A seat 5 paddler with steering skill can also assist in preventing a huli by staying on the ama side during a particularly rough stretch of water.
In water rough enough to splash into the canoe, paddlers also need to pay attention to the water level in the canoe, report the situation to the steerer, and bail out the water as necessary. Paddlers also need to know how to recover from a huli under the steerer's direction.
In a quick turn situation, paddlers at the front may also be instructed to une (poke steer, causes the canoe to turn the opposite direction) or kahi (post and draw steer, pulls the canoe to the side where this is done) to help bring the canoe around a turn quickly.
Longer races involving the OC6 often involve paddler replacements, which involve exit and entry to the canoe directly from the water while the canoe is under way (this is called a water change). Typically, nine paddlers form a crew, with six paddling the OC6 and the other three resting, drinking, and/or eating on an escort boat. Replacement typically occurs at 20 to 30 minute intervals; the escort boat drops the relief paddlers into the water ahead of the OC6, which is steered toward them. The relief paddlers climb in on the ama side as those they are replacing roll out into the water on the opposite side. The escort boat then picks up the paddlers in the water so that they can rest, drink, and/or eat before they in turn relieve some of the paddlers in the OC6.
The longer races are typically conducted in the open ocean, e.g. between islands in the South Pacific. The Molokaʻi Hoe in Hawaiʻi and the Catalina Channel crossing in California are two examples of races involving water changes.
Paddlers and crews are usually classified by gender and age. Gender classification is typically straightforward, with male, female, and coed classifications, with the latter being a crew with equal numbers of male and female paddlers (different rules may apply to nine person coed crews doing a race with paddler replacements). Age classifications typically include youth divisions like 19-and-under, 16-and-under, etc., master divisions with minimum ages typically starting at 35 or 40 years of age, and an open division which allows paddlers of any age. A novice division for paddlers with less than a specified number of years of race experience (usually one or two) may also exist in a given association.
In some races, a particular type of outrigger canoe, usually a more traditional design for the region, may be given its own racing classification. For example, races in Hawaiʻi have a koa division, while southern California has a Bradley OC6 division and northern California OC1 sprint races have a traditional (no rudder) division.
Modifications can easily be added to seats or paddles enabling athletes with a wide range of disabilities to participate in the same canoe and/or race as paddlers without disabilities.