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|Posted: November 13, 2006 06:11 PM
Paddling Popular in City by the
Twice a year, the Kaiwi channel is outrigger canoe paddling's proving ground. The 41-mile crossing from Molokai to Oahu tests athletes anxious to challenge the elements and each other.
"We do gear up for those races. We always target them," said Phil Siaris, who coaches some of those paddlers.
But his team is made up largely of ex-islanders who found a place to paddle far from home, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.
The city of San Francisco is known more for its trademark cable cars and its bustling Chinatown district than for the ancient Hawaiian sport of outrigger canoe paddling.
Outrigger canoes started popping up on the West Coast in the 1970s. Curious onlookers were at a loss to describe what they were seeing so they called them oversized kayaks. Not anymore.
Half the sixty members of the San Francisco Outrigger Canoe Club hail from Hawaii. Some of them paddled canoe before moving to the mainland. Others picked it up when they picked up and left the island and landed on the West Coast. Paddling is their way of staying connected to home.
"They miss Hawaii and they want to stick with the tradition," Siaris said. "That's the reason they're back here doing it."
But there's a big difference in paddling in the bay. The water is often choppy and always cold. The mantra at practice is "Don't rock the boat."
"It's grueling. The water is fifty-five degrees average. You learn how to right a capsized canoe real quick," Siaris said.
To bear the bite of San Francisco's fog and wind chill, paddlers bundle up in jackets and wet suits. Forget tank tops and board shorts.
"You have to be dedicated here," said paddler Amy Ng. "You have to love it because of the wind and the water. It's not as enticing as it is in Hawaii."
But the view is breathtaking. San Francisco paddlers practice in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. The sight never gets old.
"You take them out there. They're paddling. You tell them to look straight but as soon as we go under the bridge their heads start to go up, up, up. It's amazing!" said paddler Omar Manansala.
San Francisco's team is just one of a growing number of Hawaiian outrigger canoe clubs treading water in northern California. It's one of the top teams in that circuit. And it's moving up in the big Hawaii races like the Molokai Hoe.
"We got almost the same training regimen as everybody else," Manansala said. "But we're not quite like the fast guys in Hawaii."
San Francisco's team is unique - half of them Hawaii expatriates, the other half wannabe Hawaiians. Mix and match.
"We have a very good ohana," Siaris said.
Over the years, interest in paddling in San Francisco has ebbed and flowed. Right now the tide is tide is high and rising.
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