International Writers Magazine: Outriggers in Hong Kong
Paddling the waters of Hong Kong
unemployed travel writer and former merchant seaman, I was bumming
along the coast near Hong Kongs Deep Water Bay, when I stumbled
onto a sign which read Boat trip around the world, only
$100 HK. Having nothing to keep my interest on shore, and
very little money in my pocket, I signed on.
Photo by : Henning Wiekhorst
Next thing I knew,
I was chained to an ore. Behind me, a large scary fat man, dressed only
in a loincloth, pounded a drum, timing the rowers. Missing a beat was
punished with a sharp whip-crack, between the shoulder-blades. Filled
with fear and trepidation, I watched the bright lights of my beloved
city disappear in the boats rearview mirror. After a year of unimaginable
privation and torture, we returned to Deep Water Bay. As the shackles
were being removed from my wrist, I turned to one of the other rowers
and said, I cant believe they charged a hundred dollars,
but then made us do all the work.
I know. he said, shaking his head. Last year it was
I may have exaggerated a bit. And I dont want Humanitarians International
to go raid the boathouse, looking to free the galley slaves imprisoned
there. But, if you are looking for excitement and exercise with a nautical
flavor, you could visit the Hong Kong Island Paddlers, and catch onto
the sport of outrigger canoe racing, which is sweeping the globe. An
outrigger is a long, slim canoe, manned by one, two, or eight people.
It differs from a traditional canoe in that it has a stabilizing arm
attached to a pontoon, which runs alongside. The sport is generally
associated with the US state of Hawaii. Who could ever forget the opening
credits of the TV show, Hawaii Five-O, with those huge Hawaiian
men paddling the outrigger in the surf? Interestingly, however, historians
believe that the sport originated in Indonesia, and was exported by
way of migration, to Samoa and other parts of Polynesia. Whatever the
historical origins, modern outrigger racing is tied to Hawaii. Today,
in addition to the teams found in USA and Hawaii, there are teams and
competitions in such diverse locations Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand,
Philippines, Taiwan, and Mainland China.
But no matter where you find outriggers, you will find Hawaiian vestiges
of the Hawaiian language. For an outrigger enthusiast, the boats
spars is called an iako. The floatation device is the ama, and the hull
is the ka'ale. The names used for the canoe itself include: Wa'a- Hawaii,
Va'a- Tahiti, Waka Ama- New Zealand. The commands used on many of the
boats can also be called in Hawaiian. Go forward is Imua,
pull is huki, paddle is hoe. A canoe paddler is a hoe wa'a..
My friend Adam Giles brought me to Hong Kong Island Paddlers, where
I was well-received by a friendly and diverse group of Hong Kongers,
male and female, both Gwei Lo and Chinese, who derive pleasure from
straining their muscles, paddling around the Bay. Since most people
living in the city are notoriously busy with their jobs, paddler training
sessions are held late in the evening to give everyone time to eat a
snack before beginning their two hour workout regimen. Tell the
new guy not to huli. Someone advised.
Dont what? I asked Adam.
Dont huli. That means dont capsize the boat.
Explained Adam. If you do, the whole team will fall in the water,
and everyone will hate you.
Some paddlers worked for big corporations, others were teachers or business
owners. So they were all different. But the one thing they had in common
was that they were in great shape. All of the men had bigger biceps
than me. And I was certain that even the women could have beat me in
a fair fight. It wasnt hard to believe that they would drown me
at sea for turning over the boat. I threw open my notebook and quickly
scribbled, Note to self. Dont turn over the boat.
With the safety briefing over, Adam began teaching me the mechanics
of outrigging. First you will need to learn how to huki.
He began, taking up a paddle.
But you said not to huki or evryone would hate me. I pointed
No, huki is rowing . Huli is capsizing. Explained Adam.
I knew that this sport was going to be hard. So, you want me to
huki, not huli? I asked, clarifying.
Resuming the lesson, Adam showed me that handling a paddle is a baletic
art form, requiring proper body position and mechanics. Step one, you
have to brace your self by planting your feet firmly on the floor of
the canoe. Step two: Use your entire body, not just your biceps. You
should also employ your back, stomach and shoulders. When you reach
and stroke, you should rotate from the waste. Your top hand must be
strong, riving the paddle forward and down. The stroke should be smooth,
with pause at the end. The paddle should enter and leave the water with
very little splash. It was a lot to remember. What if I paddled wrong
and we hoolied? I wondered. Would we become shipwrecked on some deserted
island, and have to resort to cannibalism to survive? I hoped not, most
of the paddlers were too muscular and you would be chewing for hours.
After explaining my individual paddling responsibilities to me, Adam
explained how the team actually worked in a boat. Most of the time,
the odd number paddlers would have their paddles on one side, and the
even numbered would have theirs on the other. As a paddler, it was very
important to stroke at the same time as the others, keeping an eye,not
on the man in front of you, but instead on the man, two positions in
front of you, who was paddling on your same side. If you find yourself
out of sync, it is important not try and catch up. Because, if you paddle
out of sync, you will impede the forward progress of the boat. Instead,
you should just wait it out, miss one stroke, and join in on the next
one. Each team member had his own special job, depending upon where
he was sitting in the boat.
The paddler in position 1 is responsible for pace. Position 1 also keeps
an eye on the wind and water, looking for opportunities to gain distance
and speed by surfing the boat. Position 2 was responsible for timing
of the even numbered paddles, on the opposite side of the boat. They
use signals such as reach meaning that paddlers should increase
the length of their stroke. Position 3 might call out the huts
or strokes. Positions 4 and 5 are powerful drivers. Position 6, the
steersman, is responsible for safety; as well as steering and navigation.
The steersman also acts as a coach, calling out encouragement to the
paddlers, keeping them motivated. All team members are responsible for
passing messages up and down the boat. Paddling is one of the most teamwork-intensive
sports I had ever participated in, and could easily see how it could
be used as a tool in teambuilding training courses in corporations and
financial firms. For individuals, with no experience, it is much easier
to take up outrigging than it is to start kayaking or some individual
sport. Since outriggers have the advantage of practicing with a team,
as a novice you can get in a boat your first night, and start paddling.
With a good steersman and some patient teammates, you can learn as you
go. In addition to being an incredible exercise an excellent social
interaction, the paddling team can be a good venue for cultural exchange,
as they also train in traditional dragon boat racing,
Many of the teams are composed entirely of Hong Kong Chinese villagers
who make their living as fishermen. According to club members, some
of the teams from mainland China have large numbers of women, who can
pull as well, or better, than the average 'gwi lo' in Hong Kong.
Once we started training, we did various types of racing exercises such
as short sprints and long distance runs across the bay. It was exhausting,
and as a beginner, I often found myself falling behind simply because
of fatigue. But, when the boat was functioning properly, with everyone
pulling at the same time, you had an incredible feeling of speed and
power I had never experienced in another sport. A team of powerful rowers
can actually lift the boat out of the water. And if you arent
careful, yes, you could huli. One of the coolest differences between
an outrigger and traditional canoe is that an outrigger can surf. A
good team knows how to read the water, hitting the waves just right,
so that the boat actually hydroplanes, skipping across the surface,
using no energy at all. According to club members, this is the special
strength of the Hawaiian teams who still tend to dominate international
competitions. During our racing sprints I was paddling with such intensity,
that the problems of the world melted away from me. The only think I
thought about was the paddle of the man two position in front of me.
I lived and died by the rise and fall of that paddle. The only force
I was aware of, apart from the paddles, was the voice of the steersman,
cheering us on. My heart pumped. My shoulders raised and lower. My waist
twisted. I pulled, and chilling seawater sprayed on my face, reviving
me. Suddenly, the command came to stop. We had crossed the finish line.
I didnt care if we had won or lost. My body felt completely alive.
Every muscle had been worked, and my lungs had been cleared of all that
horrible smog I had picked up in the city. The feeling of camaraderie
in the boat was intense. There is a closeness, which grows between strangers,
after a shared ordeal. Speeding across the Bay, in the dark, I was reminded
of Canadian bootlegger, and world-class rower, Ned Hanlan, who transported
crates of illegal whisky, in his row boat, outrunning US police officers
in powerboats. I kept expecting to be boarded and searched. If nothing
else, I thought that the immigration officials would want to see if
we were transporting illegal refugees. But, silly criminal references
aside, training in Deep Water Bay, at night, is an experience everyone
should have at least once in their life. There is a solitude on the
water, unimaginable in the over-populated jungle of skyscrapers in the
city, only a few miles away. With time the great experiences of your
life will gain. The same is true of places. With distance, the skyscrapers
and electric lights of Hong Kong became the most beautiful site imaginable.
Looking back at the shore, I could see the rolling mountainsides covered
in mansions and thousands of lights, dotting the night sky, like stars.
© Antonio Graceffo
with the Bokor Rangers
Antonio Graceffo in Cambodia
Matt Flynn: email@example.com mobile:(852) 97382077. website
Recreation Club, Deep Water Bay, close to Ocean Park. Training times
are at 7:00 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays and at 2:00 PM and 3:30 PM
on Saturday afternoons.
Antonio Graceffo is a freelance travel writer and book author. His books
are available at amazon.com
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