Outrigger canoes hit the waters in Newport Harbor for second of inaugural three-part race series
Though no sunshine peeked through the clouds and the fog rolled in, paddlers from all over the world climbed into their canoes early Saturday morning and hit the waters of Newport Harbor for the second in a three-part race series.
The series, which had its inaugural race in February, is held by the Newport Aquatic Center in Newport Beach. The Va’a California Series challenges outrigger paddlers of V1 canoes, which are rudderless and lack conventional foot pedals, to navigate waters with their paddles alone. The sport comes from Hawaii and other parts of Polynesia but made its way to California in 1959.
“It’s a small world, but once you get into it; it really opens up,” Kelly Schwartz, race director and outrigger coach over at the Newport Aquatic Center, said, with a laugh. “Where has this been all my life? We’ve got hundreds of paddlers in SoCal. Here in Newport Harbor alone, we’ve got three or four outrigger clubs.”
That includes the center’s own club, which also races internationally.
Schwartz said outrigger canoes require a different kind of training than other aquatic craft such as those used in stand-up paddling or kayaking.
Saturday’s race brought more than 50 individual racers. Four of the participants Saturday came from Tahiti, one from Hawaii, three or four from the East Coast, one from Texas and a handful of others from the Pacific Northwest, Schwartz said.
Included was Redondo Beach paddler Danny Ching, who has gained a reputation for both stand-up paddling and outrigger paddling, and who Schwartz considers to be probably the No. 1 paddler in California.
Ching came in first place on Saturday, just one second ahead of Tahitian paddler Hititua Taerea, with a time of 1 hour, 36 minutes and 54.92 seconds. The two were followed by Newport Beach locals Will Reichenstein and Brent Campbell.
The race was initially meant to extend between the Newport Aquatic Center on Whitecliffs Drive to Newport Pier — a roughly 14-mile stretch of water — but weather conditions forced Schwartz and the center to change course.
“We had to pivot pretty hard because no one could go outside because the fog was too thick,” Schwartz said. “As a race director and the race committee, we couldn’t safely put people out there. We had to shift the course to all inside of Newport Harbor.”
The race Saturday instead was roughly 13 miles and took paddlers from the center to the harbor mouth, through the harbor’s main channel, around Lido Isle twice, and back.
The third race in the series is scheduled for April 29. The outcome of that event will determine who comes out as champion of the Va’a California Series, which is determined through points that are accumulated based off of race rankings.
First place in Saturday’s race won 25 points, while second earned 18 points and third was given 15. It continues down to 10th place, which is awarded a single point.
This was true of the first race too, though it had an added sprint section that awarded some additional points.
Schwartz said Monday she was in the midst of updating participant standings but noted that Ching would not be able to make the third race, which opens up the possibility for Reichenstein and Campbell to take his place if either comes in first in the next race.
Still, that doesn’t mean that the third competition won’t see potential upsets from other paddlers who may have traveled from afar to participate.
The race Saturday was a qualifying event for the International Va’a Federation’s world distance championships that will be held in Samoa in August.
“We’re the first place to have a V1, rudderless-only race on the mainland [United States]. Hawaii has races that they do, but we’re the first ones to have the series here,” Schwartz said.
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