What would you do if you lived on an island, surrounded by warm, beautiful water? After thanking your lucky stars, you’d probably try to figure out some way to get across it. In the South Pacific, one of the most common forms of traditional travel is the outrigger canoe.
The outrigger was developed over thousands of years by people who lived around Oceania. It is used to this day for travel, fishing and fun!
Imagine you are out in the middle of the ocean. You want to go pearl diving, but first you have to get out of the boat. Then, after you’re done — you have to climb back into the boat. The outrigger canoe is perfectly designed to be stable enough that it won’t tip over when you leap out, and strong enough to let you climb back in!
The outrigger is a boat that looks like a canoe, but has a piece that extends outwards across the surface of the water. This is called the balance. In Hawaiian, it is known as the ama. Some outriggers have an ama on both sides. This important architectural development allows the canoe to not only withstand small imbalances at rest, but also travel as great speeds!
Outrigger racing has been popular in the South Pacific since the first person who climbed into an outrigger and figured they could go fasting than their friend! By that I mean: a long time! The first recorded outrigger races in Hawaii were in the 1830s. These days, people race outriggers in all parts of the Pacific, throughout Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia, Australia, American Samoa, California, Canada, Cook Islands, Easter Islands, Fiji, Guam, Hawaii, ( Maui, Oahu) Hong Kong, Marianas Islands, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Oregon,Tahiti, Tonga, Wallis Futuna, Washington State, Western Samoa and beyond this to South Africa and Western Europe.
But outriggers are not just for sport. Many people across the South Pacific still rely on the outrigger as their means of food fishing, whether it be by line or by traditional spear hunting. Instead of heading off to work in an office every day, many Pacific Islanders spend their days paddling and diving deep into the waters. Let me tell you: fresh fish is a lot yummier than a pay check!
Thanks for reading!
Thanks to Tanti Ruwani for the great photo of the outriggers!