Powell River Outrigger Society coach Michael Matthews has been rowing most of his life. When he retired to Powell River, his passion for water sports, and the outrigger canoe, grew even more.
“The outrigger canoe has been around for a long time,” said Matthews. “It’s basically a canoe-type vessel with an outrigger for stability.”
According to Matthews, who paddles a one-person vessel near his home in Okeover and a six-person vessel when training with his team, the style of watercraft goes back thousands of years to Polynesia.
Matthews said the local team was recently awarded a trophy for fastest circumnavigation of Keats Island (12 kilometres) in Howe Sound.
“It’s a great team,” said Matthews. “We won a few trophies at the national championships in Gibsons last year.”
The team also travelled to Australia in 2016 for the World Outrigger Sprint Championships.
“Lots of people come to watch the world championships,” said Matthews.
Paddler Holly Peterson has been with the team for almost a year and said she took to the sport right away.
“I loved it from the first moment I was in the boat,” said Peterson, who was introduced to the related sport of dragon boating last spring and then became interested in outrigger canoeing. She was rowing with the team by July.
“I love the intensity of the sport; it’s a full-bodied workout,” she said. “It’s more rewarding than doing reps at the gym.”
According to Peterson, Matthews is an effective coach.
“He’s quite motivating and supportive,” she said.
Even newer to the sport, fellow paddler George Smith joined the team in February.
“A few of my neighbours in Okeover are in the club,” said Smith. “They told me to give it a try to see if I liked it.”
After going out a few times, Smith said he realized he enjoyed the sport.
“It’s nice being on the water and seeing things you might not otherwise see,” he added.
According to Matthews, the group often encounters seals, sea lions, orcas and humpbacks.
“We practice year-round in any weather,” said Matthews. “Our group can often be seen on the waters of Powell Lake, Okeover Arm and Jervis Inlet.”
Smith said he will be attending his first race this month.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “We have a great team.”
Matthews said outrigger canoeing is a technique-based sport that is physically demanding, but technique and skill are required.
“It can be pretty demanding schedule-wise as well,” he said.
The majority of the paddlers are over 60, with many over 70, and only one under 50, said Matthews.
“We’re a very old club,” said Matthews. “We’d love to get some younger members.”
Matthews said he would like to see a community paddling centre in Powell River that combines facilities for outrigger canoeing, dragon boating and other rowing sports.
“It would be great to get kids involved and reach a sort of critical mass,” said Matthews. “We don’t do a lot of outreach; it has been mainly word of mouth.”
Matthews said the ideal centre would be accessible from town and close to their canoeing spots.
“We’ve looked at a few spots,” he said. “The biggest hurdle is the capital cost.”
According to Peterson, the group provides a great opportunity to travel and to meet new people.
“Everyone’s out there to have fun,” she said.
For more information about Powell River Outrigger Society, go to powellriveroutrigger.weebly.com.